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Cosplaying While Black? The Homicide of Darrien Hunt

by Jamie Broadnax | Originally posted at Black Girl Nerds

This morning I read the link to a news article tweeted to me about Darrien Hunt, a 22-year old Black male who was gunned down by police on Wednesday September 10 by the Saratoga Springs police department. Several news outlets initially picked up the story as reported by the police and Tim Taylor, the chief deputy attorney for Utah county. His statement to the press was as follows:

When the officers made contact with Mr. Hunt, he brandished the sword and lunged toward the officers with the sword, at which time Mr. Hunt was shot.

However, several eyewitness accounts state that he never held up a sword nor lunged towards the officers. Witnesses state that Hunt was running away from police when he was shot. Hunt’s fatal wound was a gunshot to the back. An autopsy report was confirmed that the entry wound was from the back because there was no exit wound. This confirms that the statement provided by officers and Tim Taylor clearly is inconsistent with the autopsy findings.

Going back to the issue of the “brandishing of Hunt’s sword,” the so-called sword in question was not a real sword but a fake Katana cosplay sword according to his family. The week before the incident, was Salt Lake Comic Con. Many cosplayers I know and chat with on social media say it is a common practice to see many cosplayers wearing their attire days after an event. It has not been confirmed if Hunt was cosplaying, but there are some questions that don’t quite add up.

When I got wind of this article on Twitter, from the website ThinkProgress, there was an implication that Darrien was dressed as the anime character Mugen from Samurai Champloo. The website embedded a tweet from Jamelle Bouie (@jbouie) at the possibility that Darrien was cosplaying as the character.

At the time, Darrien Hunt was headed to the fast food restaurant Panda Express and was apparently looking for jobs in the area. It is not clear if he was dressing up in cosplay for an actual interview, but it’s pretty clear that the relation of cosplaying as an Asian character at an Asian restaurant is certainly something worth investigating. Furthermore, the fake toy sword that Hunt was carrying was never used in a threatening way according to eyewitness reports. Eyewitness Jocelyn Hansen, who was pumping gas nearby, took a photograph seconds before he was killed and in the photograph there is no indication that Hunt was a threat. Hansen also said she heard gunshots and saw Darrien Hunt running away from law enforcement.

The initial statement from Tim Taylor suggested that Hunt “lunged towards the officers.”

So now we have a problem. We have a 22-year old unarmed Black man dressed in what can be perceived as anime cosplay, holding a fake Katana sword, and heading to Panda Express minding his own business. Darrien Hunt never was a threat to anyone or anything. A civilian made a report to the police that someone looked “suspicious” walking down the street in broad daylight. This call was what prompted Saratoga Springs police to profile Hunt. According to ThinkProgress, a photo was taken of Darrien Hunt walking down the street. When the photographer was asked why they photographed him, she said she took the photo because Hunt looked odd, but that he didn’t seem threatening. I should also mention the fact that the town where this homicide by police occurred has a population that is more than 90% white.

The largest knee-jerk response I see on social media whenever an incident like what has happened to Mike Brown, John Crawford, and now Darrien Hunt is: “Why do we always have to frame this conversation around race?”

My answer to that is, “why do we have to avoid having conversations framed around talking about race?”

What is it about having conversations about racism and social injustice towards people of color that gets people so on edge? I’m not just talking about white people here, I’m talking about Black people too! I was amazed that there were Black people and Black cosplayers that were questioning not only Hunt’s motives that day, but his attire as well.

Seriously? Are we really going to scrutinize his costume or (perhaps not a costume) and ignore the facts of this case?

If we were to remove the notion that Darrien Hunt was cosplaying as Mugen from Samurai Champloo and was just walking around town with a fake sword in broad daylight, why would you come to the defense of law enforcement who shot and killed a man in his back six times?

