Why does Black Lives Matter Keep Demonstrating???
In its June 2020 issue, Time magazine observed: “the slightest and smallest level of alleged misconduct or suspicious behavior is suitable to justify the police killer’s unreasonable fear.” Often, the killing of unarmed blacks is justified by describing past misconduct. Many believe that victims of summary execution somehow deserve their fate. Policing is a dangerous and often thankless profession, but police must be held accountable when their actions result in unjustified homicide. According to Mapping Police Violence, ninety-nine percent of police-involved in fatal shootings did not face charges.
This is another legacy of white supremacy and racism, portraying blacks as ignorant, sub-human brutes, mythology that led to lynching and mass legal malpractice, typified in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Because FBI and Center for Disease Control (CDC) data was incomplete, The Washington Post began documenting fatal shootings in 2015. The Post’s data reflect more than twice the fatal incidents as police and criminal justice authorities. The Post estimates that unarmed black men are shot by police at nearly three times the rate for unarmed whites, although. even these efforts are far from complete. According to a 2018 Harvard study, black men age 15 to 34 are nine to 16 times more likely to be killed by police than others. Another huge problem is that since 2005, only 35 police officers were convicted out of 98 charged and arrested, according to the Police Integrity Research Group at Bowling Green State University. Many are not charged because most police departments have a tendency to bend facts to exonerate detectives and patrolmen or -women, and they are often shielded by “qualified immunity,” now being examined by the Supreme Court in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Police unions also represent a strong buffer against accountability, the famed “blue wall.”
These incidents and the roughly 50 cases listed below are a sampling of the incidents that led to the formation of the Black Lives Matter movement. Three activists, Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi, decided that it was time for African Americans to organize and resist police and criminal justice racism. BLM has organized conference calls, created social media networks, and organized protests in numerous cities against police brutality and unfair prison policies. BLM is connected to similar groups — the Black Youth Project, Dream Defenders, Hands Up United, Millennials United, and Ferguson United. Because the problem is ongoing and constant, BLM is a growing, active movement not seen since the Civil Rights era. Thousands of Americans of all ages, races, and backgrounds are determined to change the status quo.
|In September 1983, Michael Stewart, a talented 25-year old black graffiti artist living in New York City, was badly injured during a confrontation with police. Exactly what happened when the police apprehended the twenty-five-year-old Pratt Institute student at a subway station remains uncertain. What is known is that the police brought him, hogtied and badly injured, to the hospital, where he died two weeks later in a coma. The Coroner issued three different findings, a grand jury decided not to indict the officers, but a settlement was awarded to the Stewart family. Painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, deeply shaken by Stewart’s death, created The Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart), not only to commemorate the young man’s death but also to challenge the state-sanctioned brutality faced by men of color for pursuing art in public spaces.
Anthony Ramon Baez, a 29-year old security guard who died in the Bronx as a result of an illegal chokehold used by Officer Francis Livoti in 1994. The fatal encounter began when Anthony Baez and his brothers accidentally hit a police car with their football. The Baez brothers continued their game, Livoti arrested David Baez first for disorderly conduct. When he attempted to arrest Anthony, Baez crossed his arms. A scuffle ensued and other officers arrived on the scene. Baez was subdued, lost consciousness, and was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead of asphyxiation. Baez was asthmatic. The controversy centered over the extent to which officers contributed to his death, specifically whether he was subjected to an illegal chokehold used by Officer Francis Livoti. In June 1998, Livoti was convicted in Manhattan’s Federal Court of violating Anthony Baez’s civil rights and was sentenced to seven and a half years in federal prison. He was released in April 2005, after serving six and a half years. Baez’s widow filed a $13 million wrongful death claim in 1995, settling for $3 million in October 1998. The street where Baez died was renamed Anthony Baez Place in 2000.
In October 1996, two white police officers, Jim Knight and Sandra Minor, saw a gold sports car driven by 18-year-old Tyron Lewis speeding in St. Petersburg, Florida. In court documents, Knight says he told the driver to turn off the car’s engine and show his hands. Instead, Knight says, Lewis bumped into him at least six times with the car. Witnesses said Lewis’ car rolled at the speed of a baby’s crawl. Lewis’ passenger, who was not shot, recalled Lewis saying: “Please don’t shoot, please don’t shoot.” Knight told his partner to smash the car’s windows with her baton. As she did, Knight says Lewis attempted to turn the car and Knight was knocked onto the hood. He fired his pistol three times, hitting Lewis twice in the arm and once in the chest. Lewis died at the scene. During the investigation, a large crowd became agitated due to the police department not sharing information and witnesses’ conflicting accounts of events. The crowd began throwing rocks, bottles, and other items at police officers. Police received reinforcements from other local agencies and off-duty police officers. After officers and Sheriff deputies fired tear gas into the crowd to disperse it, a number of individuals continued rioting in Midtown. A Military Police company of the Florida National Guard was activated to assist police.
Haitian-born Abner Louima was assaulted, brutalized, and sexually abused in August 1997 by officers of the New York City Police Department (NYPD) after he was arrested by police officers Justin Volpe, Charles Schwarz, Thomas Bruder, Thomas Wiese and others outside a Brooklyn nightclub. On the ride to the station, the arresting officers beat Louima with their fists, nightsticks and hand-held police radios. On arriving at the station house, they strip-searched Louima and put him in a holding cell. Later, Louima was sexually assaulted in a bathroom at the 70th Precinct station house in Brooklyn. Volpe kicked Louima in the testicles, and while Louima’s hands were cuffed behind his back, he first grabbed onto and squeezed his testicles and then sexually assaulted him with a broken broomstick. His injuries were so severe that he required three major surgeries. At first the police attempted to cover up the attack. According to trial testimony, Volpe walked through the precinct holding the bloody, excrement-stained instrument in his hand, bragging to a police sergeant that he “took a man down tonight.” Volpe is still in federal prison serving a 30-year sentence. In 2001, Louima received an $8.75 million settlement from the city for police brutality, the largest civil settlement to that time for such abuse. He set up the Abner Louima Foundation to establish a hospital and community centers in Haiti, Florida, and New York for Haitian residents, immigrants, and others in need.
