Within a few days, two women, belonging to two different minorities, were killed in their homes at the hands of American police.
In Muckleshoot, an Indian reservation not far from Seattle, police shot and killed a five-month pregnant woman who was already the mother of two young children. The 23-year-old Renee Davis had been suffering from depression. A friend of the woman called the police, worried because a message from her seemed to convey suicidal thoughts.
The police arrived at the scene and knocked on the door, but no one opened. They could see through the windows that the two children were wandering around the house. They entered by force, and the agents found Davis with a gun in her hand and, rather than preventing her from committing suicide, shot her repeatedly.
The adoptive sister of the victim told The Seattle Times: “It’s really upsetting because it was a wellness check. Obviously she didn’t come out of it well.”
For now, the two policemen, an eight-year veteran assigned to the Muckleshoot reservation and a colleague with three years of service in the same county, were put on paid administrative leave, while investigators are probing the dynamics that led to the killing.
The news of the murder has caused protests in Seattle and in neighboring Canada. #ReneeDavis became a hashtag on Twitter. It’s connected to #SayHerName, the hashtag used to commemorate the victims of police violence, to elevate them from a nebulous limbo and give them an identity beyond the ranks of an ethnic minority.
According to The Guardian’s Counted Project, which monitors police shootings, murders of Native Americans at the hands of law enforcement officials have doubled both in 2015 and in 2016, and a recent study shows that Native Americans are more likely to be killed by the police than any other ethnic group in the United States.
This murder comes just four days after the death of Deborah Danner, a 66-year-old black woman, which also occurred in her residence, located in the Bronx borough of New York. Also in this case, the victim suffered a mental disorder — she was schizophrenic — and the police had gone there to escort her to the hospital to receive appropriate treatment. Something must have gone wrong: They found her armed with a baseball bat. The police, instead of immobilizing her, shot her and killed her.
The episode generated indignant statements by Mayor Bill de Blasio, and investigations are underway. But in this case, too, the two police officers were put on paid administrative leave. “It’s quite clear that our officers are supposed to use deadly force only when faced with a dire situation,” de Blasio said at a news conference. “And it’s very hard for any of us to see that that standard was met here.”
For the pressure groups pushing for police reform, the rhetoric from the mayor and from the New York City Police Department chief, who called this murder “a failure” of his department, are not enough to heal the wound between the police and the communities involved in these episodes. The killings have shown no sign of stopping.
The mayor and police chief “have pointed to this being a breach of protocol, but for us, that’s really not the problem here,” said Yul-san Liem, co-director of the Justice Committee of New York. “When someone gets killed there is outrage and the commissioner or the mayor says we will look at our protocols. What doesn’t happen is accountability for officers who kill people. The officer who killed Deborah Danner should not be collecting a paycheck right now.”