- Sean Bell, 2006: shot at 50 times by a team of NYPD officers, hours before his wedding. Officers forced to retire (all but one with pensions intact), but face no other legal consequence
- Oscar Grant, 2009: shot in the back at train platform by a police officer who “meant to grab his taser” in California. Officer convicted of involuntary manslaughter and serves one year in jail.
- Trayvon Martin, 2012: shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer claiming self-defense under Florida’s stand-your-ground laws. Shooter found not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter.
- Renisha McBride, 2013: shot by a Michigan man to whom she, shell-shocked after a car accident, appealed to for help by knocking on his door (who claimed, after changing his story several times, to mistake her for a thief). Shooter found guilty of second-degree murder and may face life in prison.
- Jordan Baker, 2014: shot by off-duty Houston, Texas police officer when riding a bike and allegedly looking into stores at strip mall, because the officer was looking for black hoodie-wearing armed robbery suspects, and Baker happened to be wearing a black hoodie. Officer put on administrative leave pending further investigation.
- Eric Garner, 2014: dies when NYPD officer’s chokehold triggers an asthmatic attack during an arrest for selling untaxed cigarettes. Officer’s gun and badge have been taken away, but he has not faced any legal ramifications yet. (Witnesses who filmed the death have been arrested).
- John Crawford III, 2014: shot by Ohio police in Walmart while he talked on a cell phone and took down a BB-gun from the shelf, (Witnesses say he informed police that it was a toy). State (and potentially federal) investigations still pending.
- Michael Brown, 2014: shot by Ferguson, Missouri police officer- details still emerging through federal and state investigations. This shooting comes 4 days after the Crawford shooting and 2 days after the conviction of Theodore Wafer for McBride’s murder.
Many of these incidents have been followed by massive protests–sometimes even rioting that results in further violence–calling for justice for the responsible parties and societal change to prevent such a tragedy from happening again. Each horror has been followed by calls for institutional change, inspiring hope in the communities that perhaps,we are on the cusp of reform. The message is that black lives are NOT expendable, after all. Looks like it hasn’t happened yet. But I hope it happens soon. We need another massive revolution to reiterate the the 15th amendment and Civil Rights Acts.
In hope that the deaths have not been in vain, I envision the events to be the slowly growing base that will culminate in a wave of change to turn into a social reality the legal equality promised to every individual, regardless of race, so many years ago.
In the discussion, we need to keep in mind how mass incarceration is disproportionately affecting the black population and is being called “The New Jim Crow.” We also need to consider the recent outrage over Donald Sterling’s bigoted comments. Each of these events is a signal that the supposedly color-blind state of our society may be more of a myth than we would like to believe. When everything is being analyzed for racist and prejudiced undertones, why do we continue to dole out little slaps on the wrist for heinous crimes? Why do we continue to hesitate to openly mark something as racist, no matter what we find in that undertone analysis, for fear of being called racist ourselves? Why do we continue to silence the people trying to talk openly about race as if they are the ones perpetuating racism?
Researching the case of Michael Brown, I stumbled upon similarities to the other cases. I saw one similar case only to find another and then another and then another, before I finally had to stop pulling on the lengthy string of horrors. Of the eight deaths outlined above, only one resulted in the conviction of the perpetrators for murder. One.
America: you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. Either make change–real change, not rioting and violence– and bring justice, or openly condone the idea that white life is worth more. We need to destroy the idea that we are a color-blind society and admit that there are major flaws in the system that set us up to be less a “post-racial” society and more an “innocent until proven racist” society. But we also need to keep in mind that those flaws can be fixed, and that it is our personal responsibility to make sure they are. We need to stop ignoring prejudice until tragedy strikes and then pretending we never hid it in the first place. Something has to give for the horrors to stop, and I hope we can make it happen soon. I really do.