It's Past Time White People Wake Up To The Reality Of Police Violence

The death of my neighbor, Justine Damond, forced me to re-examine my privilege.

On July 15, Justine Damond was shot and killed by a Minneapolis police officer minutes after calling 911 to report a possible sexual assault. The bride-to-be was reportedly in her pajamas when Officer Mohamed Noor, who had been responding to her 911 call with his partner, shot Damond through the window of their police cruiser. She was 40 years old.

The story garnered international attention, especially in Australia, where Damond was born and raised. Many questions, including what prompted Noor to fire his weapon, remain unanswered more than a week following the shooting.

Sarah Kuhnen lives just a block away from Damond’s house in the upscale, predominantly white neighborhood of Fulton. Last week, she read a version of the speech below during a “healing and justice march” honoring her neighbor and all other victims of police violence. The speech has been edited and updated for clarity.


I am heartbroken.

For 28 years, I have lived and raised my family one block away from where Justine was killed. On my block are some of my closest friends with whom we have a tradition: When somebody loses a loved one, the neighbors are there for you not only with cards, meals and hugs, but a memorial offering and continued support.

This tragedy hits close to home for me in a way I have never had to experience before with the police shootings in our city.

I have to be honest here and explain my privilege.

As a white woman, I have never had to worry about my own safety when calling the police. But I know that is a luxury that people of color in our city don’t have.

I have felt completely safe in my neighborhood as a white woman, a mother, a wife and a citizen of this city. I walk everywhere, and it’s in those walks that I met Justine. 

But today, I feel scared. I don’t feel safe in my neighborhood. My illusion of comfort, living in a middle to upper middle class, predominantly white neighborhood has been shattered. 

Who do I call now when I need help? The police? No.

If my garage were broken into, do I call the police? No.

If my neighbor is hurt, do I call the police? No.

If I get in an accident, do I call the police? I just don’t know anymore.

Wherever you are, I want you to shut your eyes and imagine yourself on your block ― wherever it is that you live. I want you to imagine a neighbor that you know and care about.

Imagine that neighbor hears a cry for help so she calls 911. She’s waiting and no one is coming, so she calls 911 again to make sure they have the right address. They do.

The police arrive and they turn off their lights and they drive down your street. You see them going by.

Your neighbor, in her pajamas, runs outside to check in with the police.

And she is shot by the police ― the police she called for help.

This is not about one police officer. This is about a broken system of policing that needs systematic change.

I want you to think about how that would impact you. How would that impact your block? Your neighbors? How would the children on your block be impacted?

We have a major problem with police violence in our city and our country. This is not about one police officer. This is about a broken system of policing that needs systematic change.

This is happening all over the United States. It has been happening to people of color for a long time. This is all of our issue. 

I welcome you to join our neighborhood where this has happened and to unite in saying, honestly, that we have a problem in our country with police culture. It’s a broken system, and we need change.

As a white woman, I have never had to worry about my own safety when calling the police.

But I know that is a luxury that people of color in our city don’t have. Valerie Castile, Philando Castile’s mother, didn’t get to call the police without worrying about her own safety or the safety of her son.

People of color have been killed by the police for far too long. It is past time for me and other white people to wake up to that reality because it is all of our realities now.

These are all our mothers and all our children, our sons and our daughters.

We all deserve to feel safe ― including our Somali neighbors, who were already facing threats that are only intensified now.

And so I stand before you today to say it is time to join in with all of our sisters and brothers to end a culture of police violence. 

Will you join me?


Damond’s family created the Justine Damond Memorial Fund to benefit social justice causes that were “important to her heart.” To learn more, click here.



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