Family of 18-year-old Killed by Off-duty Officer Decry Racial Bias in Israeli Police Probe

'I don’t know of a single instance involving a black person in which the police have condemned' officers' conduct, says father of Solomon Teka, whose death sparked a wave of protest against police brutality

The family of Ethiopian Israeli Solomon Teka in Kiryat Haim, a suburb of Haifa, January 2020.
Amir Levy

Solomon Teka’s family refuses to accept the findings of a Justice Ministry investigation into their son’s death in a confrontation last year with an off-duty policeman in Haifa

The officer, whose name has not been published, will be charged with negligent homicide in Teka’s death.

Seated in the living room of their modest third-floor apartment in Kiryat Haim, a working class neighborhood of the city, members of the Teka family, which immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia, also find it difficult to conceal their anger over interviews within the past week with the wife of the policeman.

Teka, who was 18 at the time, was killed in June not far from his family’s apartment. The incident triggered a wave of protests and public debate about police policy toward Israelis of Ethiopian origin.

Haaretz published the results of the probe by the Justice Ministry’s department for the investigation of allegations of police misconduct that seemed to back much of the policeman’s version of events. The officer said he had approached a group of teenage males whom he had suspected of trying to blackmail another teen and showed them his police credentials. Teka scoffed at the credentials, according to the policeman’s account, calling them a forgery and some of the teenagers threw stones at the policeman. 

The officer claimed that Teka was among those throwing the stones, some of which hit the policeman. The officer said he then drew his gun and from 2 meters (about 6 feet) away, shot a bullet at the ground. A bullet fragment ricocheted and struck Teka in the chest, killing him, according to the officer’s account.

Teka’s father, Woreka, his mother, Wbjig, and his oldest sister, Yami, expressed their doubts and their distrust of the law enforcement authorities.

“After seeing the negligent handling of the case, we don’t believe any of the findings,” Woreka Teka said. “The case was negligently handled from the beginning.”

A protest on the road near the Krayot, a cluster of Haifa suburbs, July 1, 2019.
Amir Levy

Referring to the officer, Solomon Teka’s father added: “Most surprising is that the police have been strongly supportive of him from the outset. They haven’t dissociated themselves from him. I don’t know of a single instance involving a black person in which the police have condemned the behavior.”

“I don’t believe anyone,” Wbjig said. “If my son had been the killer, he would be behind bars in 10 minutes. If Solomon had been guilty and really had thrown stones at the policeman, they would have released a video of it. There were cameras. He didn’t make any mistakes. That’s why they aren’t releasing the footage. Solomon would never have raised a hand or thrown stones at anyone for no reason.”

The investigation department said in a written response that contrary to reports in the media, there were no security cameras in the area that were directed at the scene of the shooting or that documented the moment when the incident occurred. “Therefore there is no documentation of the shooting from cameras in the vicinity, but only of the moments before and after – the walk to the scene and fleeing after the shooting,” the statement added. Subject to a hearing, it has been decided to indict the policeman for negligent homicide, the department said. 

“The decision was made based on an examination of all the circumstances of the incident, including the fact that the policeman did not open fire in accordance with police directives. ... He did not make use of a more proportionate alternative, which he had at his disposal. ... A hearing was recently held and a final decision will be made in the near future, and as is customary, the family of the deceased and the suspect’s lawyer will be notified,” the statement said.

Pained by rumors

The Teka family is pained by rumors about Solomon, including one that he had been involved in 14 criminal incidents, although in fact, three cases were opened against him, on minor offenses. A lot had also been written about alcohol found in his blood, to which his sister Yami replied: “All the kids drink.”.

Wbjig said: “Our children – ‘the blacks’ – aren’t any more disruptive than other children. They all make mistakes. Children make a mess, but if it’s a black child making a mistake, it’s treated more harshly.”

Solomon Teka, who is survived by a brother and four sisters, in addition to his parents, was born in 2000 in the village of Tama near Gondar, Ethiopia. He and his family arrived in Israel about eight years ago, following in the footsteps of other relatives. They initially took up residence at an immigrant absorption center in the Haifa suburb of Kiryat Yam. 

“I’m very fearful for our other children,” the father told Haaretz. “They’ve murdered one child who had gone out to play and hadn’t done anything. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. I’m afraid the policeman’s relatives will recognize Solomon’s siblings. The children haven’t left the house alone since this happened.” 

Yami, who at 24 is the eldest sister, remarked: “There are such bad people. I’ve been told that I deserved having my brother murdered – in those exact words.”

The family was also critical of comments in the media by the policeman’s wife, who said the policeman was afraid of being a victim of revenge. “I lost my son,” Wbjig said. “They are sitting in a hotel and saying they’re having difficulties. Let God be the judge, but they’re not telling the truth.”

The policeman’s wife said she doesn’t sleep at night and that her family has been uprooted from their home since the shooting, Wbjig Teka noted. “Does she think we can sleep at night?” she retorted.

The Association of Ethiopian Jews issued a statement saying: “It is important to note that the victim of the incident is Teka, of blessed memory, and that the crime suspect is the policeman who shot him to death, and not the reverse. Prosecutors have the responsibility to view this unfortunate case as an opportunity to create a legal precedent on the issue of racial profiling, excessive violence and deaths caused by law enforcement officials."