There are also statements reported about Hunt’s history of mental illness and criminal record. Whenever cases arise of innocent, unarmed youth being slaughtered by cops, the media brands the victim as the villain. I’m curious to know if Hunt had no record whatsoever, what other excuse would be used to rationalize this man being gunned down in broad daylight?

Darrien Hunt’s own mother, who is white, immediately brought up the fact that this case is about race by stating explicitly that her son was killed because he was Black.  His mother says, “They killed my son because he was Black, no white boy with a little sword would they shoot while he’s running away.” Below is a video from the local news which features Darrien’s aunt, Cindy Moss, also affirming the fact that race played a factor in her nephew’s death.

Stating that race does not play a factor in this shooting condones not only the killing of Darrien Hunt, but also justifies the fact that walking around with a cosplay weapon in broad daylight is enough to earn the label of being considered “suspicious” which are the same words used when John Crawford was killed for holding a Crosman MK-177 air rifle BB gun in Walmart found in the toy aisle back in August of 2014.  In both cases, Hunt and Crawford lived in “open carry” states.

Does the second amendment apply to Black people? In open carry states, are we allowed to carry weapons as freely as white people? The bigger question is, what exactly constitutes as being “suspicious” in the Hunt case?

The officers responsible for Hunt’s homicide are currently on paid administrative leave. They have also not been questioned under a full investigation by police. This is a red flag, because the officers who shot Hunt should have been interrogated immediately after the incident occurred while the event was still fresh in their minds. We are dealing with yet another case of the police “protecting their own” without any accountability for the events. Or even any accountability for the fact that the eyewitness reports are in alignment with the autopsy findings and the statement from Saratoga Springs police is unequivocally false.

So what does this story mean for Black cosplayers and the Blerd community as a whole?

The first thing we need to do is NOT let this story scare us nor intimidate us into believing that we should be fearful of cosplaying. We should still encourage others who may not yet have participated in cosplay to know that there are several communities for people of color to have safe spaces where they can be embraced and be their nerdy selves. If there is little to no news about this incident on other mainstream geek sites that feature cosplayers, then framing this around race is pertinent and they should be called out on their silence.

Even IF this is not an incident where Darrien Hunt was actively cosplaying, the tone has already been set and anyone who is a part of the cosplay community should address this matter. Many Black cosplayers are concerned about this, and still wonder if they would be viewed as “suspicious” walking down the street.

ALL cosplayers of ALL races should be upset and appalled by what has happened. This could be any of us in the Blerd community.

The asinine debate of whether Hunt’s attire was “authentic” cosplay or not, is a diversionary discussion used once again to justify the killing of an unarmed Black man who posed absolutely no threat when he was gunned down by police. I also believe that by finding every excuse under the sun to try to make sense of why Hunt should have been targeted by police does nothing to address the issue of excessive lethal force used by law enforcement.

I implore the Blerds of this community not to be hung up in those discussions, but to support other Black nerds who may have some trepidation about cosplay. That is what truly breaks my heart here. I also think that sometimes being Black we feel like we have to make others comfortable by NOT talking about race or what it is to be Black. Why shun your experience? Why strip your identity? Why elect to appease the one institution that continues to suppress and kill us? Does this solve anything?  Does it help deal with race relations, stereotypes, bigotry, and the fact that white supremacy plays a factor in so many of these cases?

We have to start talking about this. We need to have an open dialogue. We need to stop pretending and justifying the actions of law enforcement when they are wrong. We need to remember that for every Mike Brown, Renisha McBride, John Crawford, Rekia Boyd, and Darrien Hunt; there is another innocent unarmed Black man or woman that will be racially profiled, targeted, and killed for just being Black.

Jamie Broadnax is the writer and creator of the niche blogsite for nerdy women of color called Black Girl Nerds. Jamie has written for Madame Noire, is the VP of Digital for the SheThrives Network, and was named part of The Grio’s Top 100. In her spare time, she enjoys live-tweeting, reading, writing, and spending time with her beagle Brandy.

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