Kenneth Lopera (Clark County Detention Center)

Why I can't trust cops: The death of Tashii Brown, who asked police for help

Las Vegas police officer Kenneth Lopera has been charged in the death of Tashii Brown, who died of asphyxiation

D. Watkins
June 7, 2017 7:05PM (UTC)

It’s crazy to think that in this phase of my life — I'm a 30-plus-year-old writer, speaker and college professor — I would probably not stop for the police if I was standing outside, especially not in my own neighborhoods in Baltimore. Even though I pay their salaries, I still feel like they are not working for me.

People who are lucky enough to be equipped with privilege and resources often find themselves confused about why. When they hear about a cop hurting a civilian, they say things like “Why did that person run away from the police?” and “People who run must be guilty.”


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I can’t blame those people for not being able to understand a reality outside of their own. It seems like most American’s can’t. But I do feel that we all are responsible for offering counter narratives as often as possible in an effort to dilute the beliefs of the ignorant — specifically, the belief that black always equals "wrong." Even though they’ll never probably fully understand, at least they’ll have a glimpse into the world that us with dark skin are forced to endure.

Here is such a glimpse: According to news reports, Tashii S. Brown, 40, approached police officer Kenneth Lopera in a Las Vegas casino on May 14 and asked for help. Brown was African American and Lopera is not, which is why I’m not surprised that Brown, the person requesting help from a police officer, ended up being chased, tased repeatedly, punched and placed in a martial arts-style chokehold. According to the coroner, Brown died of asphyxiation due to police restraint.

Lopera was arrested on Monday and charged with involuntary manslaughter. The narrative of how the situation turned from Brown asking for help to being suspected of car jacking and then ending up dead is for Lopera and his lawyers to create as they prepare for trial — the victim isn’t around to tell his side of the story.

According to Las Vegas Police Protective Association official Steve Grammas, Lopera will plead not guilty even though there is body camera footage of Brown, who was unarmed, on the ground with both of his hands up.

"Officer Lopera did nothing criminal," Grammas stated. "We prepared him for the worst case scenario, and it came true."


Like so many other police employees and law enforcement apologists, Grammas apparently sees nothing wrong with killing an unarmed black man. Police killings of innocent black people are usually excused away as a matter of improper training or a simple mistake or mishap, not racism.

Lopera is now out on $6,000 bail and awaits trial, as Brown’s family, along with rest of us, have another piece of our humanity stripped away.


The next time you hear a story about that black kid or man who ran, don’t assume that he was guilty. Assume that he values his life.

D. Watkins

D. Watkins is an Editor at Large for Salon. He is also a professor at the University of Baltimore and founder of the BMORE Writers Project. Watkins is the author of the New York Times best-selling memoirs “The Beast Side: Living  (and Dying) While Black in America” and "The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir." His latest book, "We Speak For Ourselves: A Word From Forgotten Black America," is out now.

MORE FROM D. WatkinsFOLLOW @dwatkinsworld

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Kenneth Lopera Las Vegas Police Brutality Tashii Brown

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