Barstow, Calif., police officers fired what sounded like more than 30 bullets into a car in Walmart’s parking lot, killing Diante “Butchie” Yarber, 26, and shooting two other passengers, including 23-year-old Marian Tafoya, who was critically wounded.
The incident occurred the morning of April 5, when Yarber, the father of three girls, ages 9, 7 and 1, drove his cousin and friends to a local Walmart. Barstow police claim they were responding to a call about a “suspicious” vehicle in the parking lot when they spotted Yarber waiting in a black Mustang for his passengers to return to the car.
This, per usual, is where law enforcement’s account of events doesn’t appear to align with reality.
According to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department: “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.”
If this sounds familiar, it’s because the story is eerily similar to a claim Balch Springs, Texas, Police Chief Jonathan Haber was forced to retract when he said that then-Officer Roy Oliver opened fire on a car full of teenage black boys with a rifle in April 2017, killing 15-year-old Jordan Edwards, because the car in which the boys were traveling was “backing down the street toward officers in an aggressive manner.”
Nothing the police says can be trusted. Nothing.
The Root has obtained a photo and video of the black Mustang Yarber was driving. There appears to be no damage to the front of the car, and the back of the vehicle is not visible. The only clear damage are the bullet holes riddling the side of the car, hood and the driver’s side windshield.
The San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department also wasted no time attempting to criminalize Yarber, claiming that he was a “suspect wanted for questioning in a recent crime involving a stolen vehicle.”
Apparently, we’re not supposed to ask when they made that determination—when Barstow police responded to a call about a “suspicious” vehicle parked in a grocery store parking lot on a Thursday morning, or after they pumped that car full of bullets.
According to Yarber’s aunt Aleta Yarber, however, the car belonged to her son—who was in the car with his cousin but was uninjured—and it was never reported stolen. She also says there is no physical damage to the car that would indicate contact with police cars.
As for her son, Aleta Yarber told The Guardian, “He has not been able to say much of anything. It was very traumatizing.”
Trigger warning: Police brutality, state violence, anti-blackness.
We could talk about the fact that Diante Yarber was reportedly unarmed, but in a nation that pledges allegiance to the National Rifle Association and romanticizes the Second Amendment, that shouldn’t really matter, should it?
We could lament the fact that Yarber was just sitting in a Walmart parking lot, but in a nation where white supremacists with badges gun down 12-year-old black boys in parks; where vigilantes gun down 17-year-old black boys walking home; where shape-shifting slave patrols choke black men standing on street corners minding their own business; where so-called officers of the so-called law shoot to kill black men standing in their grandmother’s backyards, or kill black mothers and wound their babies in their own homes, or fatally shoot sleeping black girls in their beds, who are we to think a Walmart parking lot is safe ... right?
We know how this plays out.
There is nothing authorities can say that will make unloading a barrage of more than 30 bullets into a fully occupied car in a Walmart parking lot make sense.
They know it, which is why they don’t even try.
Then the injustice system handles the rest.
“Diante Yarber was profiled, stalked and murdered by Barstow PD officers,” S. Lee Merritt, attorney for Diante Yarber’s estate and heirs, told 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’s 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 back-seat passenger, Marian Tafoya, was struck in her abdomen and leg and had to be airlifted to emergency treatment.
This most recent, heinous police killing is just one more reason why abolition is the only way. Police will not stop when they have no fear of repercussions. When they get to go on paid vacations while grieving families plan funerals and, eventually, taxpayers are held responsible for any settlements.
No entity should have the power to shoot more than 30 rounds into a packed car, in a store parking lot, at 10 a.m., and then have the unmitigated gall to report it as a crime against it.
Yet here we are—being expected to respect a pack of bloodthirsty cowards who consider the execution of Diante Yarber all in a day’s work.
“This is the worst 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 throughly investigate and zealously prosecute the gunman involved.”