Hands Up, Still Shot

Charles Kinsey Did Everything Right. The Police Still Shot Him.

‘Sir, why did you shoot me?’ Kinsey says he asked the cop who shot him. ‘I don't know,’ he says the cop replied.

07.21.16 6:25 PM ET

UPDATE: A police union representative said Thursday that the North Miami officer, still unidentified, who fired three shots was actually aiming at a 23-year-old autistic man, who the officer believed was somehow placing behavioral therapist Charles Kinsey in danger. The representative said the officer is sorry, and wished Kinsey a speedy recovery.

He was answering our highest calling: to care for and protect the least of these. He did absolutely everything that was demanded of him by the police—and by society, writ large. But today, Charles Kinsey is lucky to be alive.

After going to retrieve a 23-year-old autistic man who had wandered away from a North Miami mental health center, the behavioral therapist was confronted by local police, ordered to the ground and shot with an assault rifle. Despite Kinsey thrusting both hands into the air and complying with the officer’s commands to get on the ground, a so-far unidentified officer shot the unarmed mental health worker and community volunteer.

There had been a 911 call about an armed man who was threatening suicide, according to early reports in the Miami Herald. When responding officers arrived, Kinsey was in the street attempting to gently coax his patient back to the assisted living center.

It was daylight and the officers had a clear view of Kinsey, who immediately lay down in the summer heat, and his patient, who was sitting crossed-legged and playing with a toy truck in the middle of the roadway.

Kinsey begged the officers, who were around 30 feet away, not to shoot.

“Don’t shoot me,” Kinsey said, throwing his hands up and dropping to the pavement. He repeatedly assured the officers that he wasn’t a threat.

Kinsey, who has worked at the center for a little over a year, can be heard on the video saying, “All he has is a toy truck.”

“Let me see your hands,” a cop said to the autistic man. “Get on the ground! Get on the ground!”

“Rinaldo, please be still,” Kinsey tells the young man. “Sit down, Rinaldo. Lay on your stomach.”

Kinsey did everything right. With his arms up, legs spread wide and lying on his back, he tried to get his patient to ly down too. He made every attempt to diffuse the situation, but it wasn’t enough.

Without provocation or any hint of a threat, an officer fired three shots from a high-powered, military-style assault rifle, striking the MacTown Panther Group Home employee once in the leg.

“Sir, why did you shoot me?” Kinsey says he asked the police officer who shot him. The answer, according to Kinsey, speaks volumes:

“I don't know.”

What we do know is this: Had there been no videotape, no witnesses to the unprovoked shooting of an innocent man, and no social media outcry, Kinsey’s story might well have been relegated to an inch-long news brief in a Miami newspaper— deemed unworthy of local or national broadcast news coverage.

Get The Beast In Your Inbox!
By clicking "Subscribe," you agree to have read the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy
Thank You!
You are now subscribed to the Daily Digest and Cheat Sheet. We will not share your email with anyone for any reason

Kinsey, 47, had no doubt heard about Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, who lost their lives in separate incidents in recent weeks. He surely knows the name of Eric Garner, too. Still, he said he was stunned that he was shot—as he was complying with every order.

Kinsey never made any movement that could have been perceived as aggressive or suspicious. He did not reach into his pockets or waistband. He did not challenge the officer’s authority or shout expletives. He was in full submission, and, he says, more worried about his patient’s safety than his own.

Kinsey was simply a black man, living in Miami, who was trying to do the right thing-- and it almost got him killed.

He was even more surprised, he said, about how he was treated in the aftermath— flipped over, handcuffed and left bleeding on the hot asphalt for some 20 minutes until an ambulance arrived.

That Kinsey, who is now recovering from a single gunshot wound to the leg and expected to be released from Miami Jackson Memorial, escaped with his life is no small relief to those of us who consistently challenge the appropriateness of police violence in non-white communities. But to demand transparency in investigations, when there is one at all, is often met with derisive calls to pay more attention to black-on-black crime, racial epithets strewn across social media and attacks on the victim’s character.

Kinsey is the kind of activist no one writes about. And, if he is invited in for national interviews on cable news shows, it will be the first time anyone has called his name.

Kinsey is a believer. He believes in the power of his community and in the children who live there. A member of the Circle of Brotherhood, a community-based organization of black men devoted to solving some of our most pressing dilemmas, the married father of five works in one of the most distressed neighborhoods in the country helping to keep troubled youth in school and out of trouble.

That likely won’t matter much to the naysayers who have proven more than willing to justify and write off police brutality. More often than not, it is the victim who faces public trial.

It is rare that a law enforcement officer is charged in such shootings, let alone tried and convicted. For those who wear it, a badge affords a blanket benefit of the doubt and, often, buys the silence of their colleagues.

For the record, I do not buy into the notion of a “perfect victim.” Injustice, as I’ve written, is injustice no matter who it touches or who they were before it touched them.

What I believe is every human being has the inherent right to equal protection under the law and I’ve taught my sons and daughters how to comport themselves, should they encounter a police officer. I have always known that there were no guarantees, but it was like placing an insurance policy on their lives and hoping I never have to cash it in.

However, if Kinsey’s actions are the standard, a North Miami police officer just shot it down.