It begins with a relatively minor incident: A traffic stop. A burglary. A disturbance. Police arrive and tensions escalate. It ends with an unarmed black man shot dead.
That pattern played out in March in Madison, Wis., where police responded to reports of a man yelling and jumping in traffic.
It was repeated two months later in Los Angeles, where beachgoers complained that a homeless man was harassing people on the Venice boardwalk.
It surfaced again in Cleveland, where police were called to a burglary at a corner store. And in Tallahassee, where a man was reported banging on someone’s door. And last month in Cincinnati, where Samuel DuBose, 43, wound up with a bullet in his head after being pulled over for driving without a front tag.
Perhaps most infamously, the pattern played out one year ago Sunday in Ferguson, Mo., where a white police officer searching for a convenience-store robber shot and killed an unarmed black teenager. That incident sparked a national movement to protest police treatment of African Americans and turned 18-year-old Michael Brown into a putative symbol of racial inequality in America.
So far this year, 24 unarmed black men have been shot and killed by police – one every nine days, according to a Washington Post database of fatal police shootings. During a single two-week period in April, three unarmed black men were shot and killed. All three shootings were either captured on video or, in one case, broadcast live on local TV.
Those 24 cases constitute a surprisingly small fraction of the 585 people shot and killed by police through Friday evening, according to The Post database. Most of those killed were white or Hispanic, and the vast majority of victims of all races were armed.
However, black men accounted for 40 percent of the 60 unarmed deaths, even though they make up just 6 percent of the U.S. population. The Post’s analysis shows that black men were seven times more likely than white men to die by police gunfire while unarmed.
The latest such shooting occurred Friday, claiming Christian Taylor, 19, a promising defensive back on the Angelo State University football team. Police said Taylor crashed an SUV through the front window of a car dealership in Arlington, Tex., and was shot in an altercation with responding officers. The case is under investigation.
The disproportionate number of unarmed black men in the body count helps explain why outrage continues to simmer a year after Ferguson — and why shootings that might have been ignored in the past are now coming under fresh public and legal scrutiny.
“Ferguson was a watershed moment in policing. Police understand they are now under the microscope,” said Mark Lomax, executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association, which represents police rank-and-file.
Video shot by bystanders or captured on police camera, meanwhile, has served in some cases to undermine trust in police. So far this year, three officers have been charged with crimes after fatally shooting unarmed black men. All three were caught on video. One — the April shooting of Eric Harris in Tulsa — appears to have been an accident. But in the other two, the footage contradicted the officer’s initial account of what happened.
“Prior to Ferguson, police were politically untouchable. Ferguson changed that calculus,” said Georgetown University professor Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor whose book, “The Chokehold: Policing Black Men,” is scheduled to be published next year.
“Five years from now, every major police department in America will have officers who wear body cameras,” Butler said. “That is a change that is happening right now because of Ferguson.”
Some in law enforcement are troubled by this trend, worried that public sympathy is shifting toward suspects and away from the police who put their lives on the line every day. They are concerned that people will forget that Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Michael Brown, was exonerated by Justice Department investigators, who found no evidence to refute Wilson’s contention that he fired in self-defense.
Most of all, they fear that the legacy of Ferguson will include a higher death toll for police.
“We are worried that police officers who should rely on their intuition and training to make a split-second decision — which could mean life or death for them — won’t do it. That their fear of being second-guessed, and maybe even prosecuted, will take over instead,” said Jim Pasco, executive director of the national Fraternal Order of Police.
So far, there is no sign of an increase in police fatalities. Still, 18 law officers have been shot and killed in the line of duty by a suspect this year, including Memphis police officer Sean Bolton who died last weekend after a routine traffic stop.
SOURCE: Sandhya Somashekhar, Wesley Lowery, Keith L. Alexander, Kimberly Kindy
The Washington Post