Charles Kinsey lay on the street, flat on his back, arms raised, hands empty. Here was a man striking an unmistakable pose of submission.
If it had been me forced to lie on dirty asphalt for no good reason, I might have unleashed some unkind words at the knuckleheads who had utterly misread the situation.
But Charles Kinsey is 47. For a black man, that’s too long in this world to harbor dangerous illusions about who’s right or who’s wrong. Not when surrounded by police officers with assault weapons at the ready. Kinsey knew that the slightest provocation could lead to an incident later classified as justifiable homicide.
He was careful not to a utter a hostile word.
Still supine, he began with a respectful honorific. “Sir,” he yelled. “There’s no need for firearms.”
Often, after controversial police shootings, the outraged reaction in the streets and on social media ignores ambiguous circumstances. Mitigating factors get tossed aside if they conflict with a prevailing narrative about police gone berserk.
Actual facts about the Aug. 9, 2014, fatal shooting of a young black man in Ferguson, Mo., the incident that set off this hyper-awareness of controversial police shootings, did not, as it turned out, conform to the angry assumptions that reverberated through Facebook and Twitter in the days afterward.
Seven months later, a U.S. Department of Justice investigation concluded that while the Ferguson Police Department policies were tainted by racism and shoddy practices, the shooting of young Michael Brown that night was not a criminal act. “There is no credible evidence that [Officer Darren] Wilson willfully shot Brown as he was attempting to surrender or was otherwise not posing a threat.” Rather, the DOJ concluded, Brown himself was the aggressor that night, shot after he, “reached into the SUV through the open driver’s window and punched and grabbed Wilson.”
The Justice Department finding came a bit late for Ferguson, where 12 businesses had been burned down a few months before, an angry reaction to the local grand jury’s refusal to indict Wilson.
But what happened in North Miami on Monday seems utterly lacking in ambiguity. Video of the incident reveals no hint of threatening behavior by Charles Kinsey, nothing that might justify firing off three rounds from a police assault weapon.
North Miami police had apparently been dispatched to the 1400 block of NE 127th Street after a 911 call about a man walking around the street with a gun threatening suicide. They found nobody with a gun. But there was Kinsey, a behavior therapist, who had gone to fetch a 23-year-old autistic man who had wandered away from his nearby group home.
The autistic man held a toy truck in his hand. A cellphone video taken moments after police arrived showed Kinsey on the ground and the young autistic man seated crosslegged on the street next to him. The autistic man seems agitated but hardly threatening. Meanwhile, Kinsey can be heard cautioning police: “All he has is a toy truck.”
He said, “I am a behavior therapist at a group home.” He repeatedly tries to persuade the young man to lie down.
And then Kinsey was shot.
It was as inexplicable as any controversial police shooting raging around the Internet. A statement issued by the North Miami PD claimed “arriving officers attempted to negotiate with the two men on the scene, one of whom was later identified as suffering from autism.” It appeared to be a pretty one-sided negotiation. “At some point during the on-scene negotiation, one of the responding officers discharged his weapon.”
Thursday afternoon, the Dade County Police Benevolent Association made a stunning statement that the unnamed officer actually intended to shoot the autistic man and only accidentally struck Kinsey.
But if, as the PBA claims, the shots were fired because the cop assumed “Kinsey’s life was endangered,” the police officers surely would have realized that the shooter had just made a terrible error. Except they then flipped the bleeding gunshot victim facedown and handcuffed his hands behind his back. As if they had an actual criminal on their hands.
It makes you shudder, in these volatile times, with the nation on edge, what would have befallen this community if the shooter had not been such a damn lousy shot. If the officer had managed to kill one of the two unarmed men, either the healthcare worker or the mentally challenged young man with the toy truck — with video rolling.