Early Thursday morning, Olympia police officer Ryan Donald shot two unarmed stepbrothers, Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin, after Donald said one of the men assaulted him with a skateboard. Donald is white. Thompson and Chaplin are black. Both are expected to live, and Donald is on paid administrative leave as the shooting is investigated. That the shootings did not prove fatal allows Olympia a thankful distinction from other cities that have seen young, unarmed black men die at the hands of white police officers in recent months. But in one respect, the case has born a striking early resemblance to these others: the quick denial that race could have played a factor. Here’s a timeline of recent such claims:
July 15, 2013 “Anybody would think anybody walking down the road, stopping and turning and looking—if that’s exactly what happened— is suspicious. I think all of us thought race did not play a role.” —Unidentified juror speaking to Anderson Cooper about acquitting George Zimmerman in the death of black teenager Trayvon Martin.
Aug. 18, 2014 “According to a new HuffPost/YouGov poll, Americans are divided over whether Brown’s shooting was an isolated incident . . . or part of a broader pattern in the way police treat black men . . . . Among black respondents, 76 percent said that the shooting is part of a broader pattern, while only 35 percent of white respondents agreed.” —The Huffington Post, reporting on a poll following the shooting death of Michael Brown, a black man, by police officer Darren Wilson.
Dec. 4, 2014 “If he had not been obese, if he had not had diabetes, if he had not asthma, this probably would not have happened. Nobody intended this to have happened. From my knowledge of the case, there is absolutely no elements of racism here, and there was no intent by the police officer to cause deadly or physical harm to the deceased, Mr. Garner.” —Rep. Peter King (R-New York), speaking to FOX News about the death of Eric Garner, who is black, while being arrested by New York City police officers.
May 1, 2015 “The only people who are saying that this is about race are the outside media. This is not another George Zimmerman, it’s not another Ferguson. This is completely different.” —Family member of a Baltimore police officer charged in the death of Eddie Gray, speaking to the UK Daily Mail.
May 21, 2015 “Chief Roberts said Thursday morning that race did ‘not play a factor’ Thursday morning when a white police officer shot two unarmed young black men. ‘There is no indication to me that race was a factor in this at all,’ Roberts said at a news conference.” —MyNorthwest.com, reporting on Chief Ronnie Roberts’ reaction to Black Lives Matter protests in Olympia.