About 150 people marched through the streets of downtown Phoenix late Thursday to protest the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man this week by a white police officer. The incident further incensed protesters at nationwide demonstrations against what they call law enforcement’s long-running, systematic violence against black Americans.
Phoenix police said the unnamed officer feared 34-year-old Rumain Brisbon, suspected of selling drugs, was armed during their struggle, but critics maintain that Brisbon’s killing was unwarranted. According to Sgt. Trent Crump, the officer responded Tuesday to reports of someone selling drugs out of a Cadillac SUV. After locating the SUV, he ordered Brisbon, the sole occupant, to show his hands.
Authorities said Brisbon then ran inside an apartment building, where, amid an altercation between Brisbon and the officer, Brisbon put his hand in his pocket. When the officer grabbed Brisbon’s hand, he thought he felt the handle of a gun through Brisbon's pants, police said.
The officer repeatedly told Brisbon to keep his hand in his pocket, then shot him twice when he didn't, police said.
An internal investigation is already underway, Crump said Thursday. The Maricopa County attorney's office will determine whether the officer will face criminal charges. Police did not identify the 30-year-old officer who shot Brisbon, but said he is a seven-year veteran of the department.
The deadly shooting follows grand juries in New York City and Ferguson, Mo. deciding to not indict police officers who in two separate incidents killed unarmed, black men suspected of crime.
A grand jury decided Nov. 24 not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, in a decision that sparked violent protests, lootings and the destruction of several businesses.
The Phoenix shooting also occurred the day before a grand jury in New York City decided not to indict a white police officer in the death of a black man. Eric Garner was stopped on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes back in July. The 43-year-old father of six is shown on video telling officers to leave him alone before Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who is white, put him in a chokehold — a restraint tactic banned by the NYPD in 1993. Garner is also heard on the video saying "I can't breathe" multiple times.
Garner suffered a heart attack after officers compressed his neck and chest, the medical examiner ruled, calling his death a homicide. Garner's health problems, including asthma and obesity, were contributing factors, the medical examiner said.
Amid protests in phoenix, local law enforcement officers engaged in an attempt to establish better relations with the black community.
The police chief and top prosecutor in metro Phoenix met with the president of the NAACP's Maricopa County Branch and other civil rights leaders in the hours after the incident.
The NAACP official, the Rev. Oscar Tillman, said friends and family members of Brisbon are devastated. Tillman advised the black community to channel their anger into political activism as the investigation into the shooting unfolds.
"I told them not to be openly explosive or whatever because the fact is ... as you can see what happened to Michael Brown's [stepfather] now. They're talking about going after him. I said 'just be very careful,'" Tillman said.
Police said Brisbon was carrying a vial of oxycodone pills, and that a semi-automatic handgun and a jar of what is believed to be marijuana were found in the SUV.
Meanwhile, Brisbon's mother Nora Brisbon, who is black, and his girlfriend Dana Klinger, who is white, told the Arizona Republic newspaper on Thursday that they don't want the focus of their loved one's death to focus on race.
"This had nothing to do with race," Nora Brisbon said. "This is about Rumain and the wrong that was done to him, and I want people to focus on that. If they want to rally, let's support him positively."
Al Jazeera and wire services