Factbox: In U.S. Police Killings of Black Men, Law Generally Sides with Officers

A look at five recent cases in which the legal system cleared officers of wrongdoing in the deaths of Black men.

REUTERS

(Reuters) — The acquittal on Friday of a white former St. Louis police officer in the 2011 shooting death of a Black man is the latest in a nationwide series of racially tinged police killings that mostly ended in the exoneration of the officers involved.

The former St. Louis officer, Jason Stockley, 36, was acquitted by Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson of first-degree murder in the killing of Anthony Lamar Smith, 24, prompting hundreds of protesters to take to the city’s streets to voice their anger.

Similar protests, some of them violent, followed police killings of other African American men and the news that the officers involved would face no legal consequences.

Here are five recent cases:

Michael Brown

The shooting of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., near St. Louis, on Aug. 9, 2014, sparked nearly two weeks of protests and rioting that subsided at the family’s urging just before Brown’s funeral.

The case against the white officer, Darren Wilson, went to a grand jury, which decided on Nov. 24, 2014, not to indict him, sparking more street protests. The U.S. Justice Department also cleared him on March 4, 2015. Wilson is no longer with the Ferguson Police Department.

Eric Garner

Accused of illegally selling individual cigarettes, Eric Garner, 43, died on July 17, 2014, after he was arrested in New York City’s Staten Island borough and put into a chokehold by New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who is white. The encounter was captured on video.

Several street protests in New York and other cities followed news of the killing, and again five months later, on Dec. 3, when a grand jury did not return an indictment against Pantaleo, who is still with the NYPD.

Freddie Gray

In Baltimore, 25-year-old Freddie Gray was arrested on April 12, 2015, after police said he fled the scene unprovoked in a high crime area while in possession of an illegal switchblade.

After being transported in a police van, Gray was hospitalized unconscious and died on April 19 of what was determined to be a neck injury.

Gray’s injury and death while in police custody sparked several days of protests and rioting in Baltimore, prompting Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to set a week-long curfew. As a result, the Baltimore Orioles were forced to postpone two home games against the Chicago White Sox and played a third on April 29 in an empty stadium, unprecedented in Major League Baseball.

Six Baltimore police officers, including three whom are Black, where charged with Gray’s death. None were convicted, and the Justice Department subsequently decided not to bring charges against them.

Terence Crutcher

While standing near his car in the middle of a street in Tulsa, Okla., on Sept. 16, 2016, 40-year-old Terence Crutcher was fatally shot by police officer Betty Shelby, who is white. The shooting was captured on video from several angles.

The killing touched off protests in Tulsa and led the Tulsa County district attorney to charge Shelby with first-degree manslaughter on Sept. 22.

Earlier this year, on May 17, a jury acquitted Shelby of the charge. Shelby, who had been placed on administrative duty since the shooting, resigned from the Tulsa police force on July 14.

Keith Lamont Scott

In North Carolina, 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott was shot dead on Sept. 20, 2016, by Charlotte police Officer Brentley Vinson, who is also Black. Police said Scott got out of his car carrying a handgun and refused orders to drop it. Scott’s wife, who was present, disputed the account.

The shooting sparked both peaceful protests and violent riots in Charlotte over two nights, resulting in several injuries and one death.

The district attorney determined on Nov. 30, 2016, that Vinson “acted lawfully,” and Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Chief Kerr Putney later ruled that he acted in accordance with department policy. Last month, a civilian review board in the city split evenly over Putney’s decision, the first time in the board’s 20-year history that it did not agree with the chief.

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5 comments


  • It’s in White Missourians DNA to do this. This issue’s outcome playing out the way it did was predictable. I said this before and my statement was rebuked. Well there you have it. More BS for Black people. And you’ll see liberal and conservative White people are more willing to measure my response and similar ones made by other Black people but will continue to miss the point of other White people and their misdoings against Black people in the streets, courts and places of legislature.

    How the hell do you have a gun with no DNA evidence of the accused deceased on it but DNA of the officer making the bad shoot killing the accused? And to make matters worse his DNA was found underneath compartments of the gun where you would disassemble and reassemble the firearm.

    Being from Missouri, Whites are doing what they’ve always done; cheat and lie to get the favorable outcome needed.

    • Yes, the DNA evidence — coupled with the prior threat to murder the “MF” — makes the Judge’s decision incomprehensible. Even more so were the identities switched, and comparable evidence existed against a Black defendant accused of murdering a White police officer.

  • What type of evidence was needed to have the correct outcome of this case? Puzzled!!

  • Frankly, the only thing that would surprise me about the information recounted in this piece would be if it were NOT true.

    We in the U.S. seem to see it as our patriotic duty to pretend that we think the following is not the case, but anyone who has taken a close enough look knows that the role our government plays and has ALWAYS played — more consistently and successfully than any other, in fact — is/has been as an effectuater of the will of rich people.

    Whereas government makes the laws; and

    whereas police are rich people’s first line of defense against the folks that nabobs exploit (i.e.: rest of us, who are growing exponentially in number as they grow to feel more secure in their invincibility);

    therefore it should come as no surprise that police will be given the law’s unquestioning, unwavering defense, since that is exactly what aristocrats will expect from police in return should the number of exploited reach critical mass. (This helps to explain why the race of the police officers in these incidents is a mere curio.)

    Plus, what the police did in these instances bolsters the OVERARCHING strategy of rich folks: keep poor white people identifying with distant, rich Whites rather than with their poorer non-white neighbors, whose lot in life is actually more closely tied to their own. (Divide and conquer: still effective after all these years.) Once upon a time, plutocrats offered poor Whites a halfway-decent standard of living. Since consolidating their power, however, all they offer poor Whites is a slightly diminished chance (compared to Blacks) of being killed — either instantly by police, or gradually by policy.

    WATCH CAREFULLY what happens, though, if police ever start to kill white people in anywhere-near the proportions that they are now killing Blacks. Because, either police will then be reined in by the government or, if not, it will mean that rich people have gotten SO complacent that they no longer feel that they need the cohesion of Whites as a whole, and can jettison them in just the same way as they have jettisoned Blacks (and virtually everyone else).

    You’ll believe at your peril that this is NOT their ultimate game plan.

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