Peaceful protests continued through the day in El Cajon, Calif., after the police involved shooting death of a Black man who was said to be mentally unstable, but was unarmed and holding only a handheld electronic smoking device. Questions remain about whether or not the killing could have been avoided to begin with.
Alfred Olango, 38, a Ugandan immigrant who came to the United States years ago as a refugee, was shot to death by officers who responded to a call of a distraught man walking in traffic. Two cops followed him to a strip mall where they ordered him to remove his hands from his pocket. When he did, they say he held an object and assumed a shooting stance. One officer discharged a taser, while the other fired his service weapon, fatally wounding him.
Although Olango was unarmed, the item police said he pointed at officers when he assumed the stance turned out to be a vape pen, which was recovered at the scene.
“The vape has an all silver cylinder that is approximately 1” diameter and 3” long that was pointed toward the officer,” police said in a statement.
Mayor Bill Wells said he was concerned how quickly the shooting took place, though he said video taken by a bystander was enlightening and he didn’t think it was “tremendously complicated to figure out what happened.”
Some protesters said he was shot while his hands were raised in the air, though police disputed that and produced a single frame from the cellphone video to support their account.
Although the El Cajon police department has ordered body cameras, they have not been delivered yet, and the officers involved in the shooting were not wearing the equipment, police say.
Experts said it was too early to conclude whether the California shooting was justified or could have been prevented, though it does raise questions about how police deal with mental illness, which officers are increasingly confronting nationwide. Police say there was someone from a Psychiatric Evaluation Response Team (PERT), but that clinician with another officer on a different call at the time.
An attorney for his family said Olango was distraught over the recent death of his best friend and was having an emotional breakdown.
Meanwhile, more than 200 people marched near the scene of the shooting to denounce the incident and the demonstrations lasted into the night. No major violence was reported and marchers continued to chant “hands up, don’t shoot,” and “no justice, no peace.”
“It’s powerful to see so many people here,”a man who identified himself as “Anthony,” Olango’s cousin. “But my cousin is not here. He’s not coming back. He’s gone.”
The National Action Network has met with Olango’s family and has called for a federal investigation of the case. “We do not trust local prosecutors to investigate local police,” Rev. Shane Harris, the head of the NAN’s San Diego chapter told the Los Angeles Times.
A version of this story originally appeared on JETMag.com.