On Monday, North Miami police shot Charles Kinsey, a behavioral therapist who was helping his autistic patient. Before the police fired a bullet into him, Kinsey had been lying on his back with his hands held high in the air, begging the officers not to shoot him. Kinsey explained that he was a caregiver, that his patient had autism, and that the item in the patient’s hand was a toy truck and not a weapon.
Kinsey’s best efforts were not enough, and as the police approached him, they shot him in the leg. Speaking from his hospital bed, Kinsey seemed baffled by the police’s decision to shoot him. He said he thought that “As long as I’ve got my hands up, they’re not going to shoot me.” After all, he had obeyed every possible rule, taken every possible precaution. So after being shot, Kinsey asked the officer why he had done it.
The officer’s reply:
“I don’t know.”
To Jamilah King’s list of reasons police can assault and even kill you, then, we can now add a new final entry:
- Selling CDs outside of a supermarket.
- Selling cigarettes outside of a corner store.
- Walking home with a friend.
- Missing a front license plate.
- Riding a commuter train.
- Holding a fake gun in a park in Ohio.
- Holding a fake gun in a Walmart in Ohio.
- Holding a fake gun in Virginia.
- Holding a fake gun in Washington, D.C.
- Calling for help after a car accident.
- Driving with a broken brake light.
- Failing to signal a lane change.
- Walking away from police.
- Walking toward police.
- Running to the bathroom in your apartment.
- Walking up the stairwell of your apartment building.
- Sitting in your car before your bachelor party.
- Holding your wallet.
- Making eye contact.
- Attending a birthday party.
- I don’t know.
We have finally reached the point, then, of abandoning even the flimsiest pretext. If the officer can’t think of any reason, even a totally implausible one, they can just shrug their shoulders and say “I don’t know,” i.e. “I guess I just felt like it.”
There’s a certain honesty to this. At least the officer didn’t pretend that Charles Kinsey deserved to be shot. He essentially just said “Because I am a cop, and you are black, and such is the nature of things.” Just as the lion must roar and the fish must swim, so must the police officer shoot when he sees a black man. It was simply impossible for the officer to imagine not shooting Charles Kinsey.
Of course, while the officer may not know his own reasons for shooting Kinsey, they’re not particularly difficult to figure out. The officer may have felt compelled to shoot Kinsey by an unseen force, but we know that the force has a name. (Racism.)
The Kinsey incident is egregious for a whole slew of reasons. First, there’s obviously the totally gratuitous racist act itself. Kinsey was shouting “Please don’t shoot me” and “All he has is a toy truck! I am a behavior therapist at a group home!” The fact that police even drew their weapons in such a situation is inexcusable, if predictable.
Second, there’s the disability element. Kinsey said he was mostly worried for the safety of his patient, whose disability could have led him to react in ways that would have caused officers to become tense. Police officers are notoriously bad at handling people with mental illnesses, and up to half of those killed by law enforcement have disabilities. Whether choking a man with Down’s syndrome to death in a movie theater, or beating the life out of a homeless schizophrenic, police brutality toward disabled people is a national disgrace. (It is also why any movement against police killings needs to find a way to incorporate abuse of the disabled as well as race-based brutality.)
Finally, the Kinsey shooting is disturbing for what occurred afterward. Kinsey says he was less upset by the shooting than by the fact that, after it happened, police turned him on his back and handcuffed him while he was bleeding, instead of getting him medical attention. This is an aspect of police shootings that never gets sufficient discussion. The shootings themselves are frequently unjustified, but the failure to provide any medical assistance to a fully “neutralized” individual is never justified. Philando Castile was shot in the arm, but instead of rushing to his aid and getting him to hospital, the officer spent the time after the shooting pointing his weapon at Castile’s fiancée and shouting at her (before ultimately handcuffing and arresting her).
The same thing happened in the Tamir Rice killing. Rice was left to bleed to death as the officers stood around uselessly, again devoting their efforts to handcuffing Rice’s terrified wailing sister instead of taking measures that might have kept Rice alive. And when Eric Courtney Harris murmured “I can’t breathe” as he lay dying, shot by a 73-year-old reserve deputy, police officers replied by shouting “Fuck your breath” instead of administering medical help. Even if these shootings were justified (and they were absolutely not), the failure of police to make any effort to save a life would still be morally equivalent to murder.
At this point, it is difficult to be surprised by the existence of yet another horrifying video of a police shooting. But the Charles Kinsey incident is police brutality at its logically absurd endpoint. They don’t even know why they do it anymore. It’s just part of the job.