When 23 year old Robert Adams was shot to death by a San Bernardino police officer on Saturday, July 16, hearts of family, friends and caring members of the community were broken.
As the story went national it pulled the scab off a wound in the collective Black community that seems destined to remain raw and open to infection in a nation where tending to the grievous sorrows perpetrated against Black lives is subject to more political lip service than substantive and meaningful change.
In the meantime, the initial police report appears to provide the usual “boiler plate” explanation about what led to the shooting in a way they hope justifies the officer’s action while simultaneously describing Adams in the most suspicious and least favorable light while also working to ensure members of the community of the police department’s commitment to an unbiased investigation.
Meanwhile, despite the involvement of one of the nation’s most prominent Civil Rights attorneys, Benjamin Crump, who has represented families of many high-profile police shootings nationally, including the family of George Floyd killed by Minneapolis police in May 2020, response of local leaders to the shooting death of Adams appear somewhat muted. Last week the local chapter of the NAACP issued a call to action calling on local residents to attend last Wednesday’s meeting of the San Bernardino City Council.
During the meeting several in attendance spoke about the shooting including three council members: Damon Alexander, Kimberly Calvin and Ben Reynoso. There were condolences offered to the family, calls for transparency and requests for time for police to complete the investigation.
There were also several community members who expressed support for the police and the city’s new Police Chief, Darren Goodman.
The atmosphere was far from heated and passionate response to police killings experienced across the country during the 2020 uprising. Overall, I would describe the response to the shooting death of Adams by local police as tepid… to some extent…vaguely muted. But why?
It’s possible it is a collective desire to give the city’s newly appointed police chief an opportunity for success.
Just a few short week ago on Wednesday, June 15, Darren Goodman was sworn in as the city’s first Black police chief in San Bernardino’s 116 year history. It appears the community has taken a “wait and see” approach to its demands for transparency in relation to Adams death. Is this in deference to Goodman? Only time will tell.
Transparency regarding police use of excessive force incidents remains illusive across the country almost as if it is a bridge to far for police to cross and despite all the police chiefs who took a knew during the 2020 uprising of city council declarations that racism is a public health crisis.
But there may be more than the hope for transparency under the new police chief that has warranted the tepid response to the San Bernardino shooting.
A 2020 analysis of shooting deaths by police across the country published by the Social Science Quarterly noted, “Rates of fatal shootings by officers are almost 50 percent higher in cities with police forces led by white police chiefs than in cities with Black police chiefs.”
The report further noted that of the 30 cities with the highest rates of fatal police shootings, 23 had police departments led by whites and only four have departments led by Blacks.
On the other hand, of the 30 cities with the lowest rates of fatal police shootings, 16 have police departments led by Blacks and only 11 were led by whites. It is also important to note that differences in fatal shooting rates persist even after controlling for city characteristics.
This study used The Washington Post’s “Fatal Force Database” to calculate rates of fatal shootings (per capita) by police officers that occurred between January 1, 2015 and June 1, 2020 for the 100 largest cities in the United States.
All eyes are now on Goodman as the San Bernardino community waits to see how this case will unfold. Will the investigation confirm what many witnessed with what police supporters would have you believe were “their lying eyes”? Will the investigation come back with a ‘business as usual’ explanation and justification for Adams’ death? Or, will Goodman deliver a much hoped for and unexpected outcome with a reasonable, believable and transparent explanation regarding why another young Black man–this time on his watch–is gone too soon?
During an exclusive interview with Black Voice News in April Goodman stated, “When it comes to issues of race, I understand the dynamics on both sides,” noting that “understanding” is one of the personal attributes he will bring to the job along with his experience and commitment.
“I understand how some of the experiences people have had, frames how they feel and I would be sensitive to that. I also understand that people doing the job of law enforcement will have experiences and they also have a job to do, and I understand that as well.”
Now, Goodman is being called on to navigate troubled waters. It appears–at least for now–he is being given a chance to use his understanding of the dynamics on both sides to truly deliver on calls for transparency.
Of course this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.