On Jan. 15, 2020, State Trooper Brian North ended the life of Mubarak Soulemane by shooting him through a car window seven times. The car Soulemane was in was stopped and surrounded by state trooper and local police cars. All the windows were up. Yet in less than a minute Soulemane had been shot dead. To date Gov. Ned Lamont has said nothing about this killing by a state police officer.
Soulemane was alleged to have taken a car at knifepoint in Norwalk. He drove onto I-95 where state police pursued him until he took an exit into West Haven. Trooper body cam footage shows that within a minute the car was surrounded by police vehicles of the State Police and West Haven police. A few seconds later a trooper drew his gun and demanded that Soulemane get out of the car. Soulemane remained in the driver’s seat with the windows up. Within a half-minute the trooper told another trooper on the other side of the car to shoot the 19-year-old with a taser. That trooper broke the passenger-side window and a taser was shot. A few seconds after that Soulemane was shot dead.
There was no reason for officers to think Soulemane had a gun. Once the car was surrounded he was effectively helpless. He had a steak knife in his lap, but he was plainly not trying to throw it through a closed car window. He should have been talked to until he saw the hopelessness of trying to drive away. Police could have asked him to call a parent (he was 19 years old) or a clergyman. There was no attempt at de-escalation or simply waiting until he cooled down. Instead, a gun was drawn and bullets were fired.
The case was brought to State Attorney Michael Gailor and there it has sat for an entire year. From elected officials there has been a wall of silence. None have called for North’s dismissal or arrest or made any criticism of the tactics used. West Haven police have made no statement about their involvement in the incident. They have not explained why none of their officers told North to lower his gun.
Contrast this to official response to the killing in Minneapolis of George Floyd. The city’s mayor, Jacob Frey, took no time in condemning what he saw on video. He connected it up with race and said, “Being black in America should not be a death sentence.” The policeman who killed Floyd and the three other police officers who stood around during the choking were all fired. Mayor Frey called for arrests.
There have been several protests in West Haven. One on July 5 saw a woman drive through the protest march on its way back from the police station, clipping several. After protesters got her to stop at a nearby gas station, West Haven police rolled up in force and brought out police dogs. Three protesters were arrested that day in July and another a few days before Christmas. Bail for one in July was set at $10,000. Shades of Montgomery, Alabama 1963! When asked for a report on what they did on July 5 the police have only responded that the matter is under “investigation.”
We know that months after the killing of Soulemane, Lamont signed the Police Accountability Act, perhaps the strongest police reform law this year in the U.S. It includes language demanding attempts at de-escalation by police before using killing force and it requires that police witnessing brutal misconduct intervene to try and stop it. That’s all well and good. Yet even before that law it was plain that what was done to Soulemane was an outrage. We expect public officials to speak out to protest injustice. They should demand accountability in the killing of Mubarak Soulemane.
Here is the Jan. 7, 2021 video interview I did with Mark Arons, the attorney for the Soulemane family:
On Friday, Jan. 15, at 4 p.m., exactly one year after the killing, there will be a vigil at the location where Soulemane’s life was ended. It will take place on Campbell Avenue in West Haven at the bottom of exit 43. On GPS type in 820 Campbell Ave., West Haven. For more see this Facebook page.
Stanley Heller is executive director of Promoting Enduring Peace, a peace, environmental and social justice organization founded in New Haven in 1952.