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A history of police violence in America

  • Dec. 20, 2011: Police shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith

    24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith was shot and killed by a white police officer, Jason Stockley, after a car chase, an incident which sparked protest in 2017 when the officer was acquitted. In the police footage of the chase, Stockley is heard saying, “We're killing this motherf--ker, don't you know.” The St. Louis police settled a wrongful death lawsuit in 2013 with Smith’s family for $900,000, a sum which was later increased to $1.4 million.

    [Pictured: Protests following the not guilty verdict in Jason Stockley's trial.]

  • May 16, 2010: SWAT shooting of 7-year-old Aiyana Jones

    Aiyana Stanley-Jones was a 7-year-old Black girl who was shot in the head during a SWAT operation in the middle of the night. This incident sparked outrage over growing militarization of police forces in the country, as well as the racial disparities between the police and Black communities. Charges against the officer who shot her were dropped in 2015.

    [Pictured: Memorial to Aiyana Jones.]

  • 2014: Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown all die at the hands of police

    After the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, the Black Lives Matter movement drew national attention and highlighted the racial disctimination and police brutality that occurs often in Black communities. Furthermore, social media brought to light video evidence of multiple killings that summer, including Eric Garner in New York, who was killed by a chokehold, and 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was shot by police while playing with a toy gun. Protests erupted across the country amid calls for police reform.

    [Pictured: Protest of the shooting death of Michael Brown outside Ferguson Police Department Headquarters, Aug. 11, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri.]

  • Nov. 28, 2014: UN Committee against Torture condemns police brutality and excessive use of force by law enforcement in the US

    The UN Committee Against Torture called for action against police brutality in Black communities in an effort to decrease the killing of unarmed Black people and stop the use of military weapons during protest. The committee claimed to have “numerous reports” on the use of excessive police brutality, specifically in minority groups, and encouraged investigations to be launched.

    [Pictured: Teenagers protest during the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Geneva, Switzerland, on Nov. 13, 2014.]

  • 2015: Deaths of Freddie Gray and shooting of Keith Childress Jr. raise questions

    By this time, some members of the Black community were exhausted from being traumatized by filmed evidence of police violence. In the midst of this, Freddie Gray, a Black man who was being held in the back of a police van for possession of a knife, died from injuries to his spinal cord. Keith Childress Jr. was shot and killed after his cellphone was mistaken for a gun by police officers.

    [Pictured: Riot police stand guard after the funeral of Freddie Gray, on April 28, 2015, in Baltimore, Maryland.]


  • July 13, 2015: Sandra Bland is found dead after being arrested during a traffic stop

    Sandra Bland was a 28-year-old Black woman who was taken into custody after being pulled over for a traffic stop in 2015. The stop turned confrontational, and Bland was tackled to the ground and put in cuffs, all of which was captured on police cameras and by Bland herself on her phone. She was found dead soon after the incident in her cell, and her death was deemed a suicide. Her death came during trying times for Black Lives Matter as outrage intensified over unfair treatment, racial biases, and disregard for safety during arrests by law enforcement.

    [Pictured: A woman holds a poster of Sandra Bland during a Michael Brown memorial rally on Union Square, Aug. 9, 2015, in New York.]

  • July 2016: Police shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling happen just a day apart

    In 2016, Castile and Sterling were two of 233 African Americans shot and killed by police. These numbers startled many, considering African Americans make up 13% of the U.S. population but account for 24% of people fatally shot by police that year. Just days apart from each other, two Black men, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, were shot under police custody.

    [Pictured: Demonstrators march in honor of Philando Castile on July 6, 2020, in St. Anthony, Minnesota.]

  • September 2016: UN's Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent issues scathing report on police killings

    After seeing multiple recordings of Black lives taken away by the hands of law enforcement, activists and officials began to demand acknowledgement, reparations, and consequences for past and present acts of “enslavement, racial subordination and segregation, racial terrorism and racial inequality.” In a statement, the UN group compared the trauma of police killings to the horror of lynchings in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

    [Pictured: Press conference, in Brussels on Feb. 11, 2019, on the preliminary findings of the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent's delegation.]

  • 2017–2020: Trump administration peels back Justice Department programs that investigate local police departments for racism and excessive force

    During the Obama administration, police reform programs were underway to find solutions to the racial tension involving law enforcement. The Department of Justice essentially limited their efforts on behalf of this reform model when the Trump administration took over. Due to this, many people criticized the new administration for abandoning the reform efforts, accusing them of taking police brutality lightly.

    [Pictured: Officers separate right-wing counter-protestors from Black Lives Matter demonstrators in La Mesa, California, on Aug. 1, 2020.

  • May 2020: Deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd reignite worldwide protests against police brutality and racism

    The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and more Black people at the hands of police brought worldwide protests and calls for change. Simply put, Black people were tired and outraged by the lack of care for Black lives and the continued display of racial violence by police with little to no reform or consequences. In the midst of a global pandemic, protests continue to take place to this day along with calls to defund the police. Defunding would mean reallocating funds for things like social services, crisis mediation, and other means of community assistance.

    [Pictured: Crowds pass the New York Police Department office in Times Square in New York City on July 26, 2020.]

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