Waukegan fatal shooting raises questions for police reform

According to the New York Times, an unnamed Waukegan, Illinois police officer was arrested after fatally shooting 19-year-old Black man Marcellis Stinnette. 20-year-old Black woman Tafara Williams was injured in the shooting.

“The city of Waukegan terminated the officer that discharged his firearm during that incident, for multiple policy and procedure violations,” said Waukegan Police Chief Wayne Walles in a statement on Friday, Oct. 23.

The victims were both sitting in their car and facing away from the officer and were shot through the windows.

“Police said no weapons were found in the vehicle. The officer who shot the couple was Hispanic, and the first officer who investigated the vehicle was white, according to police,” reported NBC News writer Nicole Acevedo. 

This tragedy was especially devastating given that it occurred shortly after the death of George Floyd and in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Guilford students and alumni shared their thoughts on this event.

“With a situation like that, I’m surprised that the main discipline against the officer was that they were fired,” said Guilford alum Sam Risser ’19. “That’s a relatively low price to pay for someone’s life.”

“It is difficult for officers to decide when to engage with a suspect when they feel threatened and have to decide to engage before being harmed by a suspect,” said senior Elijah Gregory. “On one hand, it is hard to fault an officer who felt threatened by a suspect who was not cooperating, but it is important to discipline officers so that unlawful ones get punished. I think that it’s important for the police to release unedited footage of these incidents to receive the best judgement on what happened.”

Guilford alum Austin Bryla ’19 was enraged to hear about the shooting.

“It’s inhumane to ask us as citizens to practice more ‘calmness’ when a gun is being pointed at us than the individual holding the gun,” Bryla stated. “Seems like our… LSAT, GRE, and Peace Corps trainings have more screening and rigor for our cognitive abilities than police departments. Criminal justice reform needs to be a priority, because education and financial gain means nothing if many who set out to succeed (are) profiled and brutalized by those who are called to protect us.”

“The department’s officers and squad cars are all equipped with cameras, police said. It was unclear what video exists of the shooting, and Waukegan police Cmdr. Edgar Navarro said Thursday there is no timeline as to when footage will be released,” reported Maria Cramer of the New York Times. 

Williams, who remains in the hospital with severe injuries, shared that the car was in park when the event took place, and that the officer had his hand on his gun during the entire interaction. When he started to shoot at them, she begged for her life and the life of Stinnette. After the shooting, no help was offered to the victims. 

“I know he was still alive,” Williams shared with the New York Times. “They wanted us to bleed out on the ground.” 

Guilford alumni shared their final thoughts on the tragedy.

“This is just further proof of the need for police reform, if not outright abolition,” said Mack Johnson ’18.

Elias Smolcic-Larson ’19 said simply: “Defund now!”