In February 1999, four New York City plainclothes officers fired 41 shots at 22-year-old Amadou Diallo as he stood in the doorway of this Bronx home. An immigrant from Guinea, West Africa with no criminal record, Amadou allegedly fit the record of a rape suspect from a year earlier. The four officers — Sean Carroll, Richard Murphy, Edward McMellon and Kenneth Boss — were charged with second-degree murder but acquitted after a trial in Albany, New York. This led to street demonstrations and calls for reform. Diallo’s family sued the city and settled for $3 million, part of which was used to establish a scholarship fund in Diallo’s name.
In March 2000, undercover police approached Patrick Moses Dorismond, a security guard and father of two children, and his friend Kevin Kaiser standing outside a cocktail lounge. They asked him where they could purchase marijuana. A scuffle began when Dorismond became angry after they propositioned him, loudly declaring he was not a drug dealer. One of the officers, Anthony Vasquez, shot Patrick Dorismond in the chest, claiming he threw a punch at a second officer. Officer Vasquez said he came to his partner’s aid, hearing one of the men yelling “Get his gun!”, drew his weapon and identified himself as a police officer. He claimed Dorismond grabbed the gun, causing it to discharge into his chest. Dorismond’s friend claims that neither of the officers identified themselves. Kaiser insisted he attempted unsuccessfully to pull Dorismond back from the confrontation. He described the first undercover cop who had approached Dorismond as aggressive and “in their face.” Kaiser said it was one of the cops who initiated the fight, hitting Dorismond first. The single bullet from Vasquez’s 9mm pistol had struck Dorismond’s aorta and his right lung, and he was dead on arrival at the hospital. On July 27, 2000, A grand jury declined to indict Officer Vasquez in July 2000, finding the shooting to be accidental, the City of New York agreed to pay the Dorismond family $2.25 million in March 2003.
In April 2001, 19-year-old Timothy Thomas was shot and killed by Cincinnati patrolman Stephen Roach during an attempt to arrest him for non-violent misdemeanors, most of which were traffic citations. Tensions were already high; Thomas was the fifteenth African American male shot to death by a Cincinnati police officer between 1995 and 2001 and the fifth since the past September. Protests erupted into four nights of unrest, with incidences of property destruction, objects thrown at police officers by demonstrators, and vandalism and looting of businesses before a city-imposed curfew ended the unrest. There was $3.6 million in damage to businesses and another $1.5 to $2 million to the city. A subsequent community boycott of downtown businesses had an estimated adverse impact of $10 million and incidents of violent crime rose in the downtown area for several years thereafter. The period of unrest was the largest urban disturbance in the United States since the 1992 Los Angeles riots until the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017.
In November 2006, 23-year-old black athlete Sean Bell was killed in Queens on the morning before his wedding; two friends were severely wounded. A team of plainclothes undercover NYPD officers fired a total of 50 rounds. Eyewitness accounts conflict with the account provided by police. According to one of the survivors, the plainclothes detectives never identified themselves as they approached with their weapons drawn. The incident sparked fierce criticism of the police from members of the public and drew comparisons to the killing of Amadou Diallo. Three of the five detectives involved in the shooting went to trial on charges of first- and second-degree manslaughter, first- and second-degree assault, and second-degree reckless endangerment; all were acquitted.
On New Year’s Day 2009, Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old African-American, was fatally shot by police officer Johannes Mehserle in Oakland, California. Responding to reports of a fight on a crowded Bay Area Rapid Transit train, BART officer Anthony Pirone knelt on Grant’s back and forced the unarmed Grant to lie face down on the platform. While Pirone held Grant down, Mehserle drew his pistol and shot Grant in the back. Grant was rushed to Highland Hospital in Oakland and pronounced dead. Multiple surveillance videos and cell phone camera footage was disseminated to media outlets and on the Internet, where it went viral. On January 30, 2010, Alameda County prosecutors charged Officer Mehserle with second-degree murder. Mehserle resigned and pled not guilty. In July 2010, Mehserle was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. Although initial protests against the verdict were peacefully organized, after dark there were incidents of looting, arson, destruction of property, and small riots and about 80 people were arrested. In November, Mehserle was sentenced to two years, minus time served. He served time in Los Angeles County Jail in a private cell for his safety and was released on parole in June 2011 after serving 11 months. Grant’s family filed a $25 million wrongful death claim against BART, settling for $2.8 million. Several of Grant’s friends sued for damages because of police brutality.
In May 2010, 7-year-old Aiyana Mo’Nay Stanley-Jones was killed on Detroit’s East Side. After a high school senior was murdered, a police Special Response Team obtained a warrant to search the home where a suspect was believed to be hiding, but raided the wrong house. After throwing a flash grenade through the front window; officer Joseph Weekley claimed that the grenade blinded his view of the living room. Seconds after entering the house, Weekley fired and killed Aiyana. Police officers and bystanders disagreed about events that followed. Weekley claimed Aiyana Jones’ grandmother tried to brush aside his assault weapon, causing it to fire. In October 2011, the officer was charged with involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment with a gun. The first trial ended in a mistrial in June 2013; the retrial began in September the next year. A judge dismissed the involuntary manslaughter charge, leaving only the charge of recklessly discharging a firearm. The second trial ended in another mistrial. In January 2015, a prosecutor cleared Weekley of the last remaining charge against him, ensuring there would not be a third trial.
