A 26-year-old unarmed black man was fatally shot by police earlier this month while sitting in a Walmart parking lot in Bawstow, California. According to The Root, police fired around 30 shots at Diante Yarber, who was sitting in a black Mustang on April 5 waiting for his cousin and friends to return from the store. 23-year-old passenger Marian Tafoya was also critically injured. The shooting is just one of several recent tragedies that underscore the continued severity of police brutality against unarmed black men.
A press release from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department says officers thought Yarber was “wanted for questioning in a recent crime involving a stolen vehicle.” The statement goes on to claim, “officers attempted a traffic stop of the Mustang when the driver suddenly reversed the vehicle and struck one of the patrol cars. When the driver again accelerated toward the officers and struck a second patrol car, the officer-involved shooting occurred.”
Yarber died at the scene. He is the father of three girls who are 9, 7, and 19 months old.
According to Yaber’s aunt, her nephew was driving her son’s car, which was never reported stolen. She has gotten the car back since the incident and told the Guardian that it didn't show any signs of damage that would indicate it was rammed into a patrol car. Her son was also in the car with Yaber but was fortunately uninjured. “He has not been able to say much of anything. It was very traumatizing,” Aleta Yarber told the Guardian.
“They saw a car full of black people sitting in front of a Walmart, and they decided that was suspicious,” Lee Merritt, an attorney for the family, told the Guardian. “They just began pouring bullets. ... It’s irresponsible. It’s dangerous. It’s mind-boggling, the use of force.”
Merritt also gave the following statement to The Root:
Barstow PD confronted a vehicle full of people, suspected of nothing more than “looking suspicious” with an amount [of] force that would have been deemed excessive in a war zone. Near 10 a.m. in a crowded parking lot, police officers decided to halt Yarber’s vehicle by unleashing over 30 rifle rounds in the windshield and driver-side door. Training and policy dictates that police should never fire at moving vehicles because it only increases the danger to others if they successfully disable the driver. The investigation has revealed Yarber was unarmed and that officers were not in the path of his vehicle when they opened fire. Yarber was struck an estimated two dozen times in the barrage of bullets. His backseat passenger, Marian Tafoya, was struck in her abdomen and leg and had to be airlifted to emergency treatment.
This police shooting comes shortly after the tragic death of Stephon Clark, the 22-year-old killed by Sacramento police in his grandmother’s backyard last month. Clark was also unarmed at the time of his death.
A Barstow PD spokesperson announced that the officers involved in Yarber’s death are on “paid administrative leave” but declined to share how many officers were involved or the number of bullets fired.
“This is the worse case of excessive and unnecessary force I have seen in my career,” Merritt told The Root. “The Yarber family deserves answers in the form of transparency by the Barstow Police Department. Body, dash, and surveillance video must be turned over to my office immediately. The San Bernardino County district attorney must thoroughly investigate and zealously prosecute the gunman involved.”