A 17-year-old teenager was shot and critically injured by Salt Lake City police on Saturday for allegedly holding a metal stick, one source alleging the teen was only holding a broomstick. The incident sparked protests in the area, with police responding in the now expected way of donning riot gear and preparing for battle. According to reports from the local police, officers witnessed the victim and another teenage boy assaulting someone with the aforementioned metal stick (or possibly broomstick) and fired two shots into the boy’s torso. Salt Lake City’s interim police chief identified the injured teenager as African American and believed to be from Kenya. Locals reacted in real-time with shock and surprise.
The protesting began almost immediately after the shooting. Witnesses told local news the teen, who was identified late Saturday night by his family as Abdi Mohamed, was never given a chance to surrender before police shot him. The shooting took place publicly near a homeless shelter and other social service facilities, the frequent foot traffic there no doubt contributing to news of the shooting spreading as quickly as it did.
Nearly 100 officers showed up to respond to the resulting protests. A detective with the SLPD told local news that people were understandably upset about what had taken place, but outside of that would only confirm that shots were fired, not how many or by whom. This deflection led the press to predictably focus even more on the protesters. The Salt Lake tribune reported that protesters were “yelling obscenities at police and throwing rocks.” Audio obtained by NBC news reveals officers straining to maintain control of the situation, one overheard as saying “be advised, they are throwing bigger rocks.” The outraged crowd shouted over the officers that “they shot an innocent kid” as anger over the shooting grew.
— Bucky Barnes (@PubPolWonk) February 28, 2016
Despite the protests, police had announced Saturday they were not yet ready to release body camera footage of the shooting. Both officers involved in the shooting have been put on administrative leave, but other than that there are very few details about what, if any, action is taking place to rectify the situation. CNN confirmed in a disturbing development that the investigation over the shooting was being conducted exclusively by the police department before being handed over to the district attorney.
Jeanetta Williams, President of the Salt Lake City chapter of the NAACP, told local news she was deeply disturbed by the obviously disproportionate amount of force involved. “Did they feel like their life was in danger, did they have to shoot?” she questioned in an interview.
This shooting is particularly gut-wrenching because of the “investigation” currently being conducted. Local and state police, and their handling of shootings, seemed to be inching ever so slowly closer to something resembling due process in the years since Trayvon Martin’s murder. But this investigation has the hallmarks of a cover-up: not releasing body camera footage, keeping the investigation internal, and immediately responding to protests with riot police. The one saving grace here is the victim is thankfully still alive. If the last arduous months were one step forward, this could be three steps back, and there aren’t too many more steps before the country falls off a cliff.
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