“The Most Innocent Victim”

What the response to a police shooting sounds like when a black cop kills a white woman.

People march down Washburn Avenue on July 20, 2017 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

People march down Washburn Avenue on July 20 in Minneapolis.

Stephen Maturen/AFP/Getty Images

The death of Justine Damond at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor on July 15 was a horrific tragedy. It was also the setup for a grim comparison: What would law enforcement officials, police union reps, and conservative pundits say if, instead of a white police officer shooting an unarmed black man, a black officer shot an unarmed white woman? To make the comparison even more direct, Damond—who’d lived for most of her life in Australia—was killed in the same part of the country where Jamar Clark and Philando Castile, both black men, were killed by police officers in 2015 and 2016 respectively. (Clark was shot by two officers from the Minneapolis Police Department, neither of whom were prosecuted; Castile was shot by an officer in nearby St. Anthony who was charged with manslaughter and acquitted.)

Reality did not disappoint the cynics. Within six days of Damond’s death, an attorney for her family had called her “the most innocent victim” of a police shooting he’d ever seen, and the mayor of Minneapolis had asked for and received the resignation of police chief Janeé Harteau. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune ran a story pointing out that Bob Kroll, the leader of the local police union—who once referred to the Black Lives Matter movement as a “terrorist organization”—was being uncharacteristically silent when it came to the culpability of the Somali American Noor. When pressed on why he had been willing to defend the officers involved in Clark’s death but unwilling to defend Noor, Kroll told the Star-Tribune that he hadn’t yet spoken to Noor’s lawyer and therefore didn’t have enough information to comment. “In this case, I don’t know the facts of it,” Kroll told a reporter in a series of text messages. “His attorney is handling and the Federation is remaining silent. This is how our board and attorney decided to handle this one.”

The episode is unquestionably more complicated than a brief summary of the facts might suggest. For one thing, it’s not clear who progressives can point to as the villain in the case: The mayor of Minneapolis, Betsy Hodges, is a liberal who has shown a willingness to defend Black Lives Matter activists against police officers hostile to their cause, while the police chief who resigned was an openly gay Native American woman who embraced use-of-force reform. But one phenomenon this police killing has illustrated plainly and dramatically is the power of self-interested reasoning—the kind of flawed, ideological thinking that shows through when people need to protect their preexisting beliefs and irrational biases.

At a speech in Waconia, a city about 30 miles outside of Minneapolis, former Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann expressed outrage over Damond’s death and zeroed in on the ethnicity of the police officer who killed her. She called him an “affirmative-action hire” and invited audience members to consider the possibility that Noor had shot Damond for “cultural” reasons. Later, in an interview with WorldNetDaily, Bachman was quoted as saying, “Noor comes from the mandated cover-up women culture. That’s why I’m wondering if they’ll ask whether his cultural views led him to shoot her. That’s something, if true, I can’t imagine the progressives would allow to get out.” As far as I can tell, this was the first time in recent years that Bachmann had commented on police violence, unless you count the “All Labs Matter” dog meme she tweeted two weeks after Castile’s death.

On July 19, Mayor Hodges wrote a post on Facebook assuring members of Minneapolis’ sizable Somali community that she condemned any Islamophobic attacks that had been leveled against them since Damond’s death. “Justine’s death is a tragedy for our city,” she wrote. “We cannot compound that tragedy by turning to racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia. It is unjust and ridiculous to assert that an entire community be held responsible for the actions of one person.”

Writing for the Daily Caller, Jim Treacher pointed to the mayor’s statement as evidence of a progressive conspiracy to prioritize political correctness over justice and truth. He pretended to paraphrase the mayor, writing, “It’s a shame about Justine, but that’s no reason to hurt anybody’s feelings. Words are violence too, y’know.” Treacher—who wrote earlier this year that he found the Castile shooting “indefensible,” even though he was “very skeptical of the Black Lives Matter folks”——went on to criticize Noor for refusing to give a statement about what happened in the moments leading up to the shooting:

He hasn’t given a good reason, or any reason, for shooting the unarmed woman who called him for help. And yet we’re supposed to be sympathetic toward him because he’s a designated victim and Justine Damond wasn’t. Her death doesn’t matter, and the suffering of her loved ones is irrelevant, because it does nothing to further the cause of “social justice.” Hey, it’s just one less affluent, middle-aged lady walking around with her white privilege, right?

Identity politics is poison.

Ann Coulter got in on the action via Twitter, first by taking exception with Noor’s decision to fire his gun from the passenger seat of his squad car while his partner was behind the wheel and then suggesting that the high rate of police shootings in the U.S. is a consequence of all the Somalis who live here. In 2013, Coulter had proclaimed “Hallelujah!” after George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the Trayvon Martin killing, and the following year she responded to the nonindictment of Darren Wilson in the Michael Brown case by writing, “There’s nothing to protest! A cop shot a thug who was trying to kill him.”

While it may be folly to draw any broad conclusions from the extremist ravings of Coulter and Bachmann, their hateful rhetoric is a reminder of how far it’s possible to go in defense of one’s own ideology. Faced with an opportunity to advance an argument about the dangers of diversity, and of Islam in particular, people whose politics typically incline them to defend police officers at all costs are willing to criticize an embattled cop—as long as he’s of Somali heritage and his victim is white. If someone wrote these events into a novel, literary critics would call the plot excessively didactic. But this is real life, and what real people really believe is that a police officer is more likely to shoot an innocent woman because he’s a Somali American zealot than because of improper training that makes him and many of his colleagues in law enforcement scared of everything that moves.