In February 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon Benjamin Martin was fatally shot in Sanford, Florida by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman. Martin was returning from a nearby convenience store when Zimmerman reported him to Sanford Police: “looks like he’s up to no good…on drugs or something.” Despite being told by the dispatcher not to intervene, Zimmerman confronted and fatally shot Martin in the chest. Zimmerman was injured during the encounter and claimed he was defending himself. True to form, Geraldo Rivera said Martin’s hoodie was a material factor! Only after national media focused on the incident was Zimmerman charged 45 days later. The jury acquitted him of second-degree murder and manslaughter in July 2013, causing riots in 100 cities.
In March 2012, 22-year-old Rekia Boyd was fatally shot by an off-duty police detective in Chicago, Illinois. The detective had a verbal exchange with four individuals partying in the park. One of the victims accused the officer of attempting to buy drugs and told the detective to get his “crackhead ass” out of there. The officer fired on the group, hitting Rekia Boyd in the back of the head, and another in the hand. Initially, the Chicago police department claimed that the detective had discharged his weapon after one of the group approached him with a gun. Rekia’s family pointed out this was a cell phone and no weapon was recovered from the scene. In March 2013 the city agreed to a $4.5 million wrongful death settlement with Boyd’s relatives.
In September 2012, Mohamed Bah, a 27-year-old immigrant from Guinea, was fatally shot 10 times inside his Manhattan apartment by New York City Police officers. His mother called 911 because Bah, a cab driver and community college student, had been acting strangely for months. Sgt. Joseph McCormack accidentally struck Det. Edwin Mateo from behind with a Taser, causing Mateo to shout out in the belief that he had been stabbed with a knife. The incident prompted the Bah family to file a $70 million civil lawsuit against New York City, demanding that the city implement changes in the way police deal with people suffering from mental illness. In 2017, the Bah family settled in court for 2.21 million dollars. The officers were found to have used unnecessary force but did not face charges.
Nine months after Trayvon Martin was killed (November 2012), Michael Dunn, a white software developer, angrily confronted seventeen-year-old Jordan Davis and three other African American boys at a Florida gas station for playing their music too loud. In the ensuing argument, Dunn shot Jordan three times. Standing behind the state’s Stand Your Ground law, which does not require proof that a perceived threat was real, Dunn pleaded self-defense based on his claim that Davis pulled a shotgun on him and threatened to kill him. A key part of Dunn’s defense was the depiction of Davis and the other boys in the car as dangerous thugs. No shotgun was found by the police or seen by witnesses, and in the first trial, Dunn was convicted on charges of attempted murder of the three surviving youngsters. However, the jury could not reach the required unanimous agreement on the first-degree murder charge, in part because of confusion over how they should interpret the state’s Stand Your Ground Law. In the second trial, “the jury found hat Mr. Dunn intended to kill Mr. Davis and acted with pre-meditation as he reached into his glove compartment for his gun and fired 10 times at Mr. Davis and the Durango, even as it pulled away to evade the gunfire.” Dunn was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole.
In July 2013, 44-year-old Tyrone West was pursued by two officers of the Baltimore Police Department after he fled a traffic stop during which cocaine was discovered. West was on parole at the time and had an extensive criminal record including assault, resisting arrest, and attempted first-degree murder. West died during the scuffle with police; various medical experts gave conflicting assessments. The incident fueled tension in the North Baltimore community leading to the Baltimore riots of 2015. The death of West drew attention from African American leaders. Three separate investigations, both internal and external, exonerated the officers involved, but errors were identified that negatively impacted the encounter. Recommendations made by an independent panel determined that the police needed to make significant procedural changes.
In March 2013, Officer Paul Lehman of the Martinsburg Police Department (MPD) saw 50-ear-old Wayne A. Jones, a homeless schizophrenic, walking in the road in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Because state law and city ordinance require that pedestrians use sidewalks, Lehman asked for identification and why he was walking in the street. Jones replied that he had no identification. Lehman asked him if he could search for weapons. Jones replied, “What’s a weapon?” Lehman called the MPD for backup when he learned Jones had a knife, demanding that Jones put his hands on the police car. Jones did not comply but repeatedly asked, “What do you want?” Lehman never responded. Lehman then tased Jones four times. Five other officers responded to Lehman’s call, officers Erik Herb, Daniel North, William Staubs, Paul Lehman, and Eric Neely. All five officers ordered Jones to drop the knife and drew their firearms, forming a semi-circle around Jones, who was flat on his back and motionless. Staub reported that as the officers stepped back, Jones “still had the f**king knife in his hand and he wasn’t f**king doing nothing.” Seconds later, the five officers fired a total of 22 rounds into Jones as he lay on the sidewalk. Most of the bullets entered Jones’s back and buttocks. In June 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit denied the shield of qualified immunity used by Martinsburg and the six officers to protect themselves — after seven years of stonewalling,.
In May 2013, Marlon Brown, 38-year-old father of three, was killed for failing to use seat belts in DeLand, the county seat of Volusia, Florida. Officer James Harris conducted a high-speed pursuit which resulted in Brown’s death. Their attorney released shocking dash cam footage of the incident, which he described by as “execution in a vegetable garden.” The video shows the police vehicle chasing Brown off the road and then pinning him under the patrol car. Officer Harris was fired three weeks after the incident and DeLand paid the Brown family $500,000 to avoid litigation.
