- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 29, 2016

Social justice activists say racism played a role in the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black man Tuesday in El Cajon, California.

Authorities say Alfred Olango, 38, pulled an unidentified object quickly out of his pocket and assumed a “shooting stance,” wrapping both of his hands around the object and pointing it toward a policeman, prompting one officer to discharge his firearm and another to use his Taser.

The object later was identified as a vaping device — the long, cylindrical end of which Mr. Olango reportedly gestured toward the officer.

The El Cajon Police Department released a frame from a video taken by a bystander appearing to corroborate that version of events. They said the full video will be forthcoming after an investigation into the incident is concluded.

Police were called to the scene when a woman who identified as Mr. Olango’s sister said her brother was behaving “erratically” and “not acting like himself,” including by walking in and out of traffic. In a video filmed on Facebook Live and later disseminated over social media, the woman can be heard saying her brother was mentally ill.

Tiffany Johnson, associate director of A New Way of Life, a California-based organization that advocates criminal justice reform, called the El Cajon incident “troubling.” She said police are more likely to use deadly force when “interacting with black or brown citizens,” pointing to a similar incident in San Bernardino in which a white man was apprehended without incident.

But David Lehrer, president of Community Advocates Inc., said social justice advocates are too hasty to make accusations of racism before all of the facts are known.

“I think where they can be faulted is in the immediate and knee-jerk reaction to any incident involving an African-American victim, where they assume it is inevitably a result of police violence or prejudice or some sort of vendetta against young African-American males,” Mr. Lehrer said. “And that’s clearly not the right approach.”

David Loy, legal director of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, said the incident demonstrates a lack of police training regarding how to de-escalate situations involving the mentally ill.

“The police have a culture of instant compliance, and if you don’t instantly comply with their demands, you are therefore a threat,” Mr. Loy said. “And that’s very dangerous for people with mental illness, or various other forms of disabilities, may be unable to perceive and comply with those demands. That doesn’t make them a threat. That makes them a human being with a condition or disability that needs to be respected and addressed.”

The incident comes a week after riots and protests in Charlotte, North Carolina, where a black man was shot and killed by police after authorities said he ignored orders to drop his weapon. The state allows residents to openly carry firearms.

Demonstrations also followed the shooting in El Cajon on Tuesday and Wednesday, during which activists, among other things, blocked a freeway entrance and held several vigils for the victim.

Mr. Lehrer said rioting is “never a healthy way” to voice demands for justice.

“If people want to civilly protest and nonviolently protest and demonstrate, they’re certainly entitled to,” he said. “But I think it’s also a mistake for the leadership of those movements not to say, ‘Let’s hold on a little and figure out what the facts are.’ It’s irrational to assume that every instance is by definition a case of discrimination or bias. The evidence has to be present.”

“Every African-American victim isn’t a saint, and every cop isn’t the devil,” he added.

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