Military and Police

Fake Street Signs in Minneapolis Ridicule Cops, Underscore Sentiments About Justine Damond Shooting

“There’s a side of truth to the sign. That tells you there is something wrong with the system.”

Although official-looking street signs popped up in two areas of the Twin Cities on Sunday, they were deemed fake. But despite city workers expending efforts to remove the cop-bashing signage, the damage was done. Graphically, both signs were identical, depicting a police officer brandishing guns in both hands, firing in separate directions, with the words “WARNING: TWIN CITIES POLICE EASILY STARTLED” in all-black caps on an orange background.

Both diamond-shaped signs were appearing as authentic and properly fastened the way street signs often are. “Each was screwed into upright metal posts in the same fashion as conventional street signs,” reported the Star Tribune. Yet these two signs mocking police are illegal, for which suspect(s) could face charges of criminal mischief and destruction of government property.

However, I believe the governments of both Minneapolis and St. Paul are more scorched by the insinuation that their cops are gun-toting cowboys readily spooked and dangerously apt to shoot indiscriminately.

On July 15, 2017, Minneapolis resident Justine Damond dialed 9-1-1 to report what she felt was a sexual assault in progress behind her home. When a two-officer Minneapolis patrol car pulled into an alleyway to investigate, both cops were met by Damond, who donned pajamas and spoke at the police car driver’s window. In scant seconds, the passenger policeman, Mohamed Noor, reached across his partner driving, Matthew Harrity, and opened fire through the open window. Ms. Damond, an engaged 40-year-old Australian transplant, was pronounced dead on scene, despite Harrity and Noor attempting life-saving measures.

The case remains rife with scrutiny and unanswered questions. Per the request of the Minneapolis Police Department, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) assumed the investigation from the get-go and is still poring over evidence, diagrams, statements, and forensic analysis to piece together this seemingly inexplicable incident. As of today, BCA announced both officers Harrity and Noor already had un-holstered service firearms on their laps when they drove up the alley. The recent spate of ambushes whereby cops were murdered in their police cruisers is believed to be the reasoning behind the weapons being at the ready. Both cops may have suspected a set-up and thus readied their firearms.

It was reported that loud noises resembling gunfire were overheard in the immediate proximity to the police car in the alleyway and, as other Minneapolis cops nearby were keying up their mic to communicate they were on-scene also, police dispatch recordings captured the loud bangs referred to.

Theoretically, it is believed Officer Noor was spooked by what sounded like gunfire and reacted, shooting and killing Ms. Damond. Bolstered by a non-exemplary background in his police personnel jacket, Officer Noor has met intense scrutiny since the shooting fatality.

Many, including those in the law enforcement community, wonder the particulars as to why Noor opened fire, especially since no weapon of any kind was found on or near Ms. Damond’s body. Was it because of fireworks in the area? Was it something else altogether?

Of the bogus street signs in the Twin Cities, Joe Morino told the Star Tribune, “There’s a side of truth to the sign. That tells you there is something wrong with the system.” Despite what actually happened in the Damond incident, it is an individual event, and not universally indicative of “something wrong with the system.” However tragic the death of Ms. Damond is, the investigation will unearth why circumstances unfolded the way they did, from which lessons will surely be had. The Minnesota BCA reports they have a witness (bicyclist) identified who already provided a complete interview regarding what he saw/heard the night of the shooting.

In their July 21, 2017 press release, the BCA claims, “Officer Mohamed Noor has not provided a statement regarding the incident and has declined to be interviewed by BCA agents. Officer Noor’s attorney has not provided any update about when, if ever, an interview would be possible. Under [Minnesota] law, BCA cannot compel the testimony of the officer.”

The political fallout stemming from the officer-involved shooting resulting in Ms. Damond’s death already culminated in the Minneapolis police chief, Janeé Harteau, tendering her resignation at the ostensible behest of Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges. According to a Fox News report, “On Thursday Harteau said that Damond ‘did not have to die,’ adding that the actions of Officer Noor ‘go against who we are in the department’ and against how officers are trained.”

At the Minneapolis mayor’s press conference announcing Chief Harteau’s resignation, Minneapolis citizens protested the press briefing and lambasted Mayor Hodge for ineffective leadership. A man wearing a black baseball cap with the word “PHILANDO” across the front did much of the yelling, compelling Mayor Hodges to walk away from the podium, leaving a room full of protestors to bicker among themselves. The mayor may be on her way out too.

Sentiments from Down Under

Synonymous with the fake street signs, the Sydney Morning Herald, an Australian newspaper reporting from Ms. Damond’s homeland city, published a scathing focus on American policing. After reading their story, one would think the writer feels cops in the United States are bloodletting individuals with badges, guns and a thirst for murdering citizens with impunity. The author, Linda Tirado, uses harsh language describing American cops’ activities, such as citizens encountering “summary execution by armed agents of the state.”

Ms. Tirado goes on to say about cops in the US: “Nobody’s properly screening or training them, either, and that’s how we came to a place in America where we have videos of police shooting people in the back and police shooting people who are complying with their demands and police shooting children without even saying hello. We even have video of police shooting an off-duty police officer who was helping with an arrest.”

She left out something pertinent and significant, and that is all of the events and people’s actions preceding police reactions and use of deadly force. It is crystal clear the writer is emotionally charged; millions of us are, especially over the shooting death of Ms. Damond. It is also clear much of the language in the Sydney article is sensationalized and rife with hyperbole to get the point across.

As a US citizen, do you see American policing as she described, or is this a writer who is foisting deplorable actions of a few upon the shoulders of approximately 900,000 law enforcement officers? I wonder if there is any surveillance camera footage depicting the sign installers doing their dirty deed at the intersections in the Twin Cities…

Stephen Owsinski

Stephen Owsinski is a Senior OpsLens Contributor and retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a researcher and writer. Follow Stephen on Twitter @uniformblue.

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