Renisha McBride, a 19-year-old black woman, occurred on November 2, 2013, in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, United States. Renisha crashed her car while intoxicated in Detroit, and then walked to a neighborhood in Dearborn Heights where she knocked on a house door. The homeowner, Theodore Wafer, shot McBride with a shotgun. Wafer contended that the shooting was accidental and that he thought his home was being broken into after he heard her banging on his door at 4:42 in the morning. The shooting prompted some to claim her death was a result of racial profiling. Wafer was convicted of second-degree murder in August 2014 and received a sentence of 17 to 32 years in prison.
In February 2014, Yvette Smith, a 47-year-old mother, was killed immediately as she opened her front door by two rounds fired from an AR-15 assault rifle by officer Daniel Willis in Bastrop County, Texas, outside of Austin. Smith called 911 for help because two men in her home were arguing over money and she felt it was getting out of hand. She had nothing to do with the dispute and was an innocent bystander. When police arrived, both men were in the front yard and the dispute was settled, which should have ended the matter. Police tried to explain their actions with a series of lies disproven by evidence. Two sheriff’s department officers were demoted and four supervisors received disciplinary action. Deputy Willis was indicted for the murder; the grand jury reviewed the evidence and deemed that the charges were appropriate. The county settled with Smith’s family for $1.22 million.
In April 2014, Dontre Hamilton, 31, was fatally shot 14 times by a police officer in a Milwaukee park. The officer was responding to a call from employees at a nearby Starbucks alleging that Hamilton, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, was disturbing the peace. The officers who arrived first determined that Hamilton wasn’t doing anything illegal. Officer Christopher Manney showed up later and, after trying to pat Hamilton down, struggled with him, leading to the shooting. Manney was not charged. This is more evidence of the need for more police training in dealing with mentally ill individuals.
In July 2014, 43-year-old Eric Gardner was illegally selling “loose” cigarettes in Staten Island, thereby avoiding taxes. In an effort to subdue Gardner, police officer Daniel Pantaleo choked Gardner to death, even though Gardner stated eleven times that he could not breathe. The officers and emergency medical technicians did not perform CPR on Garner at the scene. He was pronounced dead at the hospital about an hour later. A bystander captured video of the scene. By the end of the year, at least 50 demonstrations had been held nationwide, while hundreds of demonstrations against general police brutality used Garner as a focal point. In July 2015, the City of New York paid the Garner family $5.9 million in an out-of-court settlement.
In August 2014, 18-year-old Michael Brown Jr. was fatally shot by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. Brown was accompanied by his friend Dorian Johnson, 22. Officer Wilson said an altercation ensued when Brown attacked Wilson for control of his gun. Johnson stated that Wilson initiated the confrontation by grabbing Brown by the neck, threatening him and then shooting at him. Both Wilson and Johnson agree that Brown and Johnson fled. Wilson stated that Brown stopped and charged him. Johnson stated that Brown turned around with his hands raised after Wilson shot from behind, hitting him six times. Brown’s body remained in the street for four hours. Violence broke out that November when the grand jury failed to indict Wilson. Twelve buildings and two police cars were set aflame and firefighters were driven away by gunfire. Protests and small-scale riots broke out elsewhere across the nation and more than 200 individuals were arrested. In March 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice cleared Wilson of civil rights violations and concluded that he shot Brown in self-defense. They also issued a 102-page report which identified a pattern of unlawful conduct within the Ferguson Police Department t violating the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The report found that black residents were subjected to multiple unjust practices by a predominantly white police department and recommended change in municipal ordinances, traffic enforcement, false arrests, the imposition of harsh penalties for petty violations, coupled with charges leading to huge debts and imprisonment.
Days after Michael Brown was fatally shot in Ferguson, Michelle Cusseaux was killed at close range by a Phoenix, Arizona police officer who had been called to take the 50-year-old woman to a mental health facility. The officer, Sergeant Percy Dupra, claimed Cusseaux threatened him with a hammer. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office originally announced that it would not press charges against Dupra. A year later, the Phoenix Police Department’s Use of Force Board ruled that the officer was in violation of department policy in what was seen a victory for social justice. The Ruderman Family Foundation recently conducted a study and found that nearly half of police killings involve people suffering from some sort of disability.
In October 2014, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, captured by a dashboard video. Police had been called to a parking lot on Chicago’s southeast side. When Van Dyke arrived on the scene, he saw McDonald walking erratically with a small knife, and opened fire within seconds of getting out of his patrol car. That video outraged many Chicago residents, showing that McDonald was walking away from the officer when he was shot and the officer continued firing bullets into him after he had already fallen to the ground. In January 2019, Van Dyke was sentenced to six years, nine months, minus time already served, and was discharged from the force. The video of the shooting sparked the resignation of Chicago’s police chief and another national debate over race and policing.
In November 2014, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot by police officer Timothy Loehmann in Cleveland, Ohio. Two officers, Loehmann and Frank Garmback, responded to a dispatch that a male was randomly pointing a pistol in a recreation center. The caller reported that the pistol was “probably fake” and toward the end of the two-minute call, he stated “he is probably a juvenile,” but this information was not relayed to the officers. The officers reported that on arriving, they both yelled “show me your hands.” Loehmann claimed that instead of showing his hands, it appeared as if Rice was trying to draw, saying, “I knew it was a gun and I knew it was coming out.” Loehmann shot twice, hitting Rice once in the torso; he died the following day. Rice’s gun was later found to be a nonlethal Airsoft replica lacking an orange-tipped barrel. A grand jury declined to bring charges against Loehmann.
In November 2014, 37-year-old Tanisha Anderson died in Cleveland police custody after her family had called 911 because she was facing mental issues. She became unresponsive as officers tried to get her into a patrol car to take her to a hospital. A family lawsuit accused police of throwing her to the ground. Police officers Scott Aldridge and Bryan Myers remain the subjects of a criminal investigation. Although denying the family’s wrongful death lawsuit’s allegations, the city of Cleveland agreed to a $2.25-million settlement.
