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Young man shot to death while handcuffed in squad car arrested after stop and frisk

You might have heard about the young man in Louisiana who police say shot himself in the chest while his hands were cuffed behind his back in a squad car. The cops initially told the public that Victor White III, 22 years old, had somehow shot himself in the back. Last week the coroner released its report, finding that White was actually shot in the chest. But even though White was shot in the chest while his hands were cuffed behind his back inside a police car, the coroner ruled his death a suicide.

That part of the story has gotten a lot of attention. What's gotten less attention is how police initially came to interact with Victor White that horrible night. Like with so many tragic deaths at the hands of law enforcement, the young Mr. White's death started with a stop.

NBC news reports that White had walked to a local convenience store with his friend Isaiah Lewis. While inside the store, they noticed a fight happening outside.

Two men in front of the store began shouting. One told the other he was going to get a gun. White told Lewis they should stay inside. A woman called 911. After the men ran down the street, Lewis and White left.

Around 11:30 p.m. White and Lewis were walking a few blocks down the road when a police cruiser slowed, Lewis said. According to a service report provided to NBC News by the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office, Corp. Justin Ortis asked the men to stop.

Ortis performed a “consented pat-down” of White, according to the report, and “located suspected marijuana in front pants pocket.”

White's arrest report says that police searched him twice and found a small bag of cocaine, which he said belonged to him. They did not report finding a gun.

It's hard to believe the police account of what happened next, and stranger still that the coroner's office thinks it's possible White could have shot himself in the chest while his hands were cuffed behind his back. The police initially claimed he shot himself in the back, but that isn't true. And the coroner's office reportedly didn't even bother checking White's hands for gunpowder.

We might never know exactly what happened to Victor White III that night. But we know that he was initially stopped by police because he was a young black man in the wrong place at the wrong time. We know that after running his name through police databases and finding that he had been arrested for drug offenses in the past, the officer who stopped him called for backup. We know that subsequent to the second search, a small bag of cocaine was found, and White was arrested.

In short, Victor White is dead because of a stop, a frisk, and the war on drugs. Like with so many regrettable police actions involving young black and brown people in the United States, the horrible chain of events that culminated in his untimely death started with a stop and frisk. The war on drugs provided the alibi.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.