Charles Kinsey Isn't the First Black Man Shot by Police Who Weren't Sure Why They Shot Him
It's been almost one day since Charles Kinsey was shot by a police officer in North Miami, Florida. He still doesn't know why the officer shot him. Apparently, neither does the officer.
Police opened fire on Kinsey Wednesday while he was lying on the ground with his hands up. According to an interview he gave WSVN from his hospital bed, the black behavioral therapist was trying to help an autistic patient who had wandered away from a nearby group home.
"I'm saying, 'Sir, why did you shoot me?'" Kinsey told reporters of his interaction with the officer after the shooting. Despite identifying himself as a healthcare professional and explaining that his patient — "Rinaldo" — had a toy truck in his hands and not a firearm, Kinsey took a bullet to the leg anyway. The officer who shot him has been placed on administrative leave while the North Miami Police Department investigates the incident, according to reports.
Kinsey survived the ordeal, but everyone involved seems confused. This allegedly includes the man who pulled the trigger.
"[His] his words to me were, 'I don't know,'" Kinsey told WSVN.
"I don't know" seems like a bad reason to shoot someone. But at least two other officer-involved shootings have followed a similar pattern in recent years, with guns being pulled on unarmed black men and discharged either "accidentally" or for reasons not entirely known to the shooter.
In neither case were the victims as fortunate as Kinsey. In 2009, Johannes Mehserle allegedly mistook his firearm for a stun gun when he drew it and pointed it at Oscar Grant's back. It was New Year's Eve in Oakland, California. Mehserle, a BART police officer, was responding to reports of an altercation at the city's Fruitvale train stop when he and fellow officers encountered Grant and a group of his friends.
Mehserle pulled the trigger, killing 22-year-old Grant, who was handcuffed and lying face down on the train platform at the time. Mehserle was eventually convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served one year in prison.
"I didn't intend to shoot him," Mehserle later testified. "I thought he was going for a gun. I made a mistake."
Robert Bates also made a mistake. The 74-year-old insurance executive shot and killed Eric Harris, a 44-year-old black man, during a sting operation staged by Tulsa County, Oklahoma, sheriffs in April 2015. Bates was acting in his capacity as an armed reserve sheriff's deputy. He had bought his way into the title by donating thousands of dollars worth of equipment to the department over the years.
After a brief foot chase, Bates pulled his gun and shot and killed Harris while the 44-year-old was restrained on the ground. Bates was later sentenced to four years in prison for second-degree manslaughter.
"When stress goes up, nobody gets smarter," Dr. Charles Morgan, a psychiatrist and witness for the defense, said during Bates' trial. He went on to explain that the high-stress situation Bates was facing may have triggered his "muscle memory," causing "reflexive" or "habitual" actions to kick in, the Tulsa World reports.
Habitual. Reflexive. A common theme connecting these incidents is the instinctive perceived threat posed by prone, unarmed black men. This is ironic, in part, because black people are consistently killed at higher rates by police officers than any other ethnic group, according to the Counted, the Guardian's database for tracking police killings in the U.S.
Meanwhile, 2015 was the second-safest year on record for police officers — and even with the spate of recent attacks in Dallas and Baton Rouge, 2016 is on track to produce comparable numbers. If anyone in this situation had reason to be afraid, it was Grant, Harris and Kinsey. All were shot anyway. Kinsey is the only one lucky enough to have survived.