On Saturday, in the Del Paso Heights neighborhood of North Sacramento, a 32-year-old African-American man died while in police custody. The exact events surrounding his death are not quite clear at this time, but it has been widely reported that he is connected to the shooting of a Twin Rivers police officer who was conducting a traffic stop. While being transported to the County Jail, Tyrone Smith experienced an unknown medical condition and died as a result.
I’ve tried to wrap my head around this story several times already today. I have the privilege of not only being childhood friends with a well-practiced news junkie here in Sacramento, but also friends with someone who knew the accused, and a friend of one of the firefighters who was on the scene with the wounded officer. And even with this being said, the story is still hard to put together.
Why is that? Why are there so many holes in the different reports by local media? Why are the stories being reported so different from one another? Why does it feel like no one has the truth here? The only conclusion I can come up with is that when crimes happen in
predominantly black neighborhoods, either no one wants to talk or the people that do talk have a very different version of the story from what other people are saying.
If there are several witnesses to the same crime then how do we end up with so many different versions on the same incident? I have my own personal reservations as to why this happens in our black communities, one of which is that in our black communities there is a deep seeded fear of law enforcement. Being of mixed background, (my mother is African-American and my father is Mexican-American) I can honestly say that a fear of the police from within both communities is very real. It stems from negative run-ins with the law, experienced first-person or by relation. With this fear coursing through the
veins of the black community, sometimes when called upon by law enforcement “witnesses” are going to say what they think the cops want to hear, what they think they are supposed to say, or say nothing at all.
Another personal reservation I have is that in the black community (and also other minority communities) there is the idea that talking to the authorities constitutes being a snitch. Being a snitch in the black community can bring about ridicule to you and your family, vandalism to your property, as well as violence to those close to you and yourself. The concept of it is silly to most of us, but for the majority of people who live in these neighborhoods this is the reality.
For this reason as well as others, it’s no wonder we have so many cold cases in our black neighborhoods. The level of cooperation that is being operated upon is not only shaky but potentially false. Either no one wants to talk, or if they do talk you cannot be sure if their motive is genuine or even if what they are saying is true. So, what does this mean for the big picture?
If crimes continue to happen and their cases continue to go unsolved then more criminals remain at large. With more criminals at large comes more crime and thus a more harsh police presence which will in turn perpetuate the cycle of fear and lack of cooperation. This about bring us full circle right back to cold cases.
But in Sacramento, it is not always like this. There are more than a few instances where the community joins together to right a wrong and justice does prevail. Just last week, two violently perverse human beings were the subject of hundreds of community tips given to investigators for the beating of a disabled woman outside a South Sacramento doughnut shop. The difference was that these clowns recorded the incident and video only provides one story: the unbiased truth.
As of now all we know is a cop was shot yesterday and a guy that may-or-may-not be involved with the shooting died while under police custody. Whether or not he is the guy, we do not know yet for sure. How a suspect arrested in North Sacramento ended up dying in a parking lot in South Sacramento, especially when the jail house is located Downtown (and he was reportedly being taken there for booking when he experienced his “medical condition”) is beyond me. It is hard to be informed when all the parties involved don’t fully cooperate.
All I have now is condolences for the family of the deceased, thoughts for the wounded officer, and a hankering for a complete knowledge of what really happened yesterday. I hope the truth shows itself sooner than later because people dying while in police custody leaves a very sour taste in the mouth of the black community. Even if the deceased is found to be in the wrong, we should take steps to prevent the civil unrest that looms in on the horizon. A thorough and transparent investigation with honest cooperation on both sides from the public and the police would do a lot to prevent any. Take it from me, from a community that already has this fear of police that borders on hatred, this incident was not good for anybody. Everyone should promote the truth, help each other, and be a part of the change that breaks this cycle.