If you asked me what happened in Minneapolis Saturday night, I would say the police shot a woman after she called 911. Around 11:30pm, Justine Damond summoned police to address what she thought might be an assault in the alley behind her home. “Sources with knowledge of the incident” told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that Damond, in her pajamas, was talking to one officer through the driver-side window of his patrol car when the other officer shot her from the passenger seat. It’s hard to understand how or why that happened—especially since both officers’ body cameras were turned off, as was the dashboard camera of their car.
Anyway, that’s what I’d say if I were a normal person describing what happened in Minneapolis this weekend. Here is what Mayor Betsy Hodges said about it, excerpted from her statement on Facebook:
Late last night, an officer-involved shooting occurred in the 13th ward, following a 911 call that two Minneapolis police officers responded to on the 5100 block of Washburn Avenue South. Tragically, a woman was fatally shot when one of the officers discharged their weapon.
I recognize that Hodges has a legal incentive not to assign responsibility to city employees, but come on. To say that “an officer-involved shooting occurred” during which “a woman was fatally shot when one of the officers discharged their weapon” is an extremely roundabout way to say police shot someone. It’s disrespectful to the loved ones of the woman they shot. It’s disrespectful to the reader, who understands what happened but is forced to interpolate it from Hodges’s subject-free juxtaposition of events. And considering the occasion for this statement is that a citizen called the police and they came over and shot her, it seems tone deaf.
This moment is when the mayor does not want to present city government as a mindless bureaucracy. She should speak in the language of ordinary people, not of death-notification robots. Now is the time to acknowledge how terrible this situation looks. I’m sure there is a good reason the officer A) didn’t want to shoot this woman but did have his gun out, with the safety off, in the car, or B) did want to shoot this woman, and C) turned off his body camera along with every other camera at the scene. Hodges should acknowledge the urgent need to know why these officers did what they did, instead of pretending it was a tragic event that just happened.