An off-duty officer shot and killed a young Ethiopian-Israeli man in the Kiryat Haim neighborhood of Haifa on Sunday, prompting police to launch a probe into what they called an “unfortunate” altercation.
Several dozen Ethiopian Israelis gathered outside the Kiryat Haim police station in protest after midnight Sunday and the incident immediately sparked renewed accusations against police of racism toward the Ethiopian community. Officials promised a transparent investigation into the shooting.
The Magen David Adom ambulance service said it responded to a call shortly after 8 p.m. Sunday evening about a shooting on Hashayara Street in Haifa. There, medics found the man with a bullet wound.
He was later identified as Solomon Tekah, 19.
Paramedics transported Tekah in critical condition to Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center while trying to stanch the bleeding and performing CPR, but the victim was pronounced dead a short while later.
“An initial examination revealed that an off-duty policeman who was with his wife and three small children at a nearby playground noticed a fight in the street between several youth and tried to break it up,” police said in a statement.
They added that the youth hurled stones at the officer “at some point after” the latter identified himself as law enforcement.
The officer claimed to have been in mortal danger when he fired.
The investigation will be run by the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department.
Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan expresses his “shock” at the incident and said he expects police investigators to present their findings with “complete transparency to the public”
Responding to the shooting, Blue and White MK Pnina Tamano-Shata accused police of declaring “open season” against youth of Ethiopian descent.
“Our children’s lives are less secure and the reaction of the community will be severe. This is because of the failure of the Israeli government and its branches, including the public security minister and the Police Internal Investigations Department, to deal with the situation,” she said.
MK Gadi Yevarkan, also of Blue and White, said there are dozens of instances of criminal behavior in Israel every week, but only when the perpetrators are of Ethiopian descent, are “police fingers so quick on the trigger.”
“Unfortunately, one thing is already clear, I already don’t believe whatever the findings of the police will be, if the even investigate. They have already proved that they deceive the public,” Yevarkan said
In January, police shot and killed Yehuda Biadga, a 24-year-old resident of Bat Yam. Law enforcement said the victim had charged at an officer with a knife.
The incident led to mass protests in Tel Aviv and throughout the country against police brutality, particularly toward Ethiopian Israelis.
More than 135,000 Jews of Ethiopian descent live in Israel. Those who immigrated arrived in main two waves, in 1984 and 1991, but many have struggled to integrate into Israeli society.
Community leaders and others have said there is a pattern of racism and abuse by police toward Ethiopian-Israelis, despite repeated promises to root out the problem.