To some in the courtroom, the jury’s decision brought a sigh of relief, and with it the hope that the conviction of Mohamed Noor meant change for a criminal justice system long seen as shielding officers from prosecution.
For others, it was a sign that the system remains stacked against people of color.
From its outset, the case had forced uncomfortable conversations about race and justice and begged the question whether Noor would have been charged if he were white and Damond had been black.
Tuesday’s verdict did nothing to quell those suspicions.
It was never a flash point in the courtroom, but race lurked in the shadows of the monthlong trial.
Longtime civil rights activist Mel Reeves praised the verdict for demonstrating that “police shouldn’t be above the law.” At the same time, Reeves pointed to an aspect in this case that, he said, made it easier for the jury to convict Noor. “He’s Somali. He’s black. And he’s Muslim — that’s a trifecta.”
Reeves said “the system has an easier time convicting a black man in a blue uniform.” However, he added that in police shootings, “this is what should happen all the time.”
Damond neighbor Sarah Kuhnen said, “We have to acknowledge that in our city, most victims of police violence are people of color and that racism and white supremacy are the reasons they don’t receive the treatment Justine received. What Justine has gotten we want for everyone.”
Kuhnen went on to say that this case was about how a city officer “acted in the moment. This is not about his race, ethnicity and religion.”
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman dismissed the suggestion that the conviction of Noor, a Somali-American, marked the first time an officer was held accountable, while white officers haven’t been charged after killing civilians.
“I’ve heard a small group in the community make disparaging remarks about me and this office to the effect that I won’t charge white cops who shoot black people, but I’ll charge black cops who shoot white people,” he said at a news conference after the verdict was announced. “Race has never been a factor in any of my decisions. It never will be. … We have charged white cops for committing crimes, but we look at each case based on the facts, evidence and laws in front of us.”
In Cedar-Riverside, the heart of the Twin Cities’ East African community, the case was widely seen in racial terms.
“It doesn’t feel right,” said Mahamed Hassan, a 31-year-old accountant who paused to answer questions inside a grocery store where he was shopping. “[Noor] was working for the city. [The shooting] was unintentional. He had no record. He shouldn’t be treated like a thug on the street.”
“It’s horrible; it’s crazy,” said Saciido Shaie, 35, a Somali-American who was sitting in a coffee shop.
“Many Minneapolis police have done the same thing or worse and are free,” said Shaie, a community activist and member of the state Cultural Ethnic Communities Leadership Council.
Mohamed Abdi, 36, a driver for a courier company, said that as a member of Black Lives Matter he was torn.
“Every police officer who kills an unarmed human being should be accountable,” he said, including Noor. But he was concerned that “they let white cops who kill unarmed black men go” while convicting Noor, he said. “There should be justice for all victims.”
The Somali-American Police Association (SAPA) said in a statement that it feared that the ruling would have “a devastating effect on police morale and make the recruitment of minority officers all the more difficult.”
“SAPA believes the institutional prejudices against people of color, including officers of color, have heavily influenced the verdict of this case,” the statement read. “The aggressive manner in which the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office went after Officer Noor reveals that there were other motives at play other than serving justice.”
The seeming suddenness of the verdict — the jury deliberated for roughly 10 hours — was a surprise to many.
Defense attorney Marsh Halberg, one of the dozens of curious observers who packed the courtroom on any given day, said he could hardly believe the jury’s decision.
The language in the state law the jury relied on to convict Noor is confusing, with no clear definition of what it means to have a “depraved mind,” he said.
“I’ve never seen a good definition of what that means,” Halberg said.
More than 200 people, including journalists and law enforcement officers, crowded into the Hennepin County Government Center atrium before the verdict was announced in the courtroom above.
Within an hour of the announcement, elected officials offered words of understanding along with pledges to find a way for the case to leave Minneapolis in a better place for all residents, no matter their ethnicity or social class.
Mayor Jacob Frey said, “We should find comfort in knowing that not one person in Minneapolis hoped for what transpired that July night.”
“What matters most for Minneapolis is how we respond in the days and weeks ahead,” he said. “Our city must come together — not for any single person, entity or organization — not for any reason beyond our love for each other and the values that hold us together.”
In separate statements, the city’s police chief and the police union leader said they accepted the verdict, while offering their condolences to the Damond family.
“This was indeed a sad and tragic incident that has affected family, friends, neighbors, the City of Minneapolis and people around the world, most significantly in her home country of Australia,” Chief Medaria Arradondo said. “I will ensure that the MPD learns from this case and we will be in spaces to listen, learn and do all we can to help our communities in healing.”
Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, the union for rank-and-file officers, called it “an extremely unfortunate situation for all involved,” while adding that “our thoughts are with former officer Noor.”
Civil rights activist Nekima Levy Armstrong, who ran for mayor in the most recent election, said the case lays bare a racial double standard in the criminal justice system and is not indicative of the systematic change she and others have been demanding.
“This is an isolated case with an isolated result based on racial dynamics and affluence of the victim, not to mention the race of the officer,” she said. “I’m not going to pretend that this is about justice.”
At the entrance to the alley where Damond was shot, a cold rain fell Tuesday evening on the memorial to her.
A small wooden cross marked with her name was planted alongside potted flowers, stones, sea shells, a lantern and angel figurines.
“There are no winners here,” said a neighbor who stopped briefly at the memorial, giving only her first name, Denise.
“It’s sad for all,” she said as she continued her walk in the rain.
Star Tribune staff writers Mara Klecker, Andy Mannix, Liz Sawyer, Paul Walsh, Brandon Stahl and M.L. Smith contributed to this report.