Police kill unarmed Black men out of fear
Jeffrey L. Boney says that police killings have opened up the floodgates of discussion about race, grand juries and the negative perception that society has about African Americans in this country.
By Jeffrey L. Boney, Special to the NNPA News Wire from the Houston Forward Times
As the number of unarmed African American shooting and murder victims continues to climb, at the hands of law enforcement officials, without any accountability, there is tremendous reason for concern; and to have those officers fail to be indicted, there is room for even more concern.
I need you to follow a disturbing pattern for me, please.
On Jan. 16, 2014, Officer Juventino Castro of the Houston Police Department in Texas mistakes 26-year-old Jordan Baker for a robbery suspect. Castro shot and killed the unarmed Baker and said that he feared for his life in a statement from the Houston Police Department.
On July 17, 2014, as New York Police Department officers attempt to subdue Eric Garner in preparation for the arrest for allegedly selling loose cigarettes, Officer Daniel Pantaleo uses a chokehold that contributes to Garner’s death. Pantaleo later said that, “It is never my intention to harm anyone and I feel very bad about the death of Mr. Garner.”
On Aug. 5, 2014, Officer Sean Williams shot and killed John Crawford III inside a Walmart in Beavercreek, Ohio. Crawford was holding an air rifle that was sold in the Walmart. Williams said that, “[Crawford] wouldn’t obey commands.” A grand jury failed to indict Williams in the shooting.
On Aug. 9, 2014, Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson shoots and kills unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown, who was suspected of stealing cigars from a local convenience store. Wilson later said that, “When I grabbed him, the only way I can describe it is I felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan,” referring to the confrontation that he reported between himself and Brown.
On Nov. 22, 2014, after responding to a 9-1-1 call about a person pointing a gun at people near a recreation center in Cleveland, Ohio, Officer Timothy Loehmann, in about two seconds within arriving on the scene, shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was playing with a toy gun in the park. The Huffington Post reported that Loehmann had previously resigned from a police department in a Cleveland-area suburb, after the police chief there, “recommended his dismissal.”
“The deputy police chief based his recommendation on a firearms instructor’s report, obtained by NBC News, that Loehmann was experiencing an “emotional meltdown” that made his facility with a handgun ‘dismal,’” The Huffington Post reported.
In a statement following the grand jury’s decision not to indict Officers Loehmann or Frank Garmback, who was driving the police car that day, in the shooting death of Rice, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty said that Loehmann, “had reason to fear for his life.”
All of these police incidents took place in 2014, and all of them involved law enforcement officials who ended up killing a Black person, without any accountability or consequences, thanks to a grand jury that was convened to hear the evidence that was presented to them.
On Sept. 24, 2014, an Ohio grand jury found Officer Sean Williams’ actions were justified in the fatal shooting death of John Crawford III at a Wal-Mart store, after a 9-1-1 caller reported that Crawford was waving what appeared to be a rifle in the store. Police said he was killed after failing to obey commands to put down what turned out to be an air rifle taken from a shelf.
On Nov. 24, 2014, a Missouri grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson in the August 2014 shooting death of unarmed Black teen Michael Brown, who countless witnesses say had both his hands up in surrender in the street.
On Dec. 3, 2014, a grand jury in Staten Island decided not indict New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo in relation to the death of Eric Garner, a man that Pantaleo was seen on video putting in an apparent choke hold in July 2014.
On Dec. 23, 2014, a Harris County grand jury decided not to indict Houston Police Department (HPD) Officer Juvenito Castro for his role in the January 2014 shooting death of unarmed 26-year-old Jordan Baker.
And now, on Dec. 28, 2015, an Ohio grand jury decided not to return an indictment on Officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback, the two officers involved in the November 2014 police shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was killed within seconds of police jumping out of their vehicle to confront the boy who was playing with a toy gun.
These police killings have opened up the floodgates of discussion about race, grand juries and the negative perception problem that society has about African Americans in this country.
The overarching perception that many officers and grand juries seem to have is that Black people are traditionally overly aggressive and are inherently up to no good.
Sadly, most police shootings of unarmed Black men tend to turn out the same way. The involved police officers are put on administrative leave; a grand jury is convened and fails to indict the police officer or officers; and then the police officer returns to his or her job and seemingly gets away with a slap on the wrist or no punishment at all.
After seeing many of the instances, especially those with clear and accessible video footage, it is clear that body cameras are not the only solution to this epidemic. We can look at instances caught on camera such as Eric Garner, Oscar Grant, Jordan Baker, Rodney King and Tamir Rice as prime examples of how acts of police brutality even caught on video camera can lead to a non-indictment by a grand jury.
Because the grand jury proceedings are secretive and not made public, we will never know why the grand jury decided not to indict any of these officers.
What we do know is there are several similarities surrounding the deaths of Black people in this country; one being that officers always typically say they were in “fear of their lives,” and the other being that most officers get away Scott-free with no accountability for their actions.
Until people see this as a major issue and get engaged in seeking to bring forth change, however, we will continue to see the same results.
Black people must no longer be looked at as guilty criminals that are not worthy of having a member of law enforcement, who deserves to be indicted, held accountable for their irresponsible actions.
Honestly, it isn’t the officers that should be in fear for their lives; it is the Black men and women who walk these streets every day who should really be in fear for their lives.