Yet another young black man in the Twin Cities metro area has been shot by police. Khaleel Thompson is barely 18 years old and a talented self-taught musician who was looking forward to finishing high school. He has also struggled with mental illness and was recently diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Tuesday evening his friends called police concerned that he was suicidal. Crystal police were familiar with Khaleel from responding to previous wellness calls. This time, tragically, only a cursory check was performed.
Wednesday morning Khaleel was in Bassett Creek Park when a neighbor called 911 to report a man with a handgun. Khaleel had an airsoft pellet gun, similar to what 12-year-old Tamir Rice had been playing with when he was killed by police in Cleveland in 2014. Police claim Khaleel pointed the airsoft gun at them and refused to drop it. Officers fired numerous shots, hitting him in the head and spine, leaving him, as this is written, hospitalized in critical condition.
We don’t yet have answers to some critical questions: Why didn’t Khaleel receive the mental health treatment he needed when his friends called police for help? Did the four officers who discharged firearms have full crisis intervention and implicit-bias training? The initial BCA statement says nonlethal rounds were first attempted, so why did officers switch to deadly force?
The BCA is processing dashcam video but no officer was wearing a body camera. Bystander video indicates more than a dozen shots spaced over 10 seconds. We don’t know how many of those bullets, if any, were fired with Khaleel actually pointing his airsoft gun at police.
In the Star Tribune database of people killed by police since 2000, a disproportionate 43 percent were people of color, from an average population share of 16 percent. People with mental health issues are also overrepresented on this grim list. And 33 percent of those killed were unarmed or had an “other” weapon such as rocks or a screwdriver.
This persistent police violence toward people of color, people who pose no actual threat, or people with mental illness, must end now. We have talked and talked about how to prevent these incidents but change has not come fast enough — not for Dominic Felder, Fong Lee, Terrence Franklin, Marcus Golden, Jamar Clark, Phil Quinn, Map Kong, Philando Castile, Cordale Handy — or Khaleel Thompson.
For there to be any hope of restoring community faith in the process, the following are necessary in Minnesota:
All officers must be required to obtain full crisis-intervention and implicit-bias training funded by the state.
All police departments must embrace the sanctity of human life and adopt de-escalation as agency policy.
All police incidents resulting in serious injury or death must be investigated by an independent state-level special prosecutor.
All video should be released at latest after initial witness interviews are completed; in other states this has been done within a few days.
We have come to understand that it is not beneficial for black people to call the police during a crisis. Better training is necessary, but is not a cure-all.
The conversation needs to include white supremacy and the contempt for black lives displayed by too many officers. In Minnesota today, the black community is not being served or protected by the police. This is intolerable to a just society. Our hearts are with Khaleel’s family but our minds are set on justice.
Rachel Wannarka is a member of the Minneapolis NAACP Criminal Justice Reform Committee. Jason Sole is president of the Minneapolis NAACP and a visiting assistant professor of criminal justice at Hamline University.