Five years before Michael Brown and Eric Garner would become household names, there was Mark Barmore.

On August 24, 2009, Rockford, Illinois, police officers Oda Poole and Stan North were patrolling in a prisoner-transport van when they received a notice from a dispatcher that 23-year-old Mark Anthony Barmore was wanted for questioning in a domestic disturbance.  While Barmore’s mother would later declare that her son (whom she did not raise) was “a good man,” all Officers Poole and North knew was his record: As the Washington Post reported in October 2009, Barmore “had been arrested multiple times on battery and weapons charges and spent time in prison for residential burglary.”  The “domestic disturbance” call concerned Barmore’s girlfriend, whom he had allegedly threatened with a knife; Barmore was to be considered armed and potentially dangerous.

Officers Poole and North spotted Barmore in the parking lot of Kingdom Authorities International Ministries church, where he was speaking with the wife of Pastor Melvin Brown.  As the officers approached, Barmore entered the church, followed by Sheila Brown.  When the officers entered as well, Barmore proceeded to the basement of the church, where children were gathered for a summer camp.  (While local media in Rockford invariably referred to the church’s “daycare,” conjuring up images of preschool children, the Washington Post actually got the nature of the gathering right.)

Now clearly attempting to elude Officers North and Poole, Barmore entered a boiler room and closed the door behind him.  Without waiting for backup or evacuating the children from the basement, Poole forced his way into the boiler room, weapon drawn.  While Sheila Brown and her daughter said that, from outside the boiler room, they saw Barmore with his hands up, the officers claimed Barmore attempted to wrest Poole’s weapon away from him, and in the struggle, Poole shot Barmore.  After Poole’s weapon discharged, North fired four shots at Barmore as well.  Poole’s shot appears to have been the fatal wound.  No knife was found on Barmore’s body or in the vicinity.

The circumstances of the shooting were, if anything, more sensational than those of the shooting of Michael Brown: an unarmed black man, shot to death in the basement of a black church by two white police officers, in front of children.  Poole had previously shot and killed another black man who threatened to attack him with a hammer; North had injured a black man in the line of duty.  Not surprisingly, in a city with a high violent crime rate, and with those crimes committed disproportionately by blacks, opinions about the shooting were divided primarily along racial lines.

But despite the best efforts of Jesse Jackson, and some national coverage including the Washington Post article, Mark Barmore never became the cause célèbre that Michael Brown later would.  Separate investigations by local, state, and national law-enforcement agencies found physical evidence that corroborated North’s and Poole’s version of events; in December 2009, a local grand jury declined to indict the officers; and even though a separate investigation ordered by the city of Rockford found that the two officers had violated protocol by not waiting for backup and not evacuating the children once Barmore entered the boiler room, the investigators concluded that, once the scuffle began, the shooting was justified.

Civil lawsuits, however, continued to drag on—one against the city of Rockford on behalf of Barmore’s estate, and another against the city by Pastor Brown and his church—for over five years.  Then suddenly, on December 15, with no public notice that they would be considering the matter at their weekly meeting, the Rockford City Council voted 13–0 to pay $1,115,500 to Barmore’s estate, in exchange, as local TV station WIFR reported, “for a release of liability and dismissal with prejudice of all claims against the city.”

The settlement shocked citizens who could not understand why taxpayers should shell out $1.1 million for a shooting that city officials continue to declare was justified.  Lawyers for Poole and North argued that the public would now regard their clients as guilty, even though they had been cleared of criminal charges.  Nothing had changed; no new evidence had been found; why did the city choose to settle now?

The answer has nothing to do with Rockford, Illinois, Officers Stan North and Oda Poole, or even Mark Barmore, and everything to do with Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York.  As WIFR reported,

City lawyers say they’re confident they would have prevailed if the case had gone to trial; however they admit that a jury can be deeply influenced by current events.  The cases in Ferguson and New York have put police use of force in the spotlight, and city lawyers think that atmosphere may have influenced a jury.

In other words, the city council settled because they were afraid that local jurors would judge the case not by the evidence but in light of the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.  Shots fired in Ferguson, Missouri, cost the taxpayers of Rockford, Illinois, $1.1 million.

Even to entertain suspicions of a man based on the actions of others of his race is, we are endlessly told, prejudice at best and racism at worst.  But to judge a case involving police officers in Rockford, Illinois, based on entirely unrelated cases involving police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York, is, apparently, justice.