In March 2015, 19-year-old Tony Terrell Robinson Jr. was fatally shot by Madison, Wisconsin police officer Matthew Kenny. Responded to a report that he was walking erratically and attempted to strangle someone, Kenny claimed that immediately upon reaching the top of a flight of stairs, Robinson attacked him without warning, knocking him into the wall and beating him. Kenny fired his weapon seven times, mortally wounding Robinson. Kenny suffered a concussion and a sprained knee from the assault. A post-mortem determined that Robinson ingested Xanax, psilocybin mushrooms, and THC, contributing to his erratic behavior. Robinson was on probation after pleading guilty to a home-invasion robbery in 2014, in which he was caught fleeing the scene armed with a realistic-looking fake gun. In 2007, Officer Kenny had shot and killed Ronald Brandon, 48, standing on the porch of his own home, holding what was later learned was a pellet gun. The Dane County DA determined that officer Kenny would not face charges since it was a “lawful use of deadly police force.” The Black Lives Matter movement protested Robinson’s death: some 1,500 protesters, mostly high school students, staged a walk-out, filling the state capitol and chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot.” In February 2017, Robinson’s family received a $3.35 million settlement from the city.
In March 2015, police officer Robert Olsen shot Anthony Hill, a 26-year-old black U.S. Air Force veteran with PTSD who served in Afghanistan, in Chamblee, Georgia, near Atlanta. Hill had seven medals from the Air Force, suffered from bipolar disorder and was naked and unarmed at the time of the incident. In January 2016, a grand jury indicted officer Olsen on two counts of felony murder and one count of aggravated assault, after three judges recused themselves. In October 2019, Olsen was convicted of one count of aggravated assault, two counts of violating his oath of office and one count of making a false statement and was sentenced to 12 years in prison, followed by eight years of probation.
In April 2015, Walter Lamar Scott, a 50-year-old unarmed motorist, Marine Corps veteran and father of four, was stopped by North Charleston, South Carolina patrolman Michael Slager for a non-functioning taillight. A coroner determined that Slager fired eight shots at Scott as he ran away, striking him five times, three in the back. Slager then handcuffed Scott’s arms behind his back and placed his stun gun next to the body so it would appear that Scott resisted. Slager’s report contradicted video evidence captured by a bystander on his cellphone. The graphic video was viewed by the public millions of times and became a key piece of evidence for the prosecution. Slager was fired and was sentenced to 20 years behind bars for second-degree murder two years later. In an out-of-court settlement, the City of North Charleston agreed to pay $6.5 million to Scott’s family in October 2015.
In April 2015, 25-year-old Freddie Carlos Gray, Jr. was arrested by Baltimore police for possessing what the police alleged was an illegal knife. He was not involved in criminal behavior at the time. While being transported in a police van, Gray fell into a coma and was taken to a trauma center, dying a week later. His death was ascribed to injuries to his spinal cord because he was not secured in the back of the van. A week later, six Baltimore police officers were suspended with pay pending an investigation of the incident. Eyewitness accounts suggested that the officers used unnecessary force against Gray during the arrest—a claim denied by all officers. Six days prior to Gray’s arrest, the department issued a new policy requiring that suspects be secured before transport. The medical examiner’s office concluded that Gray’s death was a homicide because officers failed to follow safety procedures and caused his injuries. In May 2015, the State’s Attorney in Baltimore announced that charges had been filed against the six police, but juries failed to convict four officers and the DA dropped charges against the other two. The City of Baltimore reached a $6.4 million settlement with the Gray family.
In July 2015, 28-year-old Sandra Bland was arrested on her way to a new job at her alma mater, Prairie View A & M University, for not using her turning signal and not putting her cigarette out as state trooper Brian Encinia directed. The exchange escalated, resulting in Bland’s arrest and a charge of assaulting a police officer. The arrest was recorded by Encinia’s dashcam, by a bystander’s cell phone and Bland’s own cell phone. After authorities reviewed the dashcam footage, Encinia was placed on administrative leave for failing to follow proper procedure. Bland was found hanged in her jail cell in Waller County, Texas three days after her arrest. Her death was ruled a suicide but protests followed, disputing the cause of death and alleging racial prejudice. Texas authorities and the FBI conducted an investigation and determined the Waller County jail did not follow required policies, including time checks on inmates and ensuring that employees had mental health training. In December 2015, a grand jury declined to indict the county sheriff and jail staff for a felony relating to Bland’s death. In January 2016, Encinia was indicted for perjury for making false statements and was subsequently fired. In September 2016, Bland’s mother settled a wrongful death lawsuit against the county jail and police department for $1.9 million.
In July 2015, Jonathan Sanders, a 39-year-old Mississippian, was killed while being restrained by police officer Kevin Herrington in Stonewall. Sanders died at the scene after being kept in a chokehold by Herrington without CPR. Witnesses reported that the officer used a racial slur during his encounter with Sanders, and that Sanders’ breathing was obstructed by officer Herrington for as long as 30 minutes. In January 2016, a grand jury declined to indict the officer. In March 2016, a Clarke County grand jury determined that Sanders died of “mechanical asphyxia” after swallowing a bag of cocaine, and that the police officer “was in the right to pursue Sanders based on the suspicion he was involved in drug activity.” It also determined there was no evidence showing traumatic injury inflicted by Herrington.
