Identity Politics Trumps Reason in Police Shooting

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Justine Damond and Mohammed Noor. (Photo: Clarion Project)

Justine Damond was shot and killed by a police officer in Minneapolis after she called the cops to report a possible sexual assault near her home. Police did not have their body cameras on, in breach of police protocol. The Minneapolis police department isnot giving Justine’s fiancé, whom she was due to marry in less than a month, full information.

So far this follows the pattern of other police shootings in America. Police brutality, where it occurs, is a serious issue, but it is not Clarion Project’s focus. We have no position on the specifics of this or any other case.

What we do have a position on is the way this case is being treated, which is very differently, for example, from the case of Philando Castile, a black man who was shot and killed by Hispanic police officer Jeronimo Yanez in 2016 in the very same city. That case sparked a national conversation about policing practices and race.

What is different in this case is that a Somali-American Muslim policeman Mohammed Noor shot and killed a blond, middle-class, white woman.

In a sane world, the ethnicity and religion of an officer would make no difference to the public’s response to a police shooting. If indeed there is a police brutality problem in America, then you would expect people to be taking to the streets over this latest incident.

Yet while there have been vigils for Damond, they are nowhere near the same scale as other incidents of alleged police brutality.


Instead, some of the same institutions which have previously gone to bat for campaigns against police brutality are now more concerned about a potential backlash against the Somali/Muslim community than they are about truth and justice.

There is no reason the ethnicity of the police officer should change the narrative, if the narrative is that the police have a brutality problem.

Yet, The Guardian, a British outlet, which has in the past been heavily critical of U.S. policing practices, changed its narrative for this incident. In their piece “Minneapolis officer who allegedly shot Justine Damond offers condolences,” The Guardian shows their colors in the second paragraph: “Noor is one of a small handful of Somali Americans on the Minneapolis force and comes from the city’s substantial Somali community – the largest in America – that has frequently been maligned in the rightwing press.”

There is also the silence of some of the usual voices, like Linda Sarsour, who so proudly proclaimed, “I am Muslim and I am Black Lives Matter,” back in 2016, addressing (among other things) unfair police brutality against blacks. Yet, Sarsour has had nothing to say about a woman in her pajamas reporting a crime being shot and killed by a police officer. Sarsour’s silence speaks volumes.

Black Lives Matter similarly made no statement about this shooting.

For its part, The Washington Post ran a piece entitled, “After Minneapolis officer in police shooting is named, Somali community braces for backlash.” In the piece, the Post quoted Mohamud Noor (no relation to the officer), executive director at the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota.“The fact that the police involved in the shooting is Somali makes it a different matter,” he said. Mohamud Noor previously protested with Black Lives Matter against police brutality.

Noor did not take the opportunity to make a strong statement affirming that the Confederation of Somali Community would be demanding that the police are held accountable, or if he did, the Post chose not to print it.

Instead he offered the feeble, “This is the time to bring people together. We have so many questions. What happened? Why were the body cameras off?”

Of course, there are those blaming the killing on the officer’s ethnicity/religion. This has taken place on pro-police social media groups and on certain fringe blogs. Those voices, however, are few and far between. (And so far, there is no indication to suggest that the shooting was a jihadist incident or had any relationship to Noor’s Muslim faith.)

Others, notably including the Young Turks, stuck with their principles and treated this case the same as other cases of alleged police brutality, without focusing on the religion of the officer. Yet, at the end of their video on the subject, the Young Turks commented that the police may be more inclined to indict Noor — a black, Muslim — than they would be for a white police officer in a similar case.

If that is true, it is deeply unjust, yet it is a separate issue. Here, we are talking about safeguarding the sensitivities of the Muslim community at the expense of facts (i.e., if police brutality was involved or not).

The reason Clarion Project is commenting on this case is because Islamist-linked organizations have gone to great lengths to portray the Muslim community in America as victims of racism/white supremacy and to deflect any criticism of them with the charge of bigotry.

This policy has created a toxic atmosphere which endangers truth. It’s the same attitude which saw ex-Muslims targeted at a gay pride parade in Canada and criticized at London’s gay pride parade because they dared to offend Muslims by speaking about Islamist oppression of gays.

Unlike these activists, Minnesota State Representative Ilhan Omar, the first Somali to be elected as a state legislator, made a statement about the case that was very encouraging, facing up to the situation without apologetics.

“I’m deeply heartbroken and disturbed by the death of Justine Damond, in the hands of Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor,” said Omar. “The idealist in me continues to be surprised, but I know this incident is another result of excessive force and violence-based training for supposed peace officers.”

Clarion Project hopes that the police investigate this and every case of a police shooting fully and impartially. The fact that the officer in question is Muslim is irrelevant to the case.

The fact that there are those who want to use this case to talk about a “backlash” against the Somali/Muslim community shows there are those in America who do not care about facts, they only care about protecting specific interest groups.

And for some inexplicable reason, the most protected group of all seems to be Muslims.



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Elliot Friedland

Elliot Friedland is a research fellow at Clarion Project.

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