I am writing this in late August, 2014, even though I am posting it later. (As of the posting date there have been no new developments.) The flames of racial unrest are burning in localized pockets across the United States right now. In three separate incidents—Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis; Staten Island, New York City; and Tulsa, Oklahoma, where I live—white police officers have killed unarmed black men. (The black man shot even more recently in Berkeley, Missouri, appears to have been armed.) Wait; you haven’t heard about the Tulsa one? I guess I will have to tell you about it, since Tulsa has no violent protests such as in Ferguson and no Al Sharpton as in New York. You expect this sort of thing—police killings of unarmed citizens—once in a while, but three at the same time seems a bit unlikely.
A Tulsa policeman, Shannon Kepler, and his wife (also a police officer) adopted a girl with a troubled past. After many years, the girl’s troubles were apparently too much for the couple to handle. They took her to a shelter for homeless adults and left her there. Things like this happen sometimes. But what happened next was astonishing. The young woman went the house where her boyfriend, 19-year-old Jeremey Lake, lived. What would you expect her to do? And if you have just kicked your adopted daughter out of the house, you at least need to let her decide where she is going to live.
But Shannon Kepler did not do this. He drove over to Jeremey Lake’s house and shot and killed him, and then shot in the general direction of the young woman also. Was Lake’s killing murder or was it manslaughter? And was Kepler actually aiming for his stepdaughter with the second shot? That is, was there premeditation? Police investigators found that the step-parents had, in their home, a copy of Lake’s arrest records, on which they had written his address. This would seem to be premeditation. Kepler’s defense attorney said that the shooting was understandable because Lake was a sexual predator, which as far as I can determine was not the judgment of any court. So the defense attorney asked for a bail of only $50,000. The prosecutor asked for a bail of $1 ½ million. The prosecutor’s request that Kepler be fitted with an ankle bracelet for monitoring his location was denied by the judge, who imposed a bail about halfway between the two requests. The judge must have considered that this police shooting was not much of a continuing danger to the community. This decision was issued August 22, the same day that Staten Island and Ferguson, Missouri were in the news.
What the Tulsa World newspaper article of August 22 did not mention—and which I had to locate finally in the New York Daily News—was that Jeremy Lake was black.
I know that if I were a young black man I would be worried right now, especially if I lived in Oklahoma, a state where apparently police shooting young black men does not get noticed very much by national media.
When are we going to stop thinking of white police shootings (or, in Staten Island, strangling) of black men as normal? (The authorities seem to have thought that the Staten Island victim was manifestly guilty of a dangerous, dangerous crime: selling untaxed cigarettes. That deserves getting someone killed, they seem to think.)