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Are black men so invisible—dark shapes in a hyper-militarized society—that officers literally cannot see or hear them?
I thought about that at 3 a.m. while watching the video of North Miami, Florida, police shooting Charles Kinsey. He was shot doing his job—walking a young man with autism back to his group home. Kinsey’s twenty-three-year-old patient held a toy fire truck, which may have prompted the 911 call by someone who said a man with a gun was threatening suicide.
Kinsey followed the Negro-to-Cop Protocol: Stop, drop to your back, arms up and visible, legs locked. At no point during this farce did Kinsey curse at police or make a move that could be interpreted as pre-emptive. He got capped anyway. Three shots, one hit his leg.
When he asked the officer why he’d been shot, the answer boggles the mind: “I don't know.”
To his great credit, Kinsey remained calm while trying to settle the young man and deal with the police. We ought to be thankful there are people like him doing a job that is undervalued, as evidenced by the pay.
My wife once did the kind of work Kinsey does. It is absolutely mentally and physically taxing. On days and nights when she was on call, she often carried a phone and thick briefcase of files for three young women in a group home she managed. I called it the “nuclear football,” because at any moment, whether at home or the movies or grocery shopping, she could and often would get a call to solve a crisis either by phone or in-person.
Sometimes, but not too often, there was a threat of violence. Police knew the home and the struggles the women faced. The staff and officers developed a protocol so as to not intensify the stress for the young women they were helping. Does the North Miami Police Department have such a protocol? If so, it can’t possibly look like this.
Now here’s the reality: If my tall, blonde wife was in a similar situation, I doubt she would have been on the ground, much less shot. If she had said in the same calm voice that Kinsey used, “I’m his caretaker. He has a toy truck,” I absolutely believe that police would have listened and de-escalated.
Who was the North Miami cop more scared of in this case: the young man with a toy firetruck, or his black caretaker? Either way, we should all be afraid.
Fred McKissack, Jr. is a frequent contributor to The Progressive.