Activists demonstrated last night (December 28) after word broke that the officer responsible for the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice would not face charges in the incident. Since the tragic Michael Brown shooting in August 2014 that served as a boiling point/launching pad for the Black Lives Matter movement, there’s been too many deaths for comfort (to put it mildly) of black citizens at the hands of mostly white police members. There’s the names that made the headlines, including Brown, Rice, Eric Garner, John Crawford and, unfortunately, many more that didn’t land on front pages nor draw the attention demanded. And that’s nothing to say of the high-profile incidents (Trayvon Martin, Jordan Dunn) prior to that, in a vacuum, filter into the same pathology.
While every occurrence is unique, there have been indictments handed down, however, the larger trend is that charges rarely are brought up and clashing philosophies abound over the boundaries of policing and American rights.
Below is a brief summary of the more prominent incidents of police violence against citizens and the results.
The City of Ferguson turned into war zone as police battled looters and activists (and media), seldom taking the time to differentiate who was who, in the wake of Darren Wilson’s fatal shooting of Michael Brown, 18, in August 2014. Authorities left Brown’s body in the street for hours after the shooting, which triggered protests, and refused to release Wilson’s name to the public. In November, after details surrounding the shooting were released (including the number of times Wilson shot Brown, witness testimony about Brown’s behavior in a convenience store and police reports), a grand jury decided not to indict Wilson and a larger demonstration (and separately, violent displays) began that resulted in the state issuing a state of emergency.
One month before Brown’s shooting, Eric Garner was confronted by NYPD for allegedly selling loose cigarettes in Staten Island and when the 43-year-old protested, an officer, Daniel Pantaleo, jumped on his back and choked him to the ground, with a move that was banned by police. Despite Garner’s numerous pleas that he couldn’t breathe, police didn’t relent and he died on the pavement. Video evidence of the incident went viral and “I Can’t Breath” joined “Hand’s Up” as a rallying cry for the nascent Black Lives Matter movement. Still, in December, on month after the ruling in Brown’s case, a grand jury chose not to charge police over Garner’s death.
In April of this year, a South Carolina cop brutally gunned down Walter Scott after a routine traffic stop (a broken brake light) when the 50-year-old fled. Eyewitness video of the incident showed that Michael Slager was not in danger and at a distance from Scott, yet chose to shoot at him, hitting the man in the back and killing him. In June, having already been fired, Scott was indicted by a grand jury on murder charges.
In 2014, McDonald was shot 16 times and police reports suggested the teen charged officers with a knife. But 13 months after the incident, a Chicago judge ordered the release of the video, which show Jason Van Dyke firing away at McDonald as he was running away and then laying on the ground. Van Dyke was charged the same day the video was released last month and earlier this month, on December 16th, he was indicted.
More of a systematic and institutional example of incompetence, Baltimore police arrested Freddie Grey in April of this year for fleeing as officers were patrolling the area and the 25-year-old later died while being transported to a nearby jail. Despite cries of pain, Gray was ignored by a cadre of officers and two weeks later a Baltimore prosecutor quickly charged six members of the police with various criminal charges in his death. The first officer’s case was declared a mistrial earlier this month and the status of the remaining cases remains in question.
In July, Sandra Bland was arrested for a routine traffic stop (an improper lane change) before the incident escalated between her and Brian Ecinia, which resulted in the trooper arrested the 28-year-old, who had recently relocated to Texas to take a job at her alma mater, Texas A&M. Three days later, Bland died as a result of a hanging, which puzzled friends and family as behavior unbecoming. This month, prosecutors ruled there would be no charges against officers from the jail Bland was placed in over the incident.
Perhaps the most tragic of all, Tamir Rice was playing with a toy gun in a Cleveland park last November when police were called by a neighbor, who despite warning officers the item may be a toy, resulted in the 12-year-old being gunned down after being viewed as a threat. Rookie cop Timothy Loehmann was not charged in the incident after prosecutors yesterday (December 28) called it “a perfect storm of human error.” Rice’s mother was angry and issued a statement calling for responsibility over the shooting: “I don’t want my child to have died for nothing and I refuse to let his legacy or his name be ignored. As the video shows, Officer Loehmann shot my son in less than a second. All I wanted was someone to be held accountable.”