Kokou Christopher Fiafonou, 38, was gunned down by police in Austin, Minnesota, about a hundred miles south of Minneapolis, last month, and his family is mourning his death.
“They called him in as a threat, and you know these white folks think he’s a menace even though he hasn’t done anything to anyone… Fiafonou’s cousin Antranette Smith is heard saying in her Facebook Live video footage of police encircling her home where Fiafonou was inside, “He didn’t do nothing, he’s got a whole mental illness.”
Fiafonou was born in Togo, West Africa, and grew up in Austin, Minnesota, as part of a growing immigrant community. Fiafonou was a devout Christian, according to Michelle Gross, president of Communities United Against Police Brutality and a family advocate. He would often walk to a park near his home to pray.
“He would cut little scrapings of wood like pieces of tree bark and little twigs, and he would burn them, and he would pray over the fires, and he believed that his prayers would go up in smoke up to heaven, and that was his belief, and he had a little wood cutting knife and it wasn’t a machete,” Gross said, referring to police claims that Fiafonou was in possession of a machete when they encountered him on the afternoon of Dec.
According to a news release from Austin Police, they were alerted to Fiafonou’s area after someone reported him strolling in traffic with a machete. Police claim they followed Fiafonou to his home and tried unsuccessfully to deploy a stun gun on him in exchange for verbal compliance.
Fiafonou allegedly threatened to harm others, prompting police to contact their serious incident response team.
To get Fiafonou out of the house, police used tear gas and other projectiles for several hours. Gross claims that police eventually left the site and that the next day, around 6 p.m., police continued to observe Fiafonou for the purpose of ensuring public safety.
Fiafonou walked to a neighboring petrol station for groceries around 9:30 p.m. that night, where he was confronted by police once more.
“He walks up to the Kwik Trip, goes into the Kwik Trip, and the officers are watching all of this,” Gross said. “They let him go into the Kwik Trip, he buys his groceries, and when he comes out with two bags of groceries, they gun him down where he’s standing.”
Officer Zachary Gast fatally shot Fiafonou when he approached them armed with a knife, according to Austin police.
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety is investigating the shooting, and while the Austin Police Department does not use body cameras, dashcam video of the incident exists.
Gross feels the shooting was “racist in nature,” and she has little faith in the state agency in charge of the investigation. “That is not the agency that should be doing this investigation,” she says, “because they clear cops every flipping time.”