Community activists are concerned about the number of unarmed black men being shot by police officers. This sample essay explores Black Lives Matter, a civil rights group spawned in the aftermath of the shootings.
Background on Black Lives Matter
Black Lives Matter is a community-based movement that evolved as a result of a Facebook post made by an activist from Oakland, California who wrote a compassionate love letter to the Black community in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of teenager Trayvon Martin (NPR Staff). The subsequent outcry on the part of protesters and the use of the hashtag #blacklivesmatter on social media has turned this movement into a “global phenomenon” (King).
The expression was propelled into the forefront of our collective consciousness as it became the battle cry during protests that arose in response to the murder of Black teenager Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, 2014, by White police officer Darren Wilson (NPR Staff).
Black Lives Matter means many things to many people, but its voice has been most resoundingly heard in cases where the rallying cry is the subject of the use of unwarranted deadly force against an unarmed Black person by a police officer.
In fact, the murder of Michael Brown was one of a series of seven homicides enacted upon African Americans resulting from police use of deadly force within the period between July 17th and August 20th, 2014 (Reese). Seen as an unfortunate statistical bump on a Gant chart by some, these men and boys were someone’s son, brother, father and/or husband.
Deadly force revisited in the black shooting incidents
Deadly force is a violent act which when used would cause a reasonable person to believe would result in severe injury or death (Tennessee v Garner). Law enforcement may use discretion to determine when the use of deadly force when two requirements are met. Deadly force is condoned when the action taken by the officer is commensurate with the action taken by the offender (Tennessee v Garner).
This means that the suspect must be an actual threat, and the action taken by the perpetrator was proportionate with the action taken by the officer. If a police officer is faced with a nail clipper wielding criminal, shooting him is not justified.
Further, the action taken by the officer must arise out of the necessity required to prevent the suspect from hurting the officer or hurting others (Tennessee v. Garner). This means that the law enforcement officer needed to take this action to save his own life or the lives of others. If an unarmed suspect is running away from an officer, shooting him is not justified.
Black Lives Matter and other deadly shooting incidents
Although deadly force by an officer against an unarmed person is illegal, there are an endless number of cases where unarmed Black person’s lives were ended due to an imaginary weapon. Not only was the unarmed person’s life taken, but the law enforcement officer suffered no consequences at all. Another way of looking at this is, if seven blonde haired, blue-eyed beautiful women, ages 18 to 43, had been shot by police officers between July 17th and August 20th, would everyone feel comfortable with this, and simply blow it off to their bad luck? Or would we all be up in arms because, there, but for the grace of God, go I?
Eric Garner’s choking death by NYC police
Eric Garner died at the hands of police officers who placed him in a chokehold in an attempt to place him under arrest (Sharpton). The medical examiner for the City of New York ruled that Garner’s death was a homicide. The compression restraint against his chest and neck, and the manner he was laid prone on the ground were found to be the cause of his death. Amateur video camera footage shows that officers placed Garner in a chokehold and brought the obese man to the concrete.
While being subdued, Garner could be heard telling the officers, “I can’t breathe.” The chokehold maneuver used by officers Daniel Pantaleo and Justin Amico, not only killed Garner but violated police department policy and had been banned as a means of apprehension years before (The Editorial Board). Garner, 43 at the time of his death, was selling loose cigarettes on the street. The officers were cleared by a grand jury (The Editorial Board).
Jeremy Lake’s shooting death by police in Oklahoma
Jeremy Lake, a resident of Tulsa, Oklahoma, died at the hands of police officer Shannon Kepler, a twenty-four-year veteran of the department (AP). Lake, Kepler’s daughter’s boyfriend, was in front of his home talking with Lisa when Kepler and his wife, also a police officer, drove up. Lisa spoke with her father, argued, and as Lake came over to introduce himself, Kepler shot him.
The Keplers had recently forced their daughter out of their home and left her at a homeless shelter to live. Lake met her at the shelter and offered her a place to stay (AP). Kepler retired from the Tulsa police force and gets a hefty monthly check (Goforth). His murder trial has met with a series of delays based on technicalities (Farinas).
Black Lives Matter enraged over John Crawford’s death in Ohio
One would hope that there would be some distance between the racially charged police shooting of an unarmed murder of one young black man and another, but not the case on August 5th, 2014, two unarmed men were shot. John Crawford of Beaver Creek, Ohio, was shot by police officers as he walked through a local Walmart with a toy BB gun he had obtained from the store shelf (Izadi).
Store surveillance video footage shows Crawford walking through the aisles, holding the toy on his side down to the ground. A shopper called the police and said that he was aiming a gun at shoppers, which he later recanted. The police shot him within seconds of encountering him. Ohio is an open-carry state, which means that if the gun had been real, he would have had the right to carry it in the open. The grand jury concluded the shooting was justified (Izadi).
Michael Brown’s death and the impact on racial relations
Unarmed Michael Brown was shot by officer Darren Wilson at least six, possibly eight times because Brown fit the description of the person who stole $.99 cigarillos from a convenience store (Pearce). Johnson’s friend said that when the officer stopped his car and tried to get out, the car door hit Brown, and he shoved the door back.
