Three Years After Justice Failed Trayvon Martin

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Three Years After Justice Failed Trayvon Martin

(Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

In the three years since George Zimmerman was acquitted in the murder of Trayvon Martin and the Black Live Matter movement was born, so many more have been lost even as so much progress was made.

Three years ago today, full of despair, I posted my feelings on my Facebook feed.

"Not only did we have to tell our sons that they could be profiled because of the color of their skin, but that they could be killed for the color of their skin, and their murder may walk away a free man."

George Zimmerman had just been acquitted in the murder (yes, murder) of Trayvon Martin. Suddenly, “the Talk”, got a lot harder. Not only did we have to tell our sons that they could be profiled because of the color of their skin, but that they could be killed for the color of their skin, and their murder may walk away a free man. “I am in despair,” I wrote at the end of that post, “because there will be more Trayvon Martins now, and there will be no justice.”

The murder of Trayvon Martin had an impact similar to that of Emmett Till. Martin became the representative of African-American all over the country whose deaths were caused, justified, and/or dismissed by local law enforcement, and whose names were unknown beyond the communities where they lived and died. Martin’s death, and his murderer’s acquittal changed that, when it catalyzed the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, that in three years has put the issue of police violence — and the names and faces of its victims — at the center of public discourse.

In the three years since the acquittal of Martin’s murderer, there has been a seemingly endless stream of black victims of police and extra-legal violence. Thanks to Black Lives Matter, we know their names.

Philando Castile, 32, was shot and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minn. He worked as a cafeteria supervisor at a public school in St. Paul, and was well liked by students, parents, and his colleagues. Castile told the officer that he had a firearm in the car which he was licensed to carry. The officer shot Castile at point-blank range as Castile was complying with the officer’s order to show his ID. The officer claimed Castile failed to comply after being ordered to keep his hand in the air. In the car with Castile were his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her four-year-old daughter. Reynolds live streamed event immediately after the shooting to Facebook. Castile died of his injuries at a local medical center.

Alton Sterling, 37, was shot and killed by police officers in Baton Rouge, La., responding to an anonymous 911 call from a man who said a man in a red shirt selling CDs outside a Baton Rouge convenience store threatened him with a gun. Convenience store owner Abdul Muflahi said Sterling, who had sold CDs outside the store for years, starting carrying a gun a few days earlier, for protection against being robbed. Cellphone video captured by a witness and video captured from within the store show officers confronting Sterling, tackling him to the ground, and then opening fire on him. Videos do not support the claim that Sterling’s gun, which an officer is seen removing from his pocket after the shooting, represented an active threat.

Sam Dubose, 43, was shot and killed by a University of Cincinnati police officer during a traffic stop for missing a front license place. The officer fired after Dubose started his car, stating that Dubose began to drive off and that he was being dragged when his arm became caught in the car. Footage from the officer’s body camera showed that he was not dragged, and he was indicted on charges of voluntary manslaughter and fired from the police department.

Walter Scott, 50, was shot and killed by a police officer in North Charleston, N.C., during a daytime traffic stop, after exiting his car and attempting to flee. The officer claimed to have shot Scott during a struggle in which Scott reached for the officer’s taser. The officer then radioed a dispatcher saying, “Shots fired and subject is down. He took my taser.” However, eyewitness video showed, the officer shooting Scott from behind at some distance away, handcuffing Scott’s fallen body, and dropping what appeared to be his taser on Scott’s body. The officer was charged with murder following the video’s emergence.

Tamir Rice, 12, was shot and killed by police in Cleveland, Ohio, while playing with a toy gun in a local park. Officers responded to a 911 call about “of a male black sitting on a swing and pointing a gun at people,” however the dispatcher failed to pass on that the caller said of the pistol “it’s probably fake,” and that the person in question is “probably a juvenile.” Officers reported that Rice was sitting at a table with 4 to 5 other people, tucked the gun into his waistband, began to approach the officers, reached into his waistband and pointed the gun when told to put his hands up. Surveillance video showed that Rice was alone, not sitting at a table, did not point the gun, and that police open fire less than 2 second upon arriving. A grand jury declined to indict the officers.

Michael Brown, 18, was shot and killed by Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson, following an altercation. Witnesses said Wilson fired as Brown was running away, and continued fired after Brown raised his hands in surrender

John Crawford, 22, was shot and killed by police officers in a Beavercreek, Ohio Walmart. Customers called police after seeing Crawford walking around the store with a realistic-looking toy gun that he picked up in the store. Officers claimed that Crawford ignored orders to drop the gun. Store surveillance videos showed that officers opened fire on Crawford on sight, within minutes of entering the store. On September 24, 2014, a grand jury decided not to indict the officers involved in the shooting. Crawford’s family is now suing Walmart and the police department.

