Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges stepped to the microphone Friday night to announce the latest development in the most recent killing by an area police officer — the resignation of the city’s police chief. But she only managed a few words before she was drowned out by shouts.
Unable to continue, Hodges and her staff left the room. The protesters, victorious for a moment, serenaded her with “bye-bye, Betsy.”
When she returned 20 minutes later to complete her official announcement, the protesters were gone. But the memories of three officers involved in shooting fatalities over the past two years remained.
The most recent was the July 15 killing of Justine Damond, who was shot by a police officer who had responded to her 911 calls reporting a woman possibly being raped in an alley near her home.
Clad in pajamas, Damond, an Australia native, approached the responding police car on the driver’s side.
The officer driving the car, Matthew Harrity, reportedly told investigators he and his partner had been startled by a loud noise just before Damond approached. Officer Mohamed Noor, who was sitting in the passenger seat, shot across his partner and hit Damond. Noor reportedly has refused to be interviewed by investigators.
Both responding officers had failed to activate their body cameras — violating department policy — meaning there will never be a definitive, objective depiction of what happened in that alley.
But concerned citizens see a pattern in the three Minneapolis-area police shootings: Inadequately trained officers with little regard for human life.
The officer-involved slayings of Jamar Clark and Philando Castile sparked protests in Minneapolis and outside the city limits, especially since the officers involved were cleared of charges.
On March 30, 2016, authorities announced that the Minneapolis officers who shot Clark would not face criminal charges because they believed the 24-year-old black man was trying to grab one of their guns during a struggle in front of an apartment building on Nov. 15, 2015.
And last month, a court in Ramsey County, Minn., found the officer who shot Castile during a traffic stop not guilty of second-degree murder and other charges. Castile was killed by an officer in Falcon Heights, a suburb of neighboring St. Paul, the state capital.
The shootings came as police departments are under increased scrutiny for fatal confrontations, particularly with minorities. So far this year, 554 people have been shot and killed by the police, according to The Washington Post’s Fatal Force Database. Last year, a total of 963 people were killed.
The decisions in the officer-involved killings of Castile and Clark sparked calls for change, and Damond’s shooting re-energized those efforts. Castile’s mother marched with Damond’s fiance in a Peace and Justice March on Thursday in Damond’s memory. Photos from the Daily Mail showed the duo embracing during the event, which was billed as a show of solidarity for family members whose loved ones had been killed by the police.
The frustrations crescendoed at the Minneapolis mayor’s news conference on Friday night.
“Your police department has terrorized us enough,” said Thompson, the activist. “Your leadership has been very ineffective, and if you don’t remove yourself, we’re going to put someone in place to remove you.”
The missteps by the police department — not just the shooting, but also the violation of the body camera policy — fell squarely on the Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau. It’s sparked local, national and even international outrage. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has called the shooting “shocking” and “inexplicable.”
“We have put too much time, money, and effort into to have them fail us when we needed them most,” Hodges wrote. “That cannot happen again.”
The mayor asked for Harteau’s resignation and Harteau tendered it, making her at least the fourth chief of a major police department forced out in recent years amid controversy over a fatal encounter with officers.