“Why didn’t they shoot him in the legs?” shouted the mother of 18-year-old Solomon Teka, shot to death by a policeman in Kiryat Haim, when she was at the police station. Teka is another victim of the police being too quick to pull the trigger when confronted by youths of Ethiopian descent. A 33-year-old police officer shot and killed him on Sunday, even though the policeman wasn’t on duty but on a nearby playground with his wife and children.
As expected, there are conflicting versions of what occurred: The policeman says he was attacked by stones and fired in self-defense, while a witness who testified to the department for the investigation of police officers said the policeman was not in any danger. Either way, it doesn’t change the fact that there was no reason to kill Teka.
To the hundreds of people who demonstrated against the police, the answer to the question posed by Teka’s mother is clear: They didn’t shoot him in the legs or arrest him by other means because he was of Ethiopian descent. The number of officers shooting Israelis of Ethiopian origin compel the police to internalize that the problem lies with the police force, which, as former Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich said, “naturally” finds them suspicious.
A special committee headed by the Justice Ministry director general found that hundreds of criminal files opened against young Israelis of Ethiopian descent were the result of police-initiated friction. Such incidents often begin with the officer asking the youths to identify themselves. The situation then deteriorates into a confrontation. Teka’s mother wondered why the policeman didn’t shoot him in the legs. But the real question is why he shot at him at all, and whether he would have behaved similarly if a light-skinned teenager had been involved.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and the police themselves hastened to launch a probe before the protests even began. The police investigation department arrested the policeman in question on suspicion of manslaughter, and the Haifa Magistrate’s Court released him to house arrest on Monday. In a manner most unlike him, Erdan tried to demonstrate responsibility, promising an investigation and saying that lessons would be learned. Acting Police Commissioner Moti Cohen added that the incident “demanded a thorough examination.”
But to Teka’s family, friends and the other demonstrators, these words aren’t sufficient. The police scare them more than road accidents or terror attacks.
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Despite the declaration of the acting police commissioner, he and the other top officials around him know that this isn’t a singular occurrence but a deeply rooted problem. The Ethiopian community’s protest is justifiably directed at the police, but the blame for the fact that even the second generation of Ethiopian immigrants is having a hard time assimilating into Israeli society lies with the government and the one who heads it. So long as this issue isn’t made a national priority, it will continue to claim victims.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.