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The Death of a White Woman

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On Tuesday, a jury in Minneapolis found former Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) officer Mohamed Noor guilty of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter–a conviction stemming from Noor’s 2017 shooting of Justine Ruszczyk. The night of Ruszcyk’s killing, Noor was following up on two calls that Ruszczyk had made to the MPD in which she said she thought a woman was being sexually assaulted in the alley behind her house. When officers arrived on the scene, Ruszczyk apparently approached their car and startled Noor, who fired on her and killed her.

Police killing without cause is old news in America, and officers who kill while on duty are almost invariably not charged. If the very rare cases where they are, judges and juries are practically allergic to convicting them. (Jason Van Dyke, who killed Laquan McDonald in Chicago, and Michael Slager, who killed Walter Scott in North Charleston, are notable recent exceptions.) A jury convicting Noor on multiple charges is profoundly unusual.

The racial politics of this case made it unique. Noor is Somali-American, which in these United States means that most people see him as Black. Ruszczyk was a fair-skinned, blonde-haired Australian-American, which in these United States means that most people see her as white. Where the traditional narrative about officer-involved killings involves white male officers killing men of color, in this case a Black officer killed a white woman. This naturally has prompted questions about the role that race played in shaping the verdict.

I happen to be of the opinion that the jury did the right thing in finding Noor guilty. All police who kill with no cause should be held accountable, including Noor.

My problem is not that Noor was convicted of murder. My problem is that Jeronimo Yanez was not after killing Philando Castile. My problem is that Dante Servin was not after killing Rekia Boyd. My problem is that Caesar Goodson Jr., William Porter, Brian Rice, Edward Nero, Garrett Miller, and Alicia White were never convicted for killing Freddie Gray. My problem is that Daniel Pantaleo wasn’t even charged after killing Eric Garner and that Timothy Loehmann wasn’t for killing Tamir Rice and that no one was ever indicted in the death of Sandra Bland.

My problem is not with the Minneapolis jury that found value in Justine Ruszczyk’s white life. My problem is with the thousands of judges and juries and disciplinary review boards that routinely find no value in other people’s Black lives. Justine Ruszczyk’s life mattered, and the legal system is structured so as to emphasize that mattering. But Black lives matter, too, and the system continues to obliterate their mattering.

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