#ChristopherDeAndreMitchell: When Will Enough Be Enough?

At what point will we say “enough is enough?” When will we say “I don’t care what he (allegedly) did?” When police kill Black people, there always seems to be an excuse: he didn’t follow orders quickly enough; she was belligerent; he was a gang member; he had a criminal record; she had a mental health condition — and the list goes on. Almost immediately, public attention is diverted from the murder at the hands of the police, to whether or not the victim is “clean” enough. Parents of victims feel compelled to trot out childhood accolades and school GPAs to make the case that their children “earned” the right to live.

But Black people have a right to our lives. Our survival should not require that we be perfect.

The flaws that make us human are used to dehumanize us and justify the killing of our people, especially in locales with long histories of white supremacy and anti-Blackness, like Torrance, California. Torrance is a small city just outside of Los Angeles with a history of racist violence, racist policing, and significant hate group presence. In 2016, Torrance police murdered Black single mother Michelle Shirley, alleging that she was “driving erratically.”

In 2017, Michael David Lopez was pulled over for “driving recklessly” and suspected intoxication; Torrance police officers shot him 23 times, killing him. Torrance Police Department’s (TPD) anti-Black history extends beyond these killings. In 2017, Police Chief Mark Matsuda was forced into early retirement after one of his lieutenants outed him for making statements against Black people, Muslims, women, and queer folks.

Christopher DeAndre Mitchell’s execution at the hands of two police officers on December 9, 2018 reflected a racist, anti-Black system and city. After they killed Mitchell, police and city officials engaged in what journalist Thandisizwe Chimurenga calls “double murder,” the assassination of his character after the murder of his body. Such police propaganda justifies officer actions, and media reports essentially make Mitchell responsible for his own death. Headlines like “Police Shoot Rifle-Wielding Auto Theft Suspect in Torrance” neglect to report that the “long gun” that police allegedly recovered from the car was an airsoft rifle — a toy that was never “wielded.” Reports made sure to include that Mitchell was in a stolen vehicle and flashed his “gang” moniker, “Cowboy,” to further assert that this 23-year-old Black man deserved to die.

Beyond criminalizing Mitchell, the city and mass media also paint police as the victims, repeatedly referring to the “trauma” that followed his murder.

When the community demanded that the names of the murderous officers be released, the city criminalized them. They painted a false narrative of danger for officers in order to shield their identities, pointing to a small graffiti tag near where Mitchell was murdered reading “187TPD” and calling it a “credible threat.” 187 is the police code for murder; an alternative (and more likely) interpretation could be that the Torrance Police Department are murderers.What may be more disturbing than police propaganda, and the way that mainstream media echoes it, is the way the community has been conditioned to accept and parrot such accounts.

Two days after the bodycam footage was released, an edited and editorialized version was posted as TPD’s “Critical Incident Community Report.” Black Lives Matter - Los Angeles secured the unedited version of the video and released it on social media, which was viewed and shared millions of times within days. While the vast majority of the comments expressed outrage towards Torrance police (and police generally), a significant few asked, “What did he do?” while others stated, “He was in a stolen car.”

Therein lies the ruse: rather than focus on the unjust murder of our people at the hands of police, we are conditioned to ask what the person did to bring about their own death. For Sandra Bland — who we recently learned filmed her own arrest ahead of her death — it was talking back; for Eric Garner it was selling “loosies” (which he wasn’t even doing); for “Brother Africa” (Charly Keunang) it was reaching for the officer’s gun; for Mike Brown it was shoplifting two days prior; for Redel Jones it was running away; and for Christopher Mitchell it was the stolen car and the toy gun. For each of the thousands of people police kill each year there is an excuse, but Meagan Hockaday is not the first woman to have an argument with her husband and have a knife in her own kitchen, and Devin Brown was not the first 13-year-old to take a joyride in a stolen car. Somehow, though, white “suspects” manage to survive encounters that Black folks too often don’t.

Across the globe, death by police almost never happens, but for Black people in America, it happens with regularity, and it is almost always deemed the victim’s fault--not the police who stole their lives.

After five months of pressure, regular attendance at City Council meetings, meetings with the police chief, press conferences, and social media campaigns, the footage from one of the TPD officer’s bodycams was released a few weeks ago. In it, officers approached Mitchell on either side of his vehicle and gave conflicting orders (“Don’t move!” and “Get out the car!”). Mitchell complies as much as possible, keeps his hands visible and on the steering wheel, and is shot dead in a matter of 15 seconds.

Just days after gaining access to the unedited body cam footage, Mitchell’s mother, Sherlyn Haynes, supported by dozens of Black Lives Matter organizers, went to the home of Torrance Mayor Patrick Furey. Haynes had been attending City Council meetings for more than five months, asking for answers, and calling for justice. Just after 9 p.m. on Tuesday, April 30, she rang the doorbell, and the mayor answered. Sister Sherlyn’s voice was strong even as it quivered, “Mayor, what are going to do? Your Torrance Police Department murdered my son. I want answers. I want those police officers fired and I want you to help me do that.” His response was ice cold. “This is no place for this,” he said, closing the door in her face as she called back, “I need your help, mayor.” Later, he’d open the door back up, point his index finger at Haynes and say that he was going to have her arrested for setting foot on his property. Torrance police responded, perhaps the same officers who killed Mitchell. Neighbors came out of their homes, stepping beyond their neatly manicured lawns, their eyes condemned the family and activists without any semblance of care for a grieving mother and uncle.

At the end of the block, however, there were apartment buildings where groups of young men — Pacific Islanders — stood, watching the events unfold. They shook hands with the crew of Black Lives Matter-clad folks who passed by, and called out in support, “We’re with you.” As the movement around Christopher DeAndre Mitchell grows, we face a choice: whether or not to stand for him and the vastly disproportionate number of Black people police kill, or to swallow the white supremacist narrative that we deserve to die unless we can justify our lives.

About the Author

Melina Abdullah is a senior writer for The North Star and professor and chair of Pan-African Studies at California State University, Los Angeles. She was appointed to the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission in 2014 and is a recognized expert on race, gender, class, and social movements. Abdullah is the author of numerous articles and book chapters, with subjects ranging from political coalition building to womanist mothering.