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Minneapolis Community Fights For Justice For Slain Aussie Justine Damond

A short drive south of Minneapolis proper where the houses become well-manicured and the neighbours welcome you with open arms, that is where an Australian woman was shot in her pyjamas.

“This could have happened to me,” Justine Ruszczyk Damond’s neighbour Sarah Kuhnen told 10 News first.

“It’s a myth if you think it can’t happen to you, it happened to Justine, it’s happened to so many members of the black community.”

The fear of gun violence and police brutality is palpable in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where they’ve had three high profile instances of police shooting unarmed civilians, and many more that don’t make the headlines.

But news of Justine’s murder has stirred a lot of emotion within the Twin Cities because the accused killer is a black, Muslim cop and his victim, a white female.

Justine Damond was shot dead by a police officer on July 15, 2017. Image: Supplied.

It throws on its head the usual controversy of police shootings and goes at the heart of the vexed issue of justice for victims.

The 40-year-old life coach had moved from Freshwater in New South Wales to support her American fiancé, Don, but just a month before their idyllic Hawaiian wedding, her nature to help tragically resulted in her being shot.

READ MORE: Aussie Justine Damond Shot Dead By US Cop Who 'Feared For His Life'

She’d called police to report a woman being assaulted in the alley behind her house, but when responding officers arrived she was shot point blank in the stomach.

“In a neighbourhood where if we hear something we respond, it could have been me walking outside to go talk to police,” Kuhnen said after her weekly meeting with a group created in honour of her late neighbour; Justice for Justine.

Collectively, her neighbours have been fighting for 21 months for an appropriate punishment for the officer who raised his gun at Justine, and this week, they’re praying their fight will be realised with Mohamad Noor standing trial for murder.

Traditionally, cases involving American police have been difficult to prosecute and carry racial undertones. Noor is the first officer to be tried in Minneapolis.

Former Minneapolis police officer, Mohamed Noor (centre) leaves Hennepin County Government Centre confronted by a large media pack. Image credit: Reuters

The group says a conviction could be the catalyst for systemic change in policing in the United States.

“A conviction would show that you can prosecute these cases and that police cannot go around treating civilians as targets,” Jess Sundan said.

“The fact is people are killed every day in this country by police and most of them are African Americans.”

Returning to the spot in the alley where Justine was killed, it’s clear how much she was loved in her neighbourhood, as they’ve transformed the place of extreme tragedy into a shrine that perpetuates love.

A shrine at the spot where Justine Damond was killed. Photo: 10 News First.

Within an hour, we watched as several members of the community stopped to pay their respects, deliver flowers and reflect on how they can work to ensure this never happens again.

“We’re glad that Justine is getting her day in court… we hope this case helps further a conversation both what policing looks like in this country and the culture that allows this event to happen,” Justine’s neighbour Todd Schuman said, standing by the Australian flag poking out from the garden bed.

One of Justine Damond's neighbours pays his respects. Photo: 10 News First.

The neighbourhood group is also working closely with Justine’s family and have offered their support ahead of the trial, which is expected to be a long and emotional couple of weeks starting Monday.

Jury selection in the trial of former police officer Mohamed Noor who fatally shot Justine Damond has begun. Image: Supplied.

Contact the author: kpratt@networkten.com.au