Five days after Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., 19-year-old Diana Showman was shot and killed by San Jose police after flaunting a weapon that turned out to be a cordless drill painted black.

Two people dead. Two families in mourning. Two cops scarred.

The incident in Ferguson has stirred 10 days of angry protests and prompted the entry of the U.S. Justice Department into the probe.

The shooting in San Jose has passed quietly behind us.

On social media, there is a tendency to conflate police shootings, either in a broad indictment of cops or a knee-jerk defense of authority. The truth is that every case is different.

At least four issues set Ferguson and San Jose apart:

RACE -- A big reason that Brown's killing has ignited protest is the context: Ferguson has a nearly all-white police department (50 of 53) and a two-thirds black population. With that ratio, the fatal shooting of an 18-year-old summons years of perceived and real slights, the bone-on-bone legacy of prejudice.

San Jose, on the other hand, has a far more diverse population and police department. Race was not reported as a factor in Thursday's case: The officer involved in the shooting was Japanese-American.

THE WEAPON -- I don't pretend to know exactly what happened before Brown was killed. But certainly the knowledge that he was initially unarmed -- and that he was shot six times, including twice in the head -- nursed the grievances of the street.


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In San Jose, the 19-year-old woman claimed to have an Uzi and approached cops with a drill that could easily have been taken for a weapon.

You can understand why a cop would make a split-second decision to fire. (For those who remember the vegetable peeler involved in the fatal shooting by cops of a Vietnamese woman in 2003, the painted drill was a more persuasive threat).

MENTAL HEALTH -- By one estimate, 40 percent of the police-involved shootings in California involve a mental health crisis. That's certainly been true in the cases I've covered.

The woman shot last Thursday reportedly suffered from a bipolar condition. And the debate has been whether we have adequate mental health services to help people like her. (The officer who shot her had taken Crisis in Intervention training to deal with such cases.) This isn't to say there aren't mental health crises in the inner St. Louis suburbs. There are. But they are submerged beneath the jagged fabric of race.

POLITICAL SAVVY -- In comparing the two cases, you can't forget that the Ferguson and San Jose police are very different organizations.

Here the police did not try to hide the officer's name, while in Ferguson, the attempt at anonymity inflamed an already tense situation. From my experience, it would be extraordinarily unusual for the San Jose cops to release a video of a slain kid taking cigars from a convenience store. Unlike the Ferguson police, they would understand automatically that it would not help their job in quelling street violence.

Yes, I know. All of this might sound obvious. The two places are a half-continent and an even greater distance in culture away. A comparison does little to salve the grief of the victims' families. Yet it's worth thinking about why protests have erupted in Ferguson and not here. Sadly, it's cases like these that offer a mirror to our identity.

Contact Scott Herhold at 408-275-0917 or sherhold@mercurynews.com. Twitter.com/scottherhold.