Ezell Ford, a 25-year-old, mentally ill, unarmed black man was shot and killed by LAPD officers during an “investigative stop.” Ford’s family said he was lying on the ground trying to comply with officers when he was shot three times. The Los Angeles chief of police and an independent watchdog group found that Ford’s shooting was justified, but faulted officers for the manner in which they approached Ford. A civilian oversight board found that the officers used excessive force and violated standard LAPD policy Ford’s parents are suing the city of Los Angeles, the police department, and the officers involved.

"There are many more names; more than I have time or room to chronicle here. The list keeps growing, as does the list of things that can get you killed, if you’re black."

Kajieme Powell, a mentally ill 25-year-old, was shot and killed by two St. Louis police officers on August 19. 2014. Police were called because Powell was alleged to have robbed a pastry shop, wielding a knife, earlier that day. Police released a video of the shooting alongside video of the alleged shoplifting incident. Police said Powell was acting erratically and came at them with a raised knife. The video shows Powell walking towards police, but without an upraised knife, as officers tell him to take his hands out of his pocket.

Darrien Hunt, 20, was shot and killed by police in Saratoga Springs, Utah. Police said Hunt lunged at them with a toy Samurai sword. Hunt’s family said police shot him as he was running away. An independent autopsy showed Hunt was shot in the back six times. One of the officers involved in the shooting wore a body camera that was not recording during the shooting. The other officer wore a body mic that was not activated during the shooting. Utah prosecutors determined the shooting was justified.

Ernest Satterwhite, 68, was shot and killed in his own driveway by North Augusta, Georgia police officer Justin Craven. After pursuing Satterwhite for nine miles during a slow-speed chase, Craven shot through the driver’s side door of Satterwhite’s vehicle. Craven claimed that Satterwhite tried to grab his gun during a struggle. Craven was indicted by a grand jury, and charged with a felony — discharging a gun into an occupied vehicle — which could send him to prison for up to 10 years.

Laquan McDonald, 17, was shot and killed by Chicago, Ill., police officers. Officers responding to reports of someone trying to break into cars found McDonald holding a knife. Not having a taser and waiting for one to arrive, officers began trailing McDonald when he turned do walk away. Two more cars arrived and boxed McDonald in. Police say McDonald lunged at officers. However witnesses say an unreleased dash cam video showed McDonald “shying away” from officers, rather than threatening them, just before he was shot 16 times.

Tanesha Anderson, 37, died after Cleveland, Ohio police used a “takdedown” move. Police were responding to a domestic to help Anderson — who was bipolar and schizophrenic — calm down after an argument. Anderson began struggling against the officers, who had her family’s permission to take her to a mental health facility. One of the officers allegedly slammed her head against the concrete and put his knee in her back. Anderson went unconscious, and laid on the concrete for 20 minutes until an ambulance arrived, and later died at a local hospital. Her family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the police.

Akai Gurley, 28, was shot and killed by NYPD officers. Gurley and his girlfriend were descending the stairs of their Brooklyn housing project, as officers were conducting a “vertical patrol” of the building. One officer carried a flashlight, while the other had his weapon drawn as they descended from the roof. The officer claimed he accidentally fired his weapon while attempting to open the door to the stairwell. Gurley was struck, and was later pronounced dead at Brookdale Hospital.

Jordan Baker, 26, was shot and killed by Houston police officer Juventino Castro. Castro came across Baker, who was wearing a hoodie, while working an extra security job at a strip mall. Castro said Baker was looking in windows, and approached because Baker matched the description of someone who had previously burglarized stores. Castro claimed Baker ran away after a struggle. Castro pursued and said Baker reached into his waistband, at which point Castro shot and killed him. Baker was later found to be unarmed. A grand jury declined to indict Castro in Baker’s death.

Matthew Ojibade, 22, died in custody of police in Savannah, Ga., after being placed in a restraining chair. Ojibade, who struggled with bipolar disorder had a fight with his girlfriend while suffering a manic episode. Ojibade’s girlfriend asked the officers to take him to a hospital, and gave them his medication. Instead, Ojibade was taken to the Chatham County Detention Center, where the sheriff’s office said he fought with deputies, leading him to be placed in the restraining chair. The sheriff’s office said Ojibade was checked on twice while in the chair, and was found responsive the second time. Nine deputies were fired after an internal review of Ojibade’s death.

Natasha McKenna, 37, dies after she is restrained with handcuffs and leg irons, placed in a restraint chair, and repeatedly shocked by Fairfax County, Virginia police officers. McKenna, who suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, was being transferred to another facility. Officers applied force to get McKