“They just began pouring bullets”: California police kill black man in Walmart parking lot

Barstow police officers fatally shot Diante Clark in a crowded Walmart parking lot on on April 5, 2018.
Mintaha Neslihan Eroglu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Image

The police shooting of Diante Yarber, a 26-year-old black man who died after officers fired a barrage of bullets at his car in a crowded parking lot, is raising more questions about race and police use of lethal force.

Yarber was inside a car in a Walmart parking lot in Barstow, California, on April 5 when law enforcement officers arrived, according to a press release. They were responding to a call about a “suspicious vehicle” and attempted to conduct a traffic stop. Yarber reportedly “reversed the vehicle and struck one of the patrol cars.” The release also stated that Yarber accelerated toward the officers and struck a second vehicle before officers opened fire on the car.

In a bystander’s recorded video, blurry footage shows the car being shot at as other people in the parking lot try to take cover. Witnesses have said they heard as many as 30 shots. Afterward, Yarber was pronounced dead at the scene, and two other passengers, a man and a woman, were injured. A third man in the car was uninjured, according to the department press release.

“They saw a car full of black people sitting in front of a Walmart, and they decided that was suspicious,” Lee Merritt, an attorney representing Yarber’s family, told the Guardian. “They just began pouring bullets. … It’s irresponsible. It’s dangerous. It’s mind-boggling, the use of force.”

The officers believed Yarber was a suspect in a recent stolen vehicle incident, according to the press release, but Yarber’s aunt told the Guardian that the vehicle officers fired at belonged to a family member and was never reported stolen.

Dale Galipo, a lawyer representing Marian Tafoya, the woman injured in the vehicle, says that while police argue that the incident was an assault on an officer, the investigation has found that Yarber was unarmed and that officers were not in the path of the vehicle when they fired. Galipo notes that police training suggests that officers not fire at moving vehicles.

The shooting has angered community members, who question why officers fired on the car, killing the father of three. There have been local protests, but outside of the press release, law enforcement has released few details about the incident. The officers have been placed on paid leave while the shooting is being investigated.

The Diante Yarber shooting raises questions about police use of force

Yarber’s death comes mere weeks after Stephon Clark, an unarmed young black man in Sacramento, was killed in his grandparent’s backyard after officers mistook his cellphone for a weapon. The Clark shooting sparked protests and national public outcry and has led to the introduction of a bill that would limit when law enforcement in California can use lethal force.

Research has shown that there are significant racial disparities in police use of force. While these disparities are most commonly attributed to issues like implicit bias and systemic racism, studies have also noted that specific factors like high levels of housing segregation and economic inequality also play a role in where police shootings occur and whom they affect.

According to the Washington Post’s Fatal Force database, some 329 people have been shot and killed by police in 2018. Sixty-three of those people were identified as black in news reports.

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