Why? The question that still hangs over Justine Damond’s killing

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The shooting of the Australian by police in Minneapolis has ousted a senior officer and invigorated brutality protests but family, friends and two nations are still waiting

When Minneapolis police officers Matthew Harrity and Mohamed Noor arrived at the alleyway behind the home of Justine Damond on the night of 15 July, they radioed in a code four, which means no assistance needed or situation is under control.

The time was 11.39pm. The sequence of events that followed would reverberate around the world and, within days, devastate a family, upend a citys politics and transfix two nations.

The police shooting of Damond, also known as Ruszczyk, would reinforce widely held international views of the US as a country where gun culture and trigger-happy police are out of control. Locally, it would also give a renewed sense of urgency to black activists who, for the past two years, had been marching, blocking highways and holding occupations as part of a campaign to bring an end to police shootings in their communities.

As they would quickly realise, this case wouldnt follow the patterns they had grown used to seeing. Some would say that was because authorities had learned from past mistakes, while others would say it was because of who the victim was, and who she was not. The details of what happened when the two officers drove through that alleyway has slowly come into focus over the past week, but there is still much that is not known.

An
An Australian flag at a memorial for Justine Damond serves as a reminder of how this US police shooting has differed from others. Photograph: Stephen Maturen/AFP/Getty Images

The alleyway

The officers were driving south down the alleyway in the quiet residential neighbourhood of Fulton, south Minneapolis. Damond, a 40-year-old woman from Sydney, lived there with her fiance Dom, who she met at a meditation retreat in Colorado in 2012. Fulton is not the kind of neighbourhood where alleyways, even the darkened kind, are necessarily dangerous places. One popular site considers it to be the third safest neighbourhood in Minneapolis. In the adjacent Linden Hills neighbourhood, where Damond taught meditation at a spiritual centre, one of the more pressing social problems is a debate over mini-McMansions and backyard sightlines. Violent crime is virtually nonexistent.

On that night, Damond heard what she thought was the sound of a sexual assault happening behind her home. She thought she heard a woman who needed help.

Mohamed
Mohamed Noor, the officer who fatally shot Justine Damond. Photograph: AP

First, she called Dom, who told her to stay put and call 911.

Its been going on for awhile and I think she tried to say help and it sounded distressed, she told the 911 operator. When police didnt arrive right away, she called again.

It is unclear exactly why Damond left her house. Some reports have said investigators think she was trying to get the attention of officers to direct them to the right location, since they had driven too far along the alleyway. But we do know, from a search warrant, that investigators believe she slapped the back of the police SUV as she approached it, and that the driver, Harrity, said he was startled by a loud noise. It was Noor, in the passenger seat, who pulled the trigger, shooting across his partner and through the window, striking Damond in the abdomen.

The 911 transcript shows that at 11.42pm, officers began performing CPR. At some point, a witness on a bike reportedly filmed a video.

What the witness saw has not been revealed but he has spoken to investigators.

At 11.51pm, officers pronounced Damond dead at the scene.

A video, a vigil and a march

Protesters
Protesters attend a march in honour of Justine Damond at Beards Plaisance park in Minneapolis on 20 July. Photograph: Aaron Lavinsky/AP

The next day, at about 8.30am, Bethany Bradley, a 35-year-old mother of three, was on her way to a meeting when she noticed a police investigation van by the corner of Washburn and 50th, near where Damond had been shot.

Bradley was a co-founder of Womens March Minnesota, the local chapter of the movement behind the march that saw more than an estimated 5 million people protest worldwide the day after Donald Trumps inauguration. Through that work, shed attended Black Lives Matter protests, and got to know some of the activists working on police reform issues in the Twin Cities Minneapolis and Saint Paul.

She knew the van could mean trouble it had the words Bureau of Criminal Apprehension on the side, and the BCA is the agency that investigates police shootings. She texted Jason Sole, the president of the Minneapolis NAACP, a civil rights group that had been collaborating with Womens March.

All they knew, he told her, was that police had shot a white woman, who had died. Bradley asked him what she could do to help. This is your actual neighbourhood. You live there. And I think you should go and see what you can do to help, she recalled him saying.

At that point, a trickle of activists and journalists began to arrive at the scene. On this issue, the mood in the city was already tense following two years of continuous protests after the police killings of unarmed black men, Jamar Clark in 2015 and Philando Castile in 2016. The officer who shot Castile had been acquitted almost exactly a month before Damonds death, sparking mass protests that shut down a local highway.

In those past protests, Bradley saw it as her role to support the black activists. Now, suddenly, the script was flipped. Sole told her to text or call once she arrived.

Sole explained later: When we are protesting and rising up against injustice, we want people to support us and help us out but we dont want them to take the lead. I didnt feel it was appropriate at the Minneapolis NAACP to try and take the lead on this. He added that the Womens March seemed like a good fit since some of its core organisers, like Bradley, were from the area.

As Bradley came to talk to neighbours milling about the scene, a young man approached her and asked: Do you know what happened here? She told him she didnt yet, and asked what he knew, and he replied: All I know is that was my mom and the police killed her.

It was Zach Damond, Justines 22-year-old stepson.

No one will give us any answers. No will give us any information, Bradley remembered him saying.

Bradley said she thought of her own children in that moment. She also thought of the video that Diamond Reynolds, the girlfriend of Philando Castile, had filmed in the moments after he was shot, and how she had done it while her daughter was in the backseat of the car.

Like Reynolds had done, Bradley started a Facebook livestream, capturing the video of Zach Damond demanding answers. It would be seen by millions of people across the world in the days to come.

My mom is dead because a police officer shot her for reasons I dont know and I demand answers, he says.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jul/29/justine-damond-minneapolis-killing-question-why

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