Charles Kinsey Proves Black Men Don't Have the Option to De-Escalate

Charles Kinsey
Cell phone video taken moments before Charles Kinsey was shot show the caretaker lying on the ground with his hands in the air

If there was any doubt, after a Minnesota police officer killed Philando Castile, that black men complying with orders from police can still end up at the wrong end of a service weapon, the latest video of an officer-involved shooting should put that to rest. 

Charles Kinsey is a behavioral therapist who works at a group home in North Miami, Fla., where he also serves as a caretaker for a 23-year-old man who is autistic. In cell phone video taken Monday evening, Kinsey can be seen lying on the ground, hands raised, informing police officers — who were responding to a 911 call about a possibly armed suicidal man — that his client is carrying only a toy truck, identifying himself as the man’s caretaker, and explaining that his client has a disability. 

“All he has is a toy truck,” Kinsey can be heard shouting in the video. “A toy truck. I am a behavior therapist at a group home.” He asks his client to lie on the ground as well, though the man can be seen sitting on the ground, rocking back and forth. 

Despite Kinsey’s calm, clear compliance, an officer reportedly fired three shots, striking Kinsey in the leg. He told Miami TV station WSVN that after the officer shot him, several others rushed to Kinsey — and put him in handcuffs. 

“They flipped me over and I’m face down in the ground with cuffs on, waiting on a rescue squad to come,” Kinsey told WSVN from his hospital bed Thursday. I’d say about 20 minutes it took the rescue squad to get there, and I was bleeding, yes, bleeding.”

His autistic client was also handcuffed and reportedly held in a police car for three hours. He has since been hospitalized. 

“I was really worried, more worried about him than myself,” Kinsey told the station. “I’m looking at, as long as I got my hands up, they’re not gonna shoot me. This is what I’m thinking. They’re not gonna shoot me. Wow, was I wrong.”

In a press conference Thursday, North Miami police chief Gary Eugene told reporters that the officers involved — who have not been publicly identified — were responding to a 911 call and witness statements that indicated a suicidal man was pointing a gun at his own head. 

"Our officers responded to the scene with that threat in mind,” said Eugene. “We had witness statements that there was a gun. We had a 911 call with that same information. However, I want to make it clear, there was no gun recovered." 

Eugene confirmed that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the shooting, which he said is an effort to assure “our commitment to transparency and objectivity in a very sensitive matter.” The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office is reportedly also investigating the incident. 

Although the police department has not released the name of the officer who fired on Kinsey, it did release a fact sheet through its Twitter account today, noting that “the Officer involved in the shooting is a 30-year-old Hispanic Male and has been with North Miami Police Department for 4 years.” That officer has been placed on administrative leave, which is standard practice in officer-involved shootings. 

A spokesperson with the Miami-Dade police union said Thursday that the officers acted reasonably, responding to what they presumed to be a threat to Kinsey’s life. He also acknowledged that Kinsey had done everything right in an effort to de-escalate the situation, according to WSVN. 

“The movement of the white individual looked like he was getting ready to charge a firearm into Mr. Kinsey,” said John Rivera, president of the Miami-Dade County Police Benevolent Association. “And the officer discharged, trying to strike and stop the white male, and unfortunately, he missed.” 

A pair of cell phone videos depicting the moments before and after the shooting were released Wednesday by Kinsey’s attorney, who said the official narrative presented by North Miami police does not explain why anyone fired a weapon at all. 

And CNN reports that moments after he was shot, Kinsey asked the officer why he shot him.

“Sir, why did you shoot me?” Kinsey recalled asking the officer. “He said to me, ‘I don’t know.’” 

That haunting exchange is what stuck in the mind of Black Lives Matter activist Johnetta “Netta” Elzie, a prominent organizer who was pivotal in organizing demonstrations in Ferguson, Mo., in the wake of Michael Brown’s death in August 2014. After saying she is “glad #CharlesKinsey is alive,” she turned to the shocking details of the case. 

The latest report of police officers shooting an unarmed black man revives a narrative that first emerged in the wake of Brown’s 2014 death, where protesters chanted “Hands up, don’t shoot.” While has been some debate (even among black LGBT writers) over the veracity of witness accounts claiming that the 18-year-old Brown had his hands up when then-Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot him a dozen times, cell phone video from North Miami clearly shows that Kinsey was lying on the ground with his hands raised when the officer fired several shots. 

Similarly, Philando Castile informed the officer who pulled him over during a “routine” traffic stop that he was licensed to carry a firearm and had it in his car, but that he was going to retrieve his driver’s license as the officer requested. That’s when the officer filed multiple shots into Castile’s arm, as his girlfriend and her young daughter watched the man they loved bleed to death. 

Brittany Packnett, another prominent activist in the movement for black lives and a cofounder of the anti-police brutality platform Campaign Zero with out activist DeRay Mckesson, also expressed frustration about the lack of accountability coming from the North Miami Police Department and its allies. 

 

If that critique of hollow-sounding “thoughts and prayers” seems familiar, it should. Aside from being the go-to milquetoast response for politicians responding to a never-ending stream of mass shootings, the phrase felt particularly callous in the wake of the massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando last month, where 49 people — most of whom were LGBT and Latino — were killed and another 53 were injured when a gunman armed with semi-automatic weapons opened fire. 

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