Some people have reached out to me in the past few days to ask my thoughts about the recently released autopsy report from the FBI shooting death of Detroit imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah and about whether I think the revelation that he was shot 20 times is cause for a serious probe into the circumstances of his death.
In a nutshell? Hell yes, I think there should be an investigation -- and not just the routine probe announced by the Justice Dept. today either. Like Congressman John Conyers and many others around Detroit, I think the killing merits an independent investigation.
"The need to provide a thorough, rigorous and transparent accounting of the shooting here is plain," Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit, wrote in a Jan. 13 letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, asking that the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division launch a probe into the shooting.
"These concerns are only inflamed when the Special Agent in charge of the Detroit FBI office asserts -- before investigation has been completed -- that 'I'm comfortable with what our agents did ... they did what they had to do to protect themselves.' Such preliminary judgments cause many observers to fear that (the Justice Department's) internal investigations will simply reach preordained conclusions to protect the government's own."
Here's what we've all been told: After a lengthy investigation, the FBI went to a Dearborn warehouse on Oct. 28 to arrest Abdullah and some of his followers for firearms violations and trafficking in stolen goods. The FBI says Abdullah fired on them first, killing an FBI dog. The agents then fired back, spraying him with 20 bullets that left 21 wounds, including to his back.
This, of course, is the point at which what you know and what you believe can take any number of divergent paths, depending on your own history and POV and whatever formula you use to determine whom you trust and whom you don't. Me, I tend not to trust any law-enforcement agency to investigate itself, not when it comes to killing low-profile black suspects, not considering how federal agents spent more time describing Abdullah as a religious extremist than as a suspected fence -- and definitely not when it comes to agents making decisions that could hold their peers accountable for taking out an accused bad guy.
I suppose that decades of watching one cop after another get exonerated for beating and fatally shooting black and Latino suspects can jade you that way. From Malice Green to Rodney King to Sean Bell to Oscar Grant -- has any black or brown man ever ultimately been deemed "innocent" when it comes to bloody run-ins with the law?
My sagging confidence certainly wasn't bolstered any by the Dearborn Police Department, which requested that the coroner not release the autopsy findings from the October shooting until earlier this week. Foot-dragging or administrative due diligence? I don't know for sure -- but the delay doesn't fill me or many others with reassurance.
On the flip side, I'm acutely aware that none of these things automatically validates my concerns or suspicions — that, in and of themselves, they don't mean the agents are guilty of anything more than having good aim and a lot of bullets. Maybe, somehow, shooting a man 20 times and then cuffing him and leaving him in a trailer is justified and appropriate, particularly to those who hold that Abdullah "brought it on himself" by firing first and shooting an FBI dog.
I may not agree -- but more than anything, I think it's important that we find out for sure.