Texas: protest planned for unarmed black man killed by police officer

Still image taken from a social media video shows Danny Ray Thomas on the ground next to a sheriff’s deputy after he was shot, in Houston, Texas.
Still image taken from a social media video shows Danny Ray Thomas on the ground next to a sheriff’s deputy after he was shot, in Houston, Texas. Photograph: Social Media/Reuters

A protest and a community meeting are planned for Monday at the location where an unarmed black man with his trousers around his ankles was killed by a Texas police officer.

Danny Ray Thomas appeared to be experiencing a mental health crisis when he was shot dead last month by a deputy with the Harris county sheriff’s office who encountered the 34-year-old walking on a north Houston street.

“Until our local officials put policies in place that will discipline officers for shooting an unarmed man, we will continue to see these things,” said Tarsha Jackson, criminal justice director of the Texas Organizing Project, an advocacy group.

“The community is hopeful that there is a fair investigation but the fact that his pants were down to his ankles is an indication that there is something going on, there’s something mentally wrong with this man, and how can you feel endangered when you actually are the one with the gun? [The officer] could have used a Taser if he felt he was in danger.

“Until we get leadership across the board, local, state, and federal, that’s demanding that officers stop being a judge, juror and executioner on the street, we’re going to see this.”

Harris county sheriff Ed Gonzalez has pledged a transparent and thorough investigation and released dashcam video. The footage shows Thomas engaged in a minor verbal and physical altercation with another man. He then walks towards the officer, Cameron Brewer, 44.

The officer, who is black, yells: “I’ll shoot your ass, man, get down, man! … Get down on the ground! Get on the ground!”

Until we get leadership demanding officers stop being judge, juror and executioner, we’re going to see this

Tarsha Jackson, Texas Organizing Project

The shooting takes place off camera. Gonzalez told reporters Brewer had been issued with a body camera only about two hours before, but it was charging in the deputy’s car at the time of the incident.

In cellphone video published by the Houston Chronicle, Thomas is seen walking towards Brewer, who backs off while pointing his weapon at the man.

“He about to get Tased,” a woman says, laughing. A passing vehicle obscures the moment of the shooting. The woman exclaims: “Why he shot him? Why he shot that man? He should’ve got Tased.”

The time between Brewer arriving at the intersection and firing a single, fatal shot into Thomas’ chest is less than 30 seconds.

Gonzalez told reporters Thomas was “foaming at the mouth” before the shot. “It is concerning that Mr Thomas was unarmed; he was obviously in a state of crisis of some kind,” he told the Chronicle. “To go straight to [lethal force], that’s concerning to me.”

Thomas’ two children, aged five and seven, were allegedly drowned by their mother in a bathtub in 2016 and their bodies hidden under a neighbour’s house.

Thomas died on the afternoon of 22 March, the same day protesters demonstrated in Sacramento after another unarmed African American man, Stephon Clark, was shot dead in his grandmother’s back yard by officers. More protests followed. On Friday Clark’s family said an independent autopsy showed the 22-year-old was shot from behind seven times.

On Friday night, the police chief in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, announced that Blake Salamoni, the officer who killed Alton Sterling in 2016, had been sacked, though he is not facing charges. Footage released on Friday showed Salamoni swearing at Sterling and threatening to shoot him in the head.

Kita Thomas-Smith, Thomas’s sister, gave a tearful address to Houston city council members last week.

“My brother was unarmed, not trying to harm, and possibly just wanted to have someone help him,” she said. “What happened to my brother should not have happened.

“To have this going on in my family, to me, it’s unimaginable. It’s unimaginable and it’s unacceptable what happened. This is not just ‘I’m sorry’, it’s much more than that. You took somebody’s life, an innocent life … He took a life when he could have saved him.”