In July 2015, two Memphis police officers stopped a car with a defective headlight. The car’s driver was dismissed, but there were two outstanding out of state warrants for someone with the same name as passenger Darrius Stewart, 19. When Stewart resisted arrest and began beating the officer with his own handcuffs, the policeman fired two shots, killing Stewart. A grand jury declined to indict the officer after the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation issued a 600-page report. Memphis Police still do not know if the warrants were actually for Stewart.
In November 2015, 27-year-old Alonzo Smith died after being taken into custody at a Southeast Washington, D.C. apartment building by two security guards. The police call center received three calls around 4 AM; when police arrived, Smith was running inside the building, banging on doors and then climbed a ladder leading to the roof. Smith was shirtless and shoeless as he ran through the Marbury Plaza apartment complex screaming for help because someone was trying to kill him. The security guards grabbed him in a bear hug, shoved him to the ground and handcuffed him. Prosecutors say when D.C. police officers arrived, Alonzo was conscious and breathing. The medical examiner ruled Alonzo’s death a homicide and the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Smith died from a cardiac incident brought on by a high level of cocaine intoxication and “compression of torso.” Smith’s mother noted, “There were injuries on my son’s back. He was hemorrhaging. The back of his head was busted.” Prosecutors insist there was no evidence the security guards punched, kicked or struck Alonzo. U.S. Attorney found insufficient evidence to pursue federal criminal civil rights or local charges and the names of the special police officers employed by Blackout Security, in Charles County, Maryland were not released, but they had their police powers revoked.
In August 2015, John Crawford III, 22, was killed by a police officer at a Walmart in Beavercreek, a suburb of Dayton, Ohio. Crawford picked up a pellet air rifle at the sporting goods section and continued shopping. A customer called 911, reporting that he was pointing the gun at people and children, but security camera footage showed that Crawford was talking on his cell phone and holding the BB gun as he shopped. At no point did he point the gun at anyone. The witness recanted his statement after the security camera footage was released. Two officers of the Beavercreek Police, Sean Williams, and David Darkow responded. Williams shot Crawford in the arm and chest; he died shortly afterwards. According to police, Crawford did not respond to verbal commands to drop the weapon and lie on the ground and appeared to try to escape. The video appears to show the officers firing immediately, without giving verbal commands and without giving Crawford time to drop the weapon. Williams was removed from normal duties until a Department of Justice investigation was complete; the Department declined to issue charges. A grand jury declined to indict the officers on charges of murder, reckless homicide, or negligent homicide. Ohio is an “open carry” state, where open carry of firearms is legal with or without a license, raising issues of race and gun rights.
In October 2015, Corey Jones, a 31-year-old African-American, was shot by a plainclothes Pakistani police officer Nouman K. Raja in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. The officer was in plainclothes and in an unmarked white van when he approached Jones, who was waiting by his disabled vehicle on a highway exit ramp. Within seconds, Raja fired six shots at Jones, striking him three times. After the shooting, Raja falsely claimed to investigators that he had identified himself as a police officer and shot Jones in self-defense. Both assertions were disproved by an audio recording of the fatal shooting. On June 1, 2016, Raja was charged with manslaughter by culpable negligence and first-degree murder with a firearm. He was convicted in March 2019 after an eight-day jury trial and was sentenced to 25 years in prison in April 2019.
In July 2016, 37-year-old Alton Sterling was shot dead at close range by police officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Police were responding to a report that a man selling CDs and used a gun to threaten a man outside a convenience store. The officers were attempting to control Sterling’s arms, and Sterling was shot after reportedly reaching for a gun in his pocket. The shooting was recorded by multiple bystanders and led to protests in Baton Rouge and a request for an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. The DOJ investigated but decided not to file criminal charges. In March 2018, the Louisiana Adjutant General’s office announced it would not bring charges against the officers because they acted in a “reasonable and justifiable manner.” Officer Salamoni was fired in March 2018 for violating use of force policies; Lake was suspended three days for losing his temper.
In July 2016, Philando Castile, a 32-year old school nutrition worker, was pulled over by police officer Jeronimo Yanez in St. Anthony, a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His girlfriend Diamond Reynolds and her five-year-old daughter were also in the car. Castile informed the officer that he had a licensed weapon, but before he could get out his license, Yanez shot him seven times and killed him. Reynolds live-streamed footage of the shooting on social media, causing weeks of protest. Yanez was charged with second-degree murder, but during his trial, the police officer said feared for his life because he smelled marijuana and “someone willing to risk the life and lungs of a five-year-old likely had no care for him.” Yanez was acquitted, although he was fired the same day.
Violence Begets Violence
The deaths of Sterling and Castile set off a violent chain reaction. In July 2016, during a protest in Dallas, Texas, Micah Xavier Johnson, an Army reservist and Afghanistan war veteran, ambushed a gathering of police officers, killing five and wounding eleven others, including two civilians. Johnson was killed by a robot-delivered bomb. The Bahamian government issued a travel advisory warning against traveling to the U.S. due to racial tensions, and similar advisories were issued by the governments of United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. The United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent issued a statement strongly condemning the Sterling and Castile’s killings, declaring that they demonstrate “a high level of structural and institutional racism,” adding “The United States is far from recognizing the same rights for all its citizens. Existing measures to address racist crimes motivated by prejudice are insufficient and have failed to stop the killings.”
In July 2016, a protest in Baton Rouge turned violent, with one police officer having several teeth knocked out and eight firearms confiscated from New Black Panther Party members. Police arrested 102 people. The director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Tufts University said “the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile evoke the past spectacle of lynching; for change to happen, Americans must confront the pain of black history.” On July 17, Gavin Eugene Long shot and killed three police officers and wounded several others in Baton Rouge. Long was killed at the scene during a shootout with responding officers.