The officer got out, grabbed his neck, they tussled, the officer said that he was going to shoot Brown, once wounded Brown ran, Wilson shot him in the back, Brown then stopped turned around, raised his hands and said:
“I don’t have a gun, stop shooting!” (Pearce)
Now face to face, Wilson shot him several more times. Multiple witnesses on the scene indicate that Brown’s hand were up in the air when Wilson shot him. The grand jury declined to indict Wilson.
The Justice Department filed a lawsuit in federal court on February 10, 2016 regarding reforms the city of Ferguson promised and failed to implement (Williams). The changes revolved around advancements in police training and policy surrounding practices, in addition to court operations. The suit came after months of negotiations resulting in agreements to the advances in January (Williams).
Ezell Ford’s death in Los Angeles
Ezell Ford is another shooting case that escalated racial tensions across the nation. The unarmed man was walking down the street in his neighborhood not far from home, an area known for gang violence and drug sales (Mather & Rubin). Officer Wampler sensed that Ford was acting suspiciously so he asked Ezell to stop and made physical contact with him. When he tried to put handcuffs on him, the two struggled. In the struggle, both fell.
Wampler called out to his partner Villegas and said that Ford was going for his gun. Villegas could not see if this was true, but he felt his partner was in danger, so he shot Ford (Mather & Rubin). Wampler calls out again that Ford was going for his gun and Villegas shot a second time. Ford went limp and Wampler, who had pulled out a revolver, shot Ford in the back. The LAPD found Wampler and Villegas’ actions were justified, but the L. A. Police Commission ruled that Wampler’s actions violated LAPD policy (Mather & Rubin).
An attorney writing about Dante Parker discussed his own experiences with police suspicions, interrogations, and arrogant disbelief of the fact that, yes, you were really just out eating a pizza, minding your business, and having fun with your friends (Greene). He said the following, and it bears repeating with a slight alteration of his words.
“So long as proximity + complexion = suspicion,” black lives will never matter.
AP. “Married Tulsa Police Officers Arrested After Fatal Shooting.” 6 October 2014. Web. 9 March 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/06/shannon-and-gina-kepler-married-tulsa-police_n_5656402.html
Farinas, Yaremi. “Murder case involving former Tulsa Police Officer delayed again.” 15 January 2016. Web. 9 March 2016. http://ktul.com/news/local/murder-case-involving-former-tulsa-police-officer-delayed-again
Greene, Brandon. “Dante Parker: A Father of Five Whose Life Was Gone Too Soon.” 21 April 2015. Web. 9 March 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brandon-greene/dante-parker-a-father-of-_b_6715160.html
Goforth, Dylan. “As trial looms, son of teen slain by Tulsa police officer celebrates first birthday.” 23 November 2015. Web. 9 March 2016. https://www.readfrontier.com/spotlight/as-trial-looms-son-of-teen-slain-by-tulsa-police-officer-celebrates-first-birthday/
Izadi, Elahe “John Crawford’s family sues Wal-Mart, Ohio town police for wrongful death.” 16 December 2014. Web. 9 March 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/national/wp/2014/12/16/john-crawfords-family-sues-wal-mart-ohio-town-police-for-wrongful-death/
King, Jamilah. “How three friends turned a spontaneous Facebook post into a global phenomenon.” 1 March 2015. Web. 9 March 2016. https://stories.californiasunday.com/2015-03-01/black-lives-matter/
Mather, Kate and Rubin, Joel. “Ezell Ford’s shooting violated LAPD policy, police commission rules.” 9 June 2015 Web. 9 March 2016. http://www.latimes.com/local/crime/la-me-ezell-ford-20150610-story.html
NPR Staff. “Jelani Cobb On His Epic ‘New Yorker’ Piece On Black Lives Matter.” 9 March 2016. Web. 9 March 2016. http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/03/09/469627740/jelani-cobb-on-his-epic-new-yorker-piece-on-black-lives-matter
Pearce, Matt. “Back Story: What happened in Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Mo.?” 24 November 2014. Web. 9 March 2016. http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-back-story-ferguson-shooting-story.html
Reese, Denise. “Criminal justice disparity between African American and Caucasian males: Police use of excessive and deadly force in the United States, 1991-2014.” 15 April 2016. Web. 9 March 2016. http://commons.emich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1996&context=theses
Sharpton, Al. “Medical Examiner Rules Eric Garner’s Death a Homicide, Says He Was Killed By Chokehold.” 1 August 2014. Web. 9 March 2016. http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/Eric-Garner-Chokehold-Police-Custody-Cause-of-Death-Staten-Island-Medical-Examiner-269396151.html
Shoichet, Catherine and Cuevas, Mayra. “Walter Scott shooting case: Court documents reveal new details.” 10 September 2015. Web. 9 March 2016. http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/08/us/south-carolina-walter-scott-shooting-michael-slager/
Tennessee v Garner. 471 U.S. Supreme Court. 1985.
The Editorial Board. “It Wasn’t Just the Chokehold.” 4 December 2014. Web. 9 March 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/05/opinion/eric-garner-daniel-pantaleo-and-lethal-police-tactics.html?_r=0
Williams, Pete. “Justice Department Sues Ferguson, Missouri Over Police Reforms.” 10 February 2016. Web. 9 March 2016. http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/michael-brown-shooting/justice-department-sues-ferguson-missouri-over-reforms-n516126