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Federal probe warranted, no matter the race

This is the first time Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins has ever referred a local officer-involved shooting case to the U.S Department of Justice for review.

Watkins said he believes last week’s request for independent federal review of the shooting death of motorist Matthew Burroughs by Niles police officers is appropriate, though, because the incident involved a minority member of the community and a car was used.

We believe Watkins is correct in his decision to ask for the federal review. We aren’t convinced, however, that the reason he gave for his decision — the fact that it was a minority man who was shot to death by police — is the right reason.

Indeed, the race of anyone shot to death by police officers shouldn’t matter when it comes to investigating the incident to the fullest extent. Doesn’t the need for an outside federal investigation weigh equally, no matter what races are involved, after all?

Niles officers fired upon Burroughs on Jan. 2 when they said they feared that the life of a Niles officer who was standing in the path of Burroughs’ vehicle was in danger as Burroughs maneuvered the car in the parking lot of a Niles apartment complex. Officers had gone to the complex in search of Burroughs, who had fled the Niles Municipal Court parking lot a short time earlier. Burroughs was unarmed.

We, like all residents including the family of the deceased man, want to get to the bottom of the events of that day. Burroughs’ family and members of the public deserve answers and closure.

It’s true a Trumbull County grand jury has cleared the officers of any state charges, but so many questions remain.

Those questions stem from the fact that, even in this day and age when video cameras are almost always recording events as they occur in public, no clear video footage exists to show the officers discharging their weapons into Burroughs’ vehicle. Two officers had failed to activate their body cameras, and a video camera at the apartment complex was not working properly.

Watkins said he discussed having a Justice Department review with an assistant U.S. attorney in the Youngstown office, in late August, and followed up by providing the materials last week.

Good.

That’s a big step in the name of transparency.

Now, let’s hope that all in the community unite to understand that police-involved shootings deserve equally critical scrutiny — no matter the race, ethnicity, gender or other characteristics of those involved.

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