In September 2016, Terence Crutcher, a 40-year-old motorist, was shot and killed by police officer Betty Jo Shelby in Tulsa, Oklahoma while standing near his vehicle in the middle of a street. Officers on the scene observed, “looks like a bad dude, too, could be on something.” Oklahoma State Medical Examiner found that Terence Crutcher had “acute phencyclidine (PCP) intoxication. Crutcher’s hands were in his pocket and he refused orders to show his hands, walking towards his vehicle despite being told to stop. The shooting led to wide-spread protests. On September 22, the Tulsa County DA charged Shelby with first-degree manslaughter after the shooting was labeled a homicide, but in May 2017 a jury found her not guilty.
In April 2017, 15-year-old Jordan Edwards was fatally shot in the back of the head by police officer Roy Oliver in Balch Springs, Texas, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area while riding in the front passenger’s seat of a vehicle driving away from officers attempting to stop it. Oliver was fired from the force, arrested on May 5, 2017, found guilty of murder in August and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
In June 2017, Charleena Lyles, a 30-year-old pregnant mother of three children, one with Downs Syndrome, was killed by two officers responding to her 911 call of a burglary in her Seattle, Washington apartment. Lyles had a minor criminal record likely due to mental illness. She met the officers at the door with a knife in her hand. No attempt was made to use a taser — she was shot seven times in the abdomen and chest. In November the Seattle Police Department’s Force Review Board found the fatal shooting to be “reasonable, proportional and within policy.”
In the late evening in March 2018, 23-year-old Stephon Clark was killed in the backyard of his grandmother’s house in Meadowview, near Sacramento, California by Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet, officers of the Sacramento Police Department. Police claimed Clark was suspected of breaking windows in the area prior to the encounter. He had a cell phone in his hand, but the two officers fired 20 rounds believing had a gun. The encounter was filmed by police video cameras and by a Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department helicopter. According to the pathologist hired by the Clark family, Clark was hit eight times, including six times in the back. The shooting caused large protests in Sacramento. The Sacramento Police Department placed the officers on paid administrative leave and investigated. In March 2019, the DA announced the two officers would not be charged because they had probable cause to stop Clark and were legally justified in the use of deadly force.
In May 2018, 24-year-old Marcus-David Peters, left his day job teaching high school biology and life skills, arriving at his second job at a hotel, where he worked as a part-time security guard. He apparently experienced a psychotic episode, left naked, got into his car and veered off a highway in Richmond, Virginia. A police officer, Michael Nyantakyi, saw the vehicle crash. When Peters climbed out naked, he attempted to subdue him with his taser. Peters approached him and Nyantakyi fired two shots into Peters’ belly, killing him. The Richmond DA concluded that the shooting was justified. This incident is a clear proof that police should not be first responders for mental health incidents.
In June 2018, unarmed 17-year-old Antwon Rose II was fatally shot in East Pittsburgh by police officer Michael Rosfeld. Rose was transported to McKeesport Hospital, where he was declared dead. Rose was a community volunteer and an honor roll student at Woodland Hills High School, and took Advanced Placement classes. A car in which he and two others were in was stopped by police investigating a drive-by shooting. Theirs was not the vehicle involved, but Rose and another companion attempted to run away. Following the shooting, Rosfeld was charged with criminal homicide, but after a 4-day trial, he was acquitted on all counts.
In September 2018, Dallas police officer Amber Guyger shot and killed 26-year-old Botham Jean while he was eating ice cream in his own apartment. Guyger told investigators that she mistakenly entered Jean’s apartment thinking it was hers after completing a long shift. Jean’s apartment was one floor directly above Guyger’s. Guyger was initially charged with manslaughter, resulting in protests and accusations of racial bias. In October 2019, she was found guilty of murder and was sentenced to ten years in prison.
In March 2019, Javier Ambler II, a 40-year-old black postal worker, and father of two, died in police custody during the filming of an episode of “Live PD” in Williamson County, Texas. Ambler was driving home after playing poker with friends when he failed to dim his headlights to oncoming traffic. He was pursued by sheriff’s deputy J.J. Johnson for this minor violation nearly thirty minutes. Deputies used a taser on him as he screamed “I can’t breathe,” raising concerns that police officers prioritize reality show fame over citizens’ lives. When stopped, Ambler explained that he had congestive heart failure and could not breathe — while the cameras from the A&E Network reality show continued rolling. He was held to the ground by three officers who tased him at least four times. When he became unresponsive, they unsuccessfully attempted to administer CPR.
In June 2019, Kenneth French, a 32-year-old mute schizophrenic Hispanic-Indian man with a learning disability, was shopping with his parents at a Costco in Corona, Los Angeles, California. Store security footage appears to show French’s father attempting to intervene with off-duty LAPD police officer Salvator Sanchez and explain that it was a misunderstanding and Kenneth was disabled. Sanchez claimed French hit him; after the incident he was found to have minor injuries. Sanchez opened fire 10 times, hitting French and both parents. French, a “gentle giant” not known for violent tendencies, died at the scene. LAPD carried out a criminal investigation but did not arrest or suspend Sanchez; a grand jury declined to charge him.
In October 2019, Atatiana Koquice Jefferson, a 28-year-old woman, was shot and killed in her home in Fort Worth, Texas. Police arrived at her home after a neighbor called a non-emergency number because Jefferson’s front door was open. Police body camera footage showed that when she came to her window to observe activity outside her home, officer Aaron Dean shot and killed her. Police found a handgun near her body, which according to her 8-year-old nephew with whom she was playing video games, she pointed toward the window due to noises in the backyard . Dean did not identify himself as a police officer and shot as soon as he saw Jefferson. On October 14, 2019, Dean resigned from the Fort Worth Police Department and was arrested on a murder charge; he refused to cooperate with investigators He was indicted by a grand jury and charged with murder in December 2019 and local police have called for an FBI investigation.
