The ongoing conversation about police use of force, especially as relates to black men, isn't just about Ferguson, Missouri; the deaths of young black men by police action stands as a national issue, not a local one. To that end, protesters are now gathering in Ohio, seeking justice in another troubling-seeming case — the fatal police shooting of Walmart customer John Crawford. Protesters have demanded that surveillance video of the 21-year-old's death be released, with 100 or so protesters gathering at the Ohio attorney general's office, according to The Christian Science Monitor.
With the staggering amount of coverage that Michael Brown's death received over the last week and a half, and rightly so, you might've missed the news of what happened to Crawford. Crawford was shopping at the Beavercreek, Ohio, Walmart on Aug. 6, and at some point, he allegedly picked up one of the air rifles sold by the retail chain.
What's known definitively is that the police were called in response to Crawford, and when they arrived, they shot him fatally. His partner, LeeCee Johnson, was also in the store at the time — the two were in different sections of the retail giant, and were talking on the phone at the time of the shooting, according to the Dayton Daily News.
We was just talking. He said he was at the video games playing videos and he went over there by the toy section where the toy guns were. And the next thing I know, he said ‘It’s not real,’ and the police start shooting and they said ‘Get on the ground,’ but he was already on the ground because they had shot him. And I could hear him just crying and screaming. I feel like they shot him down like he was not even human.
An eyewitness, Ronald Ritchie, was the one who called the police on Crawford. He alleges that Crawford was "messing" with the air gun while talking on his cell phone, and Ritchie believed he was planning violence. According to WSOC:
[Crawford] was just waving [the gun] at children and people ... I couldn't hear anything that he was saying. I'm thinking that he is either going to rob the place or he's there to shoot somebody. He didn't really want to be looked at and when people did look at him, he was pointing the gun at them. He was pointing at people. Children walking by.
For some clarity, air guns are essentially recreational. They can fire pellets or BBs, and use compressed air or gas to launch the projectile. They're not real guns, but also not totally benign — they can be used for hunting small animals, or on shooting ranges as well. But that's beside the point, as they're sold inside Walmart — something responding police should probably either know or consider — and even beyond that, Ohio is an open-carry state. Crawford would've ostensibly been within his rights to have an actual semi-automatic rifle strapped to his back. Remember those guys at Chipotle? They're all still alive.
If Crawford was actually aiming the rifle at people, as Ritchie says, however, that could change things. But what's really under the spotlight is the response by the Beavercreek police, and whether they provided adequate opportunity to Crawford to set down the air gun, or to explain himself. Johnson claims that he was shot virtually in tandem with the police ordering him to get on the ground — in other words, was this a tragic mistake, or one avoidable if the police had kept cooler heads?
And, of course, the unavoidable question — would Crawford still be alive if he were white? Police shoot and kill young black men at a far higher rate than whites.
Crawford wasn't the only person who lost his life in Walmart that day — 37-year-old Angela Williams also collapsed and died while trying to flee the store after the shooting. Both were honored with vigils during Thursday's National Moment of Silence, in remembrance of Ferguson's Michael Brown, according to the Dayton Daily News.
It's not clear whether the Ohio protests will build in size or intensity as time goes by; right now, at least, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's spokesperson told the Monitor there were no plans she knew of to release the footage, at least throughout the duration of the case.