World Australians Shocked by U.S. Killing: 'It Would Have Never Happened Here'

11:00  19 july  2017
11:00  19 july  2017 Source:   The New York Times

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Australians Shocked by U . S . Killing : ‘ It Would Have Never Happened Here ’. By DAMIEN CAVE and ISABELLA KWAIJULY 19, 2017.

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Family and friends on Freshwater Beach.© Dean Lewins/European Pressphoto Agency Family and friends on Freshwater Beach.

SYDNEY, Australia — Dozens of Justine Damond’s closest friends and relatives gathered at sunrise on Freshwater Beach in Sydney on Wednesday, with candles and flowers in hand, to commemorate the life of a woman they described as a ray of light.

Horrified and sad, they said they could hardly believe that a woman so calm — a spiritual healer and meditation coach — had been fatally shot on Saturday night by a police officer in Minneapolis, where she was soon to be married.

“None of it makes sense,” said Michael Timbs, who lives in a coastal suburb near where Ms. Damond grew up. “To try and picture the scene and understand how he did that, I can’t get a sense of it.”

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He swept his arm at the expanse of beach and glittering ocean. “You stand and look at this peaceful place,” he said, “and you think — it would have never happened here.”

All across Australia this week, similar sentiments were bursting into public view as the struggles over American policing — well known to so many in the United States — suddenly hit home for a country half a world away.

Law enforcement experts here have shaken their heads and criticized both police training in the United States and the American embrace of guns. One local newspaper put the death of Ms. Damond, 40, who also went by the name Justine Ruszczyk, on its front page with the headline: “American Nightmare.” And on Wednesday morning, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, appearing on television, asked a simple, if damning, question on the minds of many: “How can a woman out in the street in her pajamas seeking assistance from police be shot like that? It is a shocking killing.”

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Ms. Damond’s loved ones, including her father, John Ruszczyk, who lives in Sydney, have said they were desperate for information about what happened. Her fiancé said she called 911 on Saturday night to report what she believed was an active sexual assault, only to end up dead at the hands of one of the officers who responded.

“Justine was a beacon to all of us,” Mr. Ruszczyk told reporters in Sydney on Tuesday. “We only ask that the light of justice shine down on the circumstances of her death.”

Commemorating Justine Damond on Freshwater Beach in Sydney, Australia, on Wednesday morning.© Dean Lewins/European Pressphoto Agency Commemorating Justine Damond on Freshwater Beach in Sydney, Australia, on Wednesday morning.

So far the Minneapolis police have said little. The officer involved was Mohamed Noor, 32, a Somali-American with only a couple of years on the force who is now on paid administrative leave.

The police said no weapon was found at the scene. Mr. Noor and the other officer who arrived with him did not turn on their body cameras, and the authorities have said that video cameras inside their patrol car also did not capture the shooting.

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Both Mr. Noor and his lawyers have declined to comment. But the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension did provide one small detail on Tuesday night, saying Mr. Noor’s partner reported hearing a loud sound near their car shortly before the shooting — suggesting that the officers may have been startled.

In Australia, what’s driving much of the outrage is the extreme response, and just how common it seems to be. Ms. Damond was one of more than 500 people shot and killed by the police in the United States this year. And even when population differences are taken into account, that is far more than in Australia.

Specifically, the number of people killed this year by the police in the United States is about five times the 105 killed by the police in Australia from 1989 through 2011, according to an extensive government study that is more comprehensive than anything compiled by law enforcement officials in the United States, where police departments are not necessarily required to report fatal shootings to any central authority.

Put another way, about four people are fatally shot by the Australian police each year, or one per six million people; in the United States, it is about one in 333,000, and that disparity is integral to the sense of bewilderment and fury in Australia.

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Vince Hurley, a criminologist at Macquarie University in Sydney, said the shooting partly reflected what he called American law enforcement’s aggressive training and reliance on firearms.

In Australia, he said, “the reason there have been less shootings is police now have a wider range of nonlethal weapons.” Pepper spray has been standard since the early 2000s, he said. Tasers have been deployed extensively over the past several years.

“When I joined, you had a gun and a baton and handcuffs,” he said, referring to 29 years with the police in New South Wales. “To use a gun might be overkill, but you had no choice because the baton wasn’t going to be sufficient, and the handcuffs were only once they were restrained.”

Many American police forces have also put Tasers and pepper spray in the hands of officers and have added training to help officers better assess threats and de-escalate potentially violent situations. Training and the culture in many police departments, however, still tend to focus on forcible responses to potential threats, and usually that means guns.

Many American officers, even in small towns, often speak of their deep fear of being shot.

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“We’re trained for Armageddon,” said one officer in rural Connecticut when The New York Times sent reporters to ride along with the police across the United States last year. “We’re trained for the worst.”

In comparison, Mr. Hurley said: “Here in Australia, we wouldn’t do as much officer survival training. We would have an equal amount of focus on sociology, psychology and awareness of human behavior.”

Australians have also seen their government successfully manage mass shootings with public policy. After a gunman massacred 35 people in the Tasmanian town of Port Arthur in 1996, a public outcry spurred a national consensus to severely restrict firearms. The tightened laws, which were standardized across Australia, are more stringent than those of any state in the United States.

As a result, while this is a country where guns are deeply tied to history — where police officers have carried guns since the First Fleet from England arrived — there is little tolerance for the American idea that possession of guns should be treated more as a right than a threat.

“Australians don’t associate guns with freedom,” said Gabby Timbs, Mr. Timbs’s wife. If a similar incident happened in her country, she said, “Australians wouldn’t stand for that.”

Her husband added:

“For us it’s more wonderment than anger — it’s the shock of not understanding why you have guns in a community like that.”

A mood of peace and sorrow mostly defined Wednesday’s quiet oceanside tribute, which attracted nearly 200 people.

But afterward, Sam Lucia, 41, an old school friend of Ms. Damond, said the details of her death were all the more painful because of what a peaceful life she had lived.

She was a trained veterinarian, with a degree from the University of Sydney. She was a spiritual healer and meditation coach, focused always on bringing people peace.

“She was a beautiful person who didn’t deserve to die,” Ms. Lucia said, crying. “When you put it into the context of knowing her, it’s even more devastating.”

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