Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
The names of African American men shot by police each week rarely make the news, but their ever-mounting numbers show how urgently reform is needed.
On Monday, a New Orleans Police Department officer who was responding to the sound of gunshots was involved in an altercation with a suspect. Working from a preliminary police report, The Times-Picayune noted that the injured officer was taken to the hospital. What the police failed to disclose from the start—and what the same reporter revealed yesterday—is that the gunshots heard by the police were fired by the police.
Armand Bennett, 26, and his brother were driving in an upscale New Orleans neighborhood when an officer recognized the vehicle. Due to Bennett's outstanding misdemeanor warrants, the two officers drew their weapons and engaged in a felony stop, according to reports. One of the officers then shot Bennett, who is black, in the head, sending him to the hospital, where he is in serious condition. He was unarmed.
Police initially reported the incident this way: "Officer was in area, heard shots fried (sic), had altercation with subject and sustained minor injury to right hand. The officer was taken to Tulane Hospital by unit 1420." Only after reporters pressed for more details did the police tell the full truth. Bennett's attorney adamantly denies that he engaged officers who may have approached his car with weapons drawn, telling one reporter, "I have a theory that when you have two black males in a car at 1:30 in an area where they shouldn't be or don't belong, police might act a little more aggressive towards them."
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, an unarmed 25-year-old black man named Ezell Ford was shot three times by police who stopped him for allegedly suspicious behavior. "It is unknown if the suspect has any gang affiliations," the police said in a press statement. That seems unlikely: Ford was mentally handicapped. Protesters are planning a rally outside Los Angeles Police Department headquarters for Sunday.
These shootings—plus last week's shooting of John Crawford, black, 22, and only "armed" with a toy—might not reach national news were it not for the Aug. 9 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the subsequent police siege. That standoff has only just showed signs of lifting after six days, but now, the #HandsUpDontShoot protests have gone nationwide.
We don't know yet, and many never know, whether any of these shootings were justified—to the extent that any police shooting of an unarmed suspect can be. But we could know the truth, or at least more of it, with a simple change in policy that could drastically change the fates of young unarmed black men: requiring police officers to wear cameras. After these racially charged police shootings, which are as heartbreaking as they are unfortunately unexceptional, the burden of proof falls on the police to show why they all shouldn't work like the Rialto Police Department.