Willie McCoy was startled awake and fatally shot by Vallejo police at Taco Bell, prompting
family to allege racial profiling
California police officers fatally shot a 20-year-old rapper who was sleeping in his car outside a Taco Bell, authorities said.
Six Vallejo officers fired “multiple rounds” at the man, identified by family as Willie McCoy, police said. McCoy had a handgun on him when the officers fired out of “fear for their own safety” on Saturday night, according to the department. The family of McCoy, whose rapper name was Willie Bo, said Tuesday that police had racially profiled the young black man and that there was no justification for using deadly force against someone who was sleeping and not a threat.
“There was no attempt to try to work out a peaceful solution,” Marc McCoy, Willie’s older brother, told the Guardian. “The police’s job is to arrest people who are breaking the law – not take the law into your own hands. You’re not judge, jury and executioner … We’re never going to get over this.”
Police said officers were checking up on McCoy after a Taco Bell employee called 911 and said a man was “slumped over” behind the wheel of his car at the fast-food restaurant drive through on Saturday at around 10.30pm. McCoy was unresponsive and had a handgun on his lap, police said, adding that the doors were locked and the car was on. After they called for backup, McCoy “suddenly” moved, officials said in a statement.
Police further alleged that officers told him to “keep his hands visible” but that he “quickly moved his hands downward for the firearm”. Police said six officers all fired shots within roughly four seconds, but they did not disclose the number of bullets that struck McCoy. The officers continued shouting commands before removing him from the vehicle and “rendering medical assistance”. He died on the scene. Police have not yet confirmed his identity and said an autopsy was pending.
The killing of McCoy follows numerous scandals involving alleged police brutality against black residents in Vallejo, a diverse city 30 miles north-east of San Francisco. A 2017 video captured a Vallejo officer straddling a man on the ground and repeatedly striking him in the face. Another violent arrest went viral last year, with a video showing an officer striking a man on the ground with a flashlight or baton. Last month, a Marine veteran accused a Vallejo officer of assaulting him while he was filming the arrest of his cousin.
“No one trusts the police in Vallejo,” said David Harrison, McCoy’s cousin. “We are being targeted … Police have a campaign of executing young black men who fit a certain profile. Willie dressed the part. He represents hip-hop music. They are profiled.”
Marc, Willie’s 50-year-old brother, said he suspected police had startled Willie awake, and that they should have ordered him out of the car with a bullhorn instead of approaching him and quickly firing fatal shots after he woke up.
“Police are trained to shoot first and hurt you first,” he said. “They do not respect black people. Even when they have a person subdued and their life is not in danger, they continue to be blatantly physically disrespectful. That is just accepted in America.”
Willie had a difficult childhood, losing both his parents at a young age, said Marc, adding: “He was very ambitious about music. He was passionate.” Willie rapped in a group called FBG. Vallejo is the hometown of many successful rappers and musicians.
Willie loved spending time with his nieces and nephews and making music with his relatives, and he treated his friends like family, said Harrison: “If you needed a few dollars, he was there. If you needed a ride, he was there.”
Some of Willie’s relatives were so distraught, “they can’t even really talk about it”, Marc added. “They are just locked up in the house, crying themselves to sleep.”
There have been two high-profile cases in the broader Bay Area of police fatally shooting people after waking them up, prompting civil rights litigation. Last year, four officers in Oakland shot a homeless man who was armed and sleeping between two houses when they arrived, prompting an excessive force lawsuit that the family filed last week, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
In 2015, Oakland police killed a man who was passed out in his car, with officials claiming that he abruptly woke up and reached toward a gun on the passenger seat. His family was awarded a $1.2m settlement.
Willie’s family said the involved officers should face criminal prosecution.
“We cannot fathom why they would have to shoot him. This was senseless … shooting a man sleeping in his car,” said Harrison. “We want to make sure this never happens again to another person.”