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A history of police violence in America

  • 1994: Violent Crime bill's "three strikes" provisions pave way for mass incarceration

    The Clinton administration's 1994 crime bill encouraged strict law enforcement and caused the system to target more Black and Latinx Americans who would ultimately fall victim to mass incarceration. An entire portion of the bill highlighted “tough punishment” like the bill’s “three strike” rule, which implemented life sentences for people who already had two other offenses under their belt.

    [Pictured: People under arrest by narcotics police in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1994.]

  • 1997: 1033 program helping to militarize police is created

    The 1033 program was a military equipment loan program that incorporated military weapons like grenade launchers in police departments in almost every state in America. This further heightened the use of military assault rifles during public calls to action such as protests or riots.

    [Pictured: An armed NYPD officer guards the New York Stock Exchange, Aug. 2, 2004.]

  • Feb. 4, 1999: Police shooting of Amadou Diallo

    Amadou Diallo was a 23-year-old Black man who was shot and killed by policemen. Police shot at Diallo 41 times and hit him with 19, claiming to have seen a gun—which turned out to be his wallet. All policemen involved were acquitted, after which thousands of protestors participated in a mostly peaceful march.

    [Pictured: Protestors hold up signs in front of a New York City judicial building, Feb. 9, 1999.]

  • 2000: Prison population almost doubles in a single decade

    DOJ statistics show that about 1.39 million people were incarcerated in the year 2000, as opposed to about 774,000 in 1990. By 2018, Black men were over fives times more likely to be imprisoned than white men, and Black women were imprisoned 1.8 more times than white women.

  • 2000s: School-to-prison pipeline emerges with increased police presence and zero-tolerance policies in schools

    Racial punishment merged with public education with the “School to Prison Pipeline” system, in which students are pushed out of schools and into the hands of law enforcement. The increased use of juvenile detentions came as a result of the new disciplinary reaction to students, predominantly of color, and often used harsh punishment tactics.


  • April 7, 2001: Cincinnati police officer shoots Timothy Thomas

    White police officer Stephen Roach shot and killed 19-year-old Timothy Thomas, who was unarmed, in a dark alley. He was acquitted after the judge ruled that Roach’s response was “reasonable.” Protesters took to the streets in response to the killing, and demonstrators warned, “No justice, no peace.” It was one of the greatest fights against racial discrimination and police brutality since the civil rights movement.

    [Pictured: A protester holds up a sign May 7, 2001, in Cincinnati, Ohio.]

  • 2001–2013: NYC police target people of color due to 9/11 and expansion of 'stop and frisk'

    Shortly after 9/11, New York City began implementing a new program called “stop and frisk.” The policy allowed officers to stop and question people they felt were suspicious of criminal activity, resulting in racial profiling and police violence. Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of NYC at the time, apologized for promoting the policy during his recent presidential bid.

    [Pictured: New York City Police officers watch over a demonstration against the city's "stop and frisk" searches in 2013.]

  • 2002: NYPD's Street Crimes Unit disbanded

    Largely due to the shooting of Amadou Diallo, the NYPD’s Street Crimes Unit had been criticized for singling out Blacks and Hispanics—all four of the police involved in the Diallo shooting were on the Street Crimes Unit. The police commissioner at the time, Raymond W. Kelly, claimed that the unit’s closing had little to do with changes in policy and more with a general restructuring of the force.

    [Pictured: Shrine at the home of Amadou Diallo, Feb. 25, 2000.]

  • 2006: Police shootings of Sean Bell and Kathryn Harris Johnston further escalate tensions

    92-year-old Kathryn Johnston stood in her doorway with a revolver after police forced their way into her home with a “no-knock” warrant aiming to carry out a drug bust. Johnston shot three of the officers and was shot and killed. The neighborhood went into an uproar, as neighbors believed Johnston to be using self defense. In another incident, Sean Bell was shot at 50 times in Queens when he was killed; none of the officers were charged with the killing.

    [Pictured: Police keep watch over demonstrators in the street after the verdict was announced in the Bell shooting trial April 25, 2008, in New York City.]

  • 2007: Under pressure, NYPD releases data showing racial disparities in its policing

    After being pushed to do so by advocates and officials, the NYPD released records that showed disparities in police shootings over the years. Records showed that more than half the people stopped by police were Black, and many believed it to be a result of the “stop and frisk” policy implemented in the years prior. The statistics showed that Black people were 23% more likely to be stopped by police than white people were, and for the Latinx community, it was even higher at 39%.

    [Pictured: NYPD officers in the area around Times Square on June 29, 2007, in New York City.]