WASHINGTON — This just in: Black men are still being killed by police officers for no good reason.
But you knew that. Anyone who has remotely been paying attention should be aware that unjustified police killings of African-American men continue unabated. In far too many police departments, the unwritten rule for encounters with black men is shoot first, ask questions later.
The most recent tragic example is the Thanksgiving night slaying of Emantic “E.J.” Bradford Jr., 21, at the Riverchase Galleria shopping mall in Hoover, Alabama, a Birmingham suburb. The city has been roiled by protests since Bradford’s killing — for good reason.
Amid a crowd of holiday bargain-hunters, at least two men got into a fight and shots rang out. According to the version of events that police originally told, a Hoover police officer working as a security guard at the mall responded, saw that Bradford was brandishing a gun, confronted him and took him down. As you may have guessed by now, that is not what actually happened.
It turns out that Bradford, who had no criminal record, was not one of the men who were arguing and had nothing to do with the original shooting. When the officer encountered him, Bradford was trying to lead bystanders to safety; he was legally armed with a handgun, though some witnesses have said the weapon was holstered. According to an independent autopsy conducted at the behest of Bradford’s family, the officer shot him three times from the rear — in the back, neck and head.
Hoover police acknowledged that their initial story about the killing was wrong, then went mum. They have declined to name the officer involved or publicly release any documentary evidence, saying they do not want to compromise an ongoing investigation of the incident.
A 20-year-old man named Erron Martez Dequan Brown was subsequently arrested and charged with attempted murder. A judge ruled Wednesday that prosecutors must turn over any body-camera and surveillance footage from the incident to Brown’s attorneys, meaning that the truth will almost surely come out.
There are some truths, however, that we have long known.
It remains true that almost any activity is dangerous if you are African-American and male. Walking home from a Florida convenience store. Standing on a Staten Island sidewalk. Playing with a toy at a Cleveland playground. Driving with a broken taillight in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.
To the long list of capital offenses — for black men only — we must now add deciding, after Thanksgiving dinner, to get a jump on Black Friday deals at an Alabama mall. Bradford appears to have been guilty of shopping while black, and he paid for that transgression with his life.
It remains true that African-American men effectively have no Second Amendment rights. Remember Philando Castile, the Minnesota man who was pulled over by police and tried to explain, as politely as possible, that he was legally carrying a firearm? Shot and killed. Remember Jemel Roberson, the armed Illinois security guard who was subduing a gun-wielding assailant — and wearing a hat that said “SECURITY” — when police arrived? Shot and killed.
Now we have Bradford, who by witness accounts was the “good guy with a gun” that the National Rifle Association praises as the solution to gun violence. Shot and killed. Where is the maximum-volume NRA outrage? Where is the wall-to-wall coverage on Fox News? Oh, that’s right, Bradford is black, and therefore ineligible for “good guy” status.
It remains true that the first impulse of police who wrongly kill an African-American man is to close ranks and lie. We have to assume that the Hoover police department’s original false account of the Bradford shooting is based on what the officer on the scene reported to superiors. It is not a stretch to also assume that the officer believed “black man with a gun” were magic words that would almost surely absolve him.
A vitally important trial is under way in Chicago. Earlier this year, Officer Jason Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder in the slaying of Laquan McDonald, 17, who was shot 16 times although he was armed only with a knife and dash-cam video showed clearly that he posed no immediate threat.
Now, three other officers are being tried for conspiring to back up Van Dyke’s false account of the incident. The “blue wall” of silence must be bulldozed if these coldblooded killings of black men are ever to cease. Only truth can set us free, or at least keep us alive.