Moral Low Ground

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Austin Police Kill Unarmed, Naked Black Teen David Joseph

David Joseph, forever 17. (family photo)

David Joseph, forever 17. (family photo)

A naked and unarmed black teenager was shot dead by police in Austin, Texas on Monday after he allegedly disobeyed commands and charged at an officer.

Austin Police Chief of Staff Brian Manley identified the victim as 17-year-old David Joseph, the Austin American-Statesman reports. According to police, officers responded to reports of a man acting erratically and chasing someone through an apartment complex in the 300 block of Yager Lane at 10:30 a.m. Officer Geoffrey Freeman, who is also black and has been on the force since 2005, was interviewing witnesses when he was called to the 12000 block of Natures Bend, where he saw Joseph. According to Manley, Freeman drew his pistol and shot the teen within seconds of encountering him after the victim allegedly failed to comply with the officer’s order to stop.

“The subject did not comply with the commands that the officer was giving and instead charged the officer,” Manley told reporters. “The officer gives repeated commands to stop and additional commands, but the subject did not comply.”

Police radio dispatches reveal that responding officers were told Joseph was unarmed. Police dashboard camera footage shows the initial encounter with Joseph but does not show the moment he allegedly charged at Freeman.

After the shooting, officers attempted to revive Joseph, who was later pronounced dead at Round Rock Medical Center.

Joseph’s relatives are reeling from their loss.

“Our family is devastated today by the loss of our beloved son and brother, David,” the slain teen’s family said in a statement. “We are shocked and saddened that he was taken from us in an unexpected and violent way, and are struggling to understand how our child was stolen from us by the police.”

“We do not know what led to his meeting with Officer Freeman, but know that our David should not have been taken away from us,” the statement added. “No family should have to suffer like we are today.”

Local residents and civil rights activists questioned whether Freeman needed to shoot Joseph.

“We see a rush to judgment and as a result, somebody is dead. Normally it’s always somebody black, in this city and this country,” Austin NAACP president Nelson Linder told Fox 4. “I don’t see how a young man who’s naked, and not hurting anybody, winds up being dead. When in reality, those things require constraint and understanding, as opposed to deadly force.”

Joseph’s classmates are also having a difficult time coming to grips with the death of their friend, who was a popular football player at Connally High School in Pflugerville before transferring to Premier High School so he could graduate early. According to the family statement, the senior was “dreaming of going to college in the fall.”

“David was a real cool person. Everyone was really cool with him,” friend Jayla Belvin told Fox 7. “He was outgoing, he was in sports for a while. He just wasn’t a bad person, so it’s hard to see someone like that in a situation like this.”

Football teammate Jordan Jackson called Joseph “one of the cool kids of the school.”

“Everybody loved him and he was always cool to be around,” Jackson told Fox 7. “Of course, all the coaches and me, we liked having him around being on the team and stuff like that.”

“I actually saw him a couple of days ago, before the incident. So for me to hear the incident, it’s just like wow, I can’t believe it. I just saw him recently, I can’t believe he’s gone,” added Jackson. “I know him and he’s not that type of dude that would be out there on the streets. Especially naked, there could be no way that it’s possibly true.”

“He was very smart. That’s really what I want people to know about him,” Michelle Aguoru, 18, told KXAN. “It makes me really upset to think from on the outside looking in they’re gonna think he’s some thug.”

“I don’t understand why he was naked, and why [police] felt the need to shoot him if he didn’t have any weapons,” added classmate Samone Morales.

Joseph’s death is being investigated by the APD Internal Affairs division, as well as by the department’s Special Investigations Unit. The case will eventually be considered by a Travis County grand jury. Freeman has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigations.

Last year, US police killed nearly 1,000 people across the nation, around 90 of whom were unarmed.

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