Two African-American men were killed by a white West Virginia man on Saturday when he shot the neighboring landowner and his brother on an adjacent property in Barboursville.
Rodney Bruce Black, 62, shot and killed Garrick Hopkins, 60, and his brother, Carl Hopkins, Jr., 61, with a rifle while the two men were inspecting a building on a piece of land that was newly-purchased by Garrick Hopkins and his wife. Both men were married and had children.
The Cabell County Sheriff’s Department arrested and charged Black with two counts of first degree murder after the shooting, which occurred at 2:30 p.m., according to authorities.
An accidental shooting death
Black maintains that he thought the Hopkins were breaking into a building on his property. The land in question once belonged to Black’s family, but did not at the time of the incident.
The brothers were allegedly looking in a shed that held nothing of value when Black fired.
Authorities later found dozens of guns inside Black’s home. Police may investigate whether all the firearms were legally purchased.
“He used one gun,” Sheriff McComas told an area news outlet. “Yes, he owned numerous guns, but he only used one gun.”
A pattern of controversial killings
Some experts see this case as part of a pattern in which African-Americans often fall prey to accidental shootings by people of other races.
“This is just textbook racism,” Dr. Jason Johnson told theGrio. He compared this latest death to the case of 19-year-old Renisha McBride, who was shot and killed by a stranger while seeking help after an accident, and that of Roy Middleton, who was “shot by police in his own driveway because a white neighbor called the cops,” Johnson said.
Middleton survived the altercation, but for the professor of political science and communication at Hiram College, these occurrences point to a lack of public safety for African-Americans.
“The stories go on and on,” the frequent MSNBC commentator on race continued. “Clearly there are some Americans who believe it’s open season to shoot and kill black people.”
In the case of McBride, her killer Theodore Wafer stated that he shot her through a locked screen door by accident, but approached with a shotgun drawn in self-defense, because he felt threatened. It was later reported that McBride was under the influence of drugs and alcohol at the time of the shooting. Wafer has been indicted with second degree murder and manslaughter charges, but authorities maintain race will not be considered by the prosecution.
Legal expert on implicit racial bias
Cynthia Lee, professor at the George Washington University Law School, has written extensively on racial bias and how it impacts such cases.
The author of Making Race Salient: Trayvon Martin and Implicit Bias in a Not Yet Post-Racial Society told theGrio, “that studies have shown that most people associate blacks with violence, danger and aggression.” (George Zimmerman, who is suing the parent company of theGrio.com for defamation, maintains that he killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in self-defense. Zimmerman was acquitted of all murder charges in the Trayvon Martin case.)
Additionally, “Studies have shown that individuals are more likely to believe an unarmed black person is holding a weapon than they are to believe this of a similarly situated white person,” the author of Murder and the Reasonable Man continued. “This social science research suggests that stereotypes about blacks lead to shooter bias, a bias in favor of shooting black persons.”
Lee maintains that Black was also mistaken in his alleged belief that he could use deadly force.
“The general rule is that you must have a reasonable belief that you are being threatened with an imminent threat of death,” Lee explained, “or serious bodily injury, or you are acting to protect a third party who is in imminent danger of death, or serious bodily injury in order to be justified in using deadly force in self-defense.”
Investigation to continue
Sherriff McComas told the Daily News that area police believe the killing was not racially motivated, and that Black had no prior knowledge of the two men.
“It’s just a terrible, terrible tragedy,” Sheriff McComas said. “We’re still trying to figure all of this out. … Hopefully we’ll find out his reasoning as the investigation continues.”
Professor Johnson hopes that this case will have a different outcome than similar ones in which innocent black victims such as Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr. of White Plains, New York, and Jordan Davis of Jacksonville, Florida, were killed by whites with unclear motivations.
“In the grand scheme of things, the fear in the black community isn’t whether or not Black will go to jail,” he said. “The deep seated fear is that he doesn’t care,” Johnson continued, adding that these trends suggest that for some it is possible that, “killing a black person is so inconsequential to them, that they couldn’t even consider the consequences, because the act was so second nature to them.”
Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter @lexisb
This article has been updated.