38-year old, Alfred Olango, who was shot dead in El Cajon, California, US. Photo courtesy.
The killing of Alfred Olango by police officers in the United States this week provoked shock and anger in the Ugandan town he left more than two decades ago to escape poverty and conflict.
The 38-year old was shot in El Cajon, California, by two officers responding to a report of a mentally unstable man walking in traffic, after he pointed an object at them that turned out to be an electronic cigarette.
It was the latest in a string of shootings of mostly unarmed black men by police officers in the United States that have led to sometimes violent protests.
“He ran away from problems to safety and they treat him like that? Is it because he’s black? Why?” said Olango’s uncle Simon Nyeko in the northern Ugandan town of Gulu, weeping at his home of a few thatched huts at the end of a dirt road.
Family friend Otti Jino, 77, said he was saddened by the killing. “We need our son back here in Uganda to be buried here,” he added.
Olango’s mother, Pamela Benge, who lives in the United States, said on Thursday her son was suffering a mental breakdown when confronted by police. His brother said he had two daughters.
More than two decades earlier, he had fled his village of Koch Goma that was devastated by an insurgency against the government. He initially found refuge in the nearby town of Gulu with extended family. In 1991, he travelled to the United States.
“I don’t see a reason why somebody would shoot an unarmed, innocent man,” said Steven Ojok, 34, a friend of Olango’s from Gulu who now lives in Kampala. He said he had kept in touch with him until two days before his death.
He said his last text message from Olango was sent on the Sunday before he died. It read: “You know what, man, I am taking my daughter for dinner.”
San Diego-area officials released two videos to reporters on Friday, one of which shows an unarmed black man backing away from a police officer after he was fatally shot Tuesday night in El Cajon, Calif.
The video related to the death of Alfred Olango, 38, was released “for the sake of the well-being of the community” because of misinformation being bandied about, El Cajon Police Chief Jeff Davis said during a news conference.
In the first video, which lasts one minute and 37 seconds and is shot from the drive through of a fast food taco restaurant, Olango is seen backing away from Police Officer Richard Gonzalves and then moving to the side before the video goes black.
In the second video, shot via cell phone by someone who was at the taco restaurant drive through, Olango is seen backing away from Gonzalves before four gunshots are heard and someone is heard screaming. This video lasts perhaps 20 seconds.
Davis said he opted to release the video in conjunction with San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and Mayor Bill Wells.
“This was done in the spirit of community calm and peace,” Davis said.
Some African officials have accused the United States of double standards following the killing of Alfred Olango.
Gonzalves shot Olango and another officer applied a stun gun electronic device after responding to a call of a man behaving erratically. A woman filmed on social media video identifying herself as Olango’s sister has said Olango suffered from mental challenges and that she called emergency responders for help but hoped someone with a psychiatric background would respond.
The incident is the latest police-involved shooting to draw national attention and to ignite protests among people questioning the relationship between law enforcement and urban communities.
Protests have also erupted in Charlotte, N.C., and Tulsa, Okla., after two separate police shootings of black men in those cities in the last two weeks. The shooting victim in Tulsa was unarmed. There is debate as to whether the shooting victim in Charlotte had a gun.
Police said in a statement posted to the agency website that they would release copies of the video to media who attend a briefing. It was not immediately clear how media or members of the public not at the briefing might access the video.
On Wednesday, police released a statement saying Olango pointed a vape smoking device at them before he was stunned with an electronic device and fatally shot.
Some African officials accused the United States of double standards.
“Do they have a right to give us lectures anymore?” Ugandan government deputy spokesman Shaban Bantariza told Reuters, when asked for comment on Olango’s killing.
“They’re always castigating us and chastising us for what they call police brutality here, and then the police brutality in their place is incomparable,” he said.
Zimbabwe’s Information Minister Chris Mushohwe took aim at US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr, saying he had condemned Zimbabwe’s security forces for using water cannons on protesters but failed to “talk about the cold-blooded and callous murder of people of his colour in his own home backyard”.
“We want to hear these people, if they are really concerned about human rights and democracy, condemn what is happening in the United States,” the minister said about the black US envoy, in comments reported by Zimbabwe’s Herald newspaper.
In Liberia, a former colony founded by freed slaves from the United States, businesswoman Cynthia Holmes, herself one of a minority of Liberians who are descendants of those slaves, said she was saddened by the killing.
“America is not the place to be right now,” she said in the capital Monrovia, named after former U.S. President James Monroe. “We (black people) are a target.”
Olango had had previous run-ins with the US authorities. After securing permanent residency status, he lost it in 2001 after a conviction for selling cocaine. In 2005, he pleaded guilty to possession of a weapon by a felon. As of 2006, a deportation order was pending.
The federal records say Olango went to the United States because Uganda’s president at the time had threatened to kill his family because his father worked for a previous leader.
His home region in northern Uganda has long been plagued by militants. Most notorious was Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, known for forcing children to bear arms and mutilating victims.
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