After being pulled over on I-94 in North Minneapolis by the Minnesota State Patrol, Cobb had been waiting in the driver’s seat, compliant and in possession of his car keys, for about 20 minutes. When three state troopers re-approach his car, having confirmed Cobb was wanted by Ramsey County, they ask him to step out of his car. He doesn’t comply. He insists they tell him why. The trooper on the driver’s side repeatedly asks Cobb for his keys, seeming to anticipate that Cobb might decide to drive away. At roughly the same moment when Cobb begins to get his car lurching forward, troopers open doors on both the passenger and driver’s side and reach inside the car to pull him out. Six seconds later, as the car continues to jerk forward, the trooper on the passenger side, Ryan Londregan, shoots Cobb at least twice. As Cobb speeds off, two of the troopers fall to the ground. All three run back to their patrol cars. Cobb drives a short distance down the interstate, dying, about thirty minutes after being pulled over for a taillight violation.
After watching the video of Cobb being shot to death by police, U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips (one of the most conservative Democrats in the country) posted his reaction on social media: “Law enforcement is a very difficult and risky job, but shootings like this are unjustifiable and more must be done to prevent them.”
The Star Tribune editorial board chastised Phillips for his comments and urged us all to “allow the investigative and legal processes to take their course.” While the legal process moves at its own pace, I think the rest of us have seen enough, in part because we’ve seen this before.
Two years ago and six miles from where Cobb was shot — Daunte Wright was pulled from his car by police in Brooklyn Center. He’d almost been put in handcuffs when he wiggled free and got back into the driver’s seat. He made the mistake of deciding he didn’t want to be arrested. He was shot trying to run from police and crashed his car a short distance away before dying.
After killing Wright, Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter’s defense was that she’d accidentally shot him — she’d intended to pull her taser, not her gun. She was convicted and served 16 months. In light of this, I can’t see how an acceptable defense in Cobb’s killing could possibly be something like, “yeah, I intended to shoot my gun.”
It’s often said that police officers have to make split-second, life or death decisions. But this wasn’t split-second or unexpected. One of the troopers kept asking Cobb to hand over his keys. They seemed to expect he might drive off. Any police officer would have been running the mental calculations on how they might have to respond if Cobb started to drive away. Was it reasonable for Londregan to decide to shoot and kill Ricky Cobb?
Getting anxious at a traffic stop, not complying, deciding you’d rather not be arrested while on probation, running away, making a really bad decision — none of these are justifications for the police to kill someone. Dean Phillips seemed to agree with this before the Star Tribune scolded him, calling his comments “counterproductive” (in response, Phillips apologized).
It might be the case that, in the year 2023, speaking out against the unjustified police killing of a Black man is no longer fashionable in some circles, but it’s the furthest thing from counterproductive for moderates and conservatives to take a public stand. The last three years have shown that courts may move slowly, but they don’t operate separate and apart from politics, especially when it comes to holding police accountable.