On Monday afternoon, 23-year-old Korryn Gaines became the ninth black woman to be killed by police in the U.S. this year. Gaines was shot in her Randallstown, Maryland, home after a several-hour standoff with Baltimore County police officers, who were there to apprehend her after she failed to appear in court for charges stemming from a March traffic stop.
Gaines’ 5-year-old son also sustained a broken arm in the shooting, though police have not said whether his injuries were inflicted by police weapons or by the 12-gauge shotgun Gaines allegedly fired at officers.
The police showed up at Gaines’ apartment around 9:20 a.m. on Monday with arrest warrants for Gaines and Kareem Courtney, a man who shared the residence, from unrelated incidents. Baltimore County Police Chief James Johnson said in a press conference that officers knocked on the door, heard people inside but received no answer, and opened the door with a key they’d gotten from Gaines’ landlord. According to Johnson, Gaines was inside, wielding the shotgun, with her 5-year-old in her arms and a 1-year-old boy and Courtney nearby. The officers allegedly moved out of the apartment into the hallway of the building and called for backup; after they showed up in tactical gear, Courtney ran out with the younger child and police apprehended him.
During the ensuing negotiation with Gaines, she used Facebook to broadcast the standoff. Police say they deactivated, but did not delete, her account after contacting Facebook “in order to preserve the integrity of the negotiation process.” Two of Gaines’ video recordings have come out; one depicts Gaines talking to her son about the police outside. She asks him, “What are they trying to do?” “They’re trying to kill us,” he whispers. The other video shows an officer in a helmet and what looks like a bulletproof garment pointing his gun inside the apartment's front door.
Around 3 p.m., Johnson claims that officers tried to persuade Gaines to leave her apartment, and she aimed the gun at the officers, saying that if they didn’t retreat, she would kill them. Johnson says an officer then shot one round at Gaines, she shot back, and the officer or officers returned fire, killing her. Gaines’ son has reportedly been hospitalized but is in good condition.
Police came to Gaines’ house with an arrest warrant for resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, charges related to a traffic stop on March 10. On Tuesday, Baltimore County police released a report that says officers pulled Gaines over and noticed pieces of cardboard where her license plates should be. The one on the back read “any Government official who compromises this pursuit to happiness and right to travel, will be held criminally responsible and fined, as this is a natural right and freedom.” The front one said “free traveler.”
Gaines’ uncle, Jerome Barnett, told the Baltimore Sun that she was “feisty, but she was smart and she was respectful.” His brother, Jermaine, said she was “a beautiful person, really smart, intellectual” and “loved by everybody.”
Rest in peace to my step-cousin Korryn Gaines. I'm so sorry your baby girl & boy have to live w/o a mother. pic.twitter.com/l9T1EoPy4s— Taylor Champ (@tchampp) August 2, 2016
Social justice advocates are criticizing police for what they say was an inappropriate degree of force against a woman holding a child being arrested for charges sustained during a traffic stop. Blavity has published a roundup of 11 highly publicized incidents wherein police disarmed white suspects with guns without killing them. In a statement, the ACLU of Maryland explained why Gaines brandishing her shotgun did not justify the officers’ deadly gunfire:
In situations like this, police departments typically focus on the ways in which the civilian escalated the situation and made the use of deadly force "necessary." But if civilians never escalated situations, and always acted calmly, and always submitted willingly and quietly to authority, there would be little need for police in the first place, and no need for armed police. Of course, that isn't the world we live in. And too often a double standard exists for Black Americans, whose wielding of guns is met with less patience by police. Police have a moral obligation, and should have a legal obligation, to act in ways that don't predictably result in the opportunity or necessity to use force. Here, for example, police decided, for reasons not yet clear, after seven hours of negotiation and waiting, that they could not wait any longer to execute a warrant for failing to appear for a minor traffic offense. And they further decided that they needed to use deadly force to execute that warrant, and needed to expose themselves to the known risk of deadly force being used on them, knowing that a five year old child might be in the line of fire.
According to the Washington Post’s database of fatal police shootings in the U.S., Gaines is the ninth black woman killed by police gunfire in 2016; an additional 18 women of other races or of unknown race were also shot and killed by police. (The Post has collected the previous eight black women’s stories and the circumstances of their killings here.) Police shot and killed 42 women, 10 of them black, in all of 2015.