It’s astonishing, really: The day after a Minnesota cop gets convicted for the murder of George Floyd, sheriff’s deputies in Elizabeth City, NC shoot and kill a 42-year-old Black man who had his hands on the steering wheel.
His name was Andrew Brown Jr., and on Monday his family saw 20 seconds of police body-camera video, the moments leading up to his death. According to the family and their lawyers, he died from a kill shot to the back of the head.
Pasquotank County deputies were out that night serving warrants in tactical gear, in the back of a pickup truck. They shot Brown five times. Footage seen by his family — 20 seconds worth — shows he had his hands on the steering wheel when a deputy delivered the kill shot to the back of his head.
Elizabeth City Mayor Bettie J. Parker declared a state of emergency in the city in the hours before the family viewed the footage, in anticipation of public release. We still await the police body-camera footage in its entirety, and the continuation of due process, but there is some signal that the optics won’t be good for the Pasquotank Sheriff’s Office. Or for any of us, really.
The frequency with which Black Americans get killed by law enforcement is the whole point of Black Lives Matter; it’s what everybody’s been talking about all this time, behind every protest and march and chant and slogan. It happens so often that we don’t even get a break on the day a cop gets a historic three felony charges for doing it.
And the lack of transparency even now is alarming.
In Greensboro, we’re still pursuing justice and transparency for Marcus Smith, killed in 2018 by Greensboro police during a mental-health emergency. It took three months for the body-camera footage to be released, only after the police chief allowed it and a judge ruled on it.
In Winston-Salem, we still have questions about the death of John Neville during a 24-hour stay in the Forsyth County jail — a death that wasn’t made public until six months after it happened. We didn’t see footage of his death until a coalition of media outlets demanded it with the force of law and activists occupied downtown for weeks.
Like Smith and Neville, Andrew Brown was a North Carolinian; he was one of ours. We owe it to him to find out the details of his death at the hands of police, to watch every second of his interaction on the night he was killed, to demand public release of the footage in its entirety if there is any delay.
At the same time, we shouldn’t get too hung up on these details, because an outstanding warrant is not a death sentence any more than a jail stay or a public mental breakdown. And police are not executioners.