In the early morning hours of Oct. 15, 2010, Ali Mohammed was chased from a U Street bar by an owner and four employees, allegedly because he threw a brick through a window – a window that had been punched in 90 minutes before by someone else. They caught Ali in the middle of a busy intersection, threw him to the ground, and kicked him for several minutes until he lost consciousness or until the police arrived – it’s not clear which. It took the ambulance only five minutes to reach Howard University Hospital’s Emergency Room, but Ali was pronounced dead a mere nine minutes after arriving there. It was five days past his 27th birthday.

By all accounts, Ali Ahmed Mohammed was a gentle and generous man. He was tall, good looking, and had a boyish playfulness about him. Ali immigrated to the United States from Ethiopia as a young child and took his first job, as a nursing home assistant, when he was 15 years-old. A former co-worker remembers him talking endlessly with the residents and always finding ways to make them smile. It was not surprising then that nearly 600 of his friends and neighbors held a candlelight vigil on the street where he was killed to remember him and to demand justice.

The official investigation into Ali’s death yielded few answers, however, the manner in which it was conducted speaks volumes about law enforcement in the District of Columbia. As a starting point for my analysis, I reviewed police reports, 911 logs, Fire & EMS event chronologies, hearing transcripts, and Alcoholic Beverage Control Board orders. Several questions emerged:

1. What happened inside the bar that night?—The almost identical natures of the two crimes allegedly committed that night suggest a connection between the two. Both appear to be acts of retaliation by persons who felt powerless – instances of lashing out similar to keying a car or slashing a person’s tires.

2. Why did the assailants beat Mohammed so brutally?—Ali Mohammed was no stranger to Ninth Street. Tall and gregarious, he was known in all the Ethiopian restaurants and cafes, so it seems unlikely that none of his assailants recognized him as a local. None of the assailants have public records of violence and by all accounts were nice guys. So how could they commit such a brutal act on another human being? An employee who was in the bar but not involved in the assault told a Channel 8 reporter that “the only people that hang out are – you know, no offense – crackheads, you know, drug addicts, homeless people. A lot of the time we have to shoo them away. They panhandle and such, you know.” A videotape of the interview was introduced as exculpatory evidence by the bar’s owners at the liquor board hearing held after the incident. Ninth Street is home to a dozen Ethiopian restaurants and cafés and the center of the area’s Ethiopian community. If the assailants could not distinguish them from “crackheads,” it might explain (but certainly not excuse) the inhumane nature of the beating they administered

3. Does the medical examiner’s “cause of death” statement tell the whole story or is it necessary to review the full autopsy report?—The Medical Examiner’s cause of death statement suggests that Mohammed died from an underlying heart ailment, but it makes no mention of the “significant bruising on the forearms,” that the police observed. Anyone who watches TV knows those were defensive wounds – the kind that would be received by a person on the ground in a fetal position who was trying to protect his head and face from being kicked. The autopsy should be independently reviewed.

4. Why did the ABC Board deviate so far from its own rules?—The ABC Board seemed to bend over backwards to reopen the bar. Despite being statutorily prohibited from engaging in criminal investigations, it conducted one anyway and then relied upon the results to absolve the bar owner of any serious offense so it could give him back its license.

The 28 year-old investigator assigned to the case had been with the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration for only two-and-a-half years and, other than holding a master’s degree in forensic psychology, there is no evidence she has any training or experience related to criminal investigations not related to violations of ABC regulations. Perhaps that is why the first person she called after hearing of the incident was to another co-owner of the bar rather than to police officials. Most tellingly, perhaps is the fact that although MPD notified her of the earlier window-punching incident just one hour after it occurred, she did not find out about the killing until the following morning.

5. Why aren’t the witness statements sufficient to establish probable cause to charge the assailants with homicide or at least aggravated assault?—It is black letter law that an assailant “takes his victim as he finds him.” If a criminal assault leads to the victim’s death, he can be found guilty of felony murder. Here, however, the assailants have avoided prosecution, and the bar has been allowed to reopen, simply by them telling the liquor board: “We’re not going to do it again,” installing a few video cameras and putting the staff through sensitivity training.

The questions surrounding Ali Mohammed’s death could be answered if the Justice Department (not the U.S. Attorney’s Office) were to conduct a bona fide investigation. But they cannot answer the most important one: After years of failing to hold public officials – Black and White – accountable for turning a blind eye when Black men are killed (Sean Bell, DeOnté Rawlings, Ronny White, Oscar Grant, Trey Joyner, and now Ali Mohammed) have we, as Black people, come to accept that the unlawful killing a Black man by “respectable” people is no longer a punishable offense?

The writer is a third-year law student at Georgetown and a former member of Human Rights Watch’s California Committee North. He has clerked for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary. He was a member of Chairman Conyers’s Braintrust Panel on Racial Profiling at the 2008 CBC Weekend Conference.