In February 2020, Armaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, was jogging through a white neighborhood on a sunny afternoon in Satilla Shores, a suburb of Brunswick, Glynn County, Georgia. He was accosted by two men, Gregory and Travis McMichael, father and son, one a retired police officer and investigator and his son, a former Coast Guardsman. The two claimed they suspected Arbery had been involved in local “break-ins.” Travis, armed with a shotgun, accosted Arbery, who grappled with the weapon and was killed in three blasts. Two prosecutors recused themselves and more than three months elapsed without charges being filed in a case eerily similar to that of Trevon Martin’s, almost eight years later. After peaceful demonstration, the case was finally investigated and the McMichaels were arrested on May 7 when a video shot by William “Roddie” Bryan became available. Bryan was arrested two weeks later.
Just after midnight on March 13, 2020, the home of 26-year-old emergency room technician Breonna Taylor was entered unannounced by Louisville police officers who were seeking two suspects suspected of selling drugs in a “trap house” more than 10 miles from Taylor’s apartment. A judge signed off on an illegal “no-knock” warrant — police could enter her house without identifying themselves as law enforcement. The suspects were already in police custody when police broke in. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, 27, fired first, wounding an officer. Walker thought someone was breaking into the home and acted in self-defense. Breonna was hit eight times by officers and was pronounced dead at the scene. No body camera footage was made because officers in the Criminal Interdiction Division do not wear cameras.
Early on May 8, 2020, 48-year-old Adrian Medearis was shot and killed after a dispute with a police officer during a traffic stop. Medearis was the choir director at the Evangelist Temple Church of God in Christ in Houston, Texas. According to a statement released by the Houston Police Department, officer J. Ramos pulled Medearis over for speeding. He conducted a field sobriety test and then attempted to arrest Medearis on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. Medearis allegedly resisted and in the struggle knocked off Ramos’ body camera. Ramos reportedly had Medearis pinned to the ground. When he called for backup, Medearis allegedly rolled over and attempted to grab Ramos’s taser, at which point Ramos fired four shots. Two struck Medearis and killed him.
On May 26, 2020, George Floyd, a 40-year-old black man suffocated when Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis policeman held his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes. Floyd was suspected of having used a counterfeit $20 bill to pay for a pack of cigarettes. Three police cars responded. Despite saying that he could not breath 11 times before passing out, Chauvin did not remove his knee, while three other cops watched Chauvin choke the life out of Floyd. The Minneapolis Chief of Police, who is also black, fired all four officers. Chauvin was later arrested and charged with second- and third-degree murder; the other three officers have been charged with criminal negligence. This was not the first incidence of police misconduct in the Milwaukee Police Department. A Justice Department report released in 2015 found that only 21 percent of the complaints of misconduct made against MPD officers were investigated and only 13 percent out of nearly 1,200 complaints between October 2012 and September 2015 resulted in discipline, most involving the officer being sent for “coaching.” Since 2015, Minneapolis police have rendered people unconscious at least 44 times, according to NBC News analysis. According to the ACLU, Blacks were about nine times more likely to be arrested for low-level offenses.
In June 2020, 27-year-old restaurant worker Rayshard Brooks was fatally shot by Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe. Officer Devin Brosnan responded to a 911 call that an individual was parked in the drive-through lane of a fast-food restaurant. Both administered a sobriety test, establishing that Brooks’ blood-alcohol level exceeded the legal limit. Brooks punched Rolfe while he was being handcuffed and grabbed Brosnan’s taser and aimed the taser at Rolfe while running away. Rolfe fired three shots; two hit Brooks in the back; the third struck a nearby car. Brooks died in the hospital. Atlanta’s police chief resigned; Rolfe was fired and charged with felony murder and ten other offenses. Brosnan was placed on administrative leave and later charged with aggravated assault and two counts of violation of oath.
In August 2020, security guard Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times in Kenosha, Wisconsin while his children looked on. The incident was filmed by his neighbors, and set off multi-day riots that necessitated deploying National Guard elements. Dump trucks were burned in front of the county courthouse by irate demonstrators fed up with the continuing flow of shootings of blacks. The Kenosha police department released a statement noting that “the video currently circulating does not capture all the intricacies of a highly dynamic incident. We ask that you withhold from passing judgement until all the facts are known and released.” Blake was still fighting for his life in a hospital.
Trump responded to the riots and peaceful demonstrators that broke out the first two nights after Floyd’s murder by announcing that he was the “law and order president” offering such incendiary bromides as “when the looking starts, the shooting starts.” With few exceptions, massive but peaceful demonstrations have continued in over 200 American cities and around the world for more than a month. Trump took to the White House bunker the first night, then called out National Guard units and corrections officers from Texas prison systems in riot gear to secure the Lincoln monument and other areas. On June 1, he had Attorney General Barr clear Lafayette Square in front of the White House, removing the pastor and other congregants of St. John’s historic church, for a PhotoOp on the side of the church holding a Bible. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser responded on June 5 by painting a two-block section of 16th Street NW “Black Lives Matter” in 35-foot letters visible from space, posting a sign to that effect. Black Lives Matter activists painted “Defund the Police” in the same yellow block letters a day later.
Black Americans and many Americans of every race are signaling that they had had enough contempt, spite, insult, and daily disregard of black lives. As defined by the FBI, “justifiable homicide by law enforcement” means “the killing of a felon by a peace officer in the line of duty.” Clearly, very few of the police killings described in this appendix involve infractions that meet this qualification, but they have frequently been justified anyway. Clearly, these incidents of latent racism will continue at regular intervals unless drastic changes are made. Some will have to be decided in the November 2020 election.