An independent examiner has determined that Tyre King, the 13 year-old African-American boy fatally shot by Columbus, OH police last Wednesday, was “more likely than not” running away from an officer at the time he was shot. The conclusion would seem to contradict the official police narrative, which holds that King was shot in a confrontation with officers after “he pulled a realistic-looking BB gun on them”.
King was shot at 7:42 pm last Wednesday after officers responded to reports of an armed robbery over $10 by a group of three African-American teenagers. According to the official police department report, “officers followed the males to an alley and attempted to take them into custody when one suspect pulled a gun from his waistband. One officer shot and struck the suspect multiple times.”
The Columbus coroner’s office has completed an autopsy of King’s body but the results won’t be made public for at least six weeks. It was this delay that prompted King’s family to hire an independent medical examiner, Dr. Francisco Diaz, who is a professor of pathology at the University of Michigan and works as a medical examiner for Wayne County, MI. In a statement released by the King family’s attorney today, Diaz said that “based on the location and the direction of the wound paths it is more likely than not that Tyre King was in the process of running away from the shooter or shooters when he suffered all three gunshot wounds.”
It is not in question that King was involved in the robbery; indeed his friend Demetrius Braxton, 19, who was with King that night and has since been arrested, said that King “wanted to rob somebody for money.” Diaz’s report, however, confirms the suspicions of many in the community and across the country that the use of lethal force by responding officers was unnecessary and that a story of King aiming his gun at the police had been concocted as a justification. Indeed Braxton’s account of the encounter, given before the results of Diaz’s investigation were reported, similarly contradicts the official narrative. He told the local newspaper that “the cops said ‘get down’ and We got down, but my friend [King] got up and ran … [and] when he ran, the cop shot him.”
The last time we checked, petty thievery does not carry the death sentence in the United States of America. While many will be inclined to somehow argue that the boy deserves it for committing a robbery, consider this. When young white men are convicted of rape in America, like Brock Turner, judges let them walk because they think they deserve a second chance. When young African-Americans commit crimes, they are smeared as career criminals and executed on the spot.
The King case is only the most recent in a long string of deadly encounters between young African-American men and the police, many of which have been muddled by the victims’ having been carrying BB guns made to look like authentic firearms. Given the ubiquity not only of BB guns but of actual firearms as well amongst white Americans the implication – and sometimes overt justification – by police that the mere presence of what looks like a weapon on a young African-American boy constitutes a deadly threat is questionable at best.
The injustice of such encounters becomes even clearer when the victim has his back to the police, a situation in which lethal force should never be the answer. And what is most insidious about these cases is the apparently reflexive instinct of the police to lie, as they seem to have done in King’s case by claiming that he was pointing his weapon at officers when he was shot. Far more than the peaceful protests of Black Lives Matter, it is these fabricated standoffs between police and black youth that fuel the fiction of the “war on police.”
Through their attorney, King’s family have asked that the public “continue to withhold final judgement until all the facts are known and vetted.” They have also called for an independent investigation into their son’s killing, saying that “The Columbus police department, the City of Columbus and most importantly Tyre King and his family deserve the benefit of an investigation from a law enforcement agency that has no direct impact from the outcome of that investigation.”
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James DeVinne is a student at American University in Washington, DC majoring in International Service with a focus on the Middle East and South Asia. He is a founding member of Occupy Baltimore and interns at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.