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Florida deputy’s killing of Black airman renews debate on police killings and race

WASHINGTON (AP) — In 2020, the top enlisted leader of the Air Force went public with his fear of waking up to the news that a Black airman had been killed by a white police officer.

Then four years later, a Florida deputy shot and killed Senior Airman Roger Fortson in his apartment.

“I doubt if that police officer knew or cared that Roger was an airman. What he saw was a young, Black male,” retired Chief Master Sgt. Kaleth O. Wright said in an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press.

After George Floyd was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer in May 2020, Wright, who like Floyd is Black, felt compelled to speak publicly about the fears that he and his younger troops had. It didn’t seem to matter how hard he’d worked to serve his country. There were still police who would only see him as a threat.

The national outcry surrounding Floyd’s death pushed Wright to lead some initiatives to better address racial issues within the Air Force. But by his own account, they didn’t go far enough. Fortson’s death has left him wondering if things will ever change.

“Right now, in the midst of what happened to Roger, it’s kind of a big deal. People are talking about it, the Air Force is dealing with it. But in a couple of weeks, it will go away, right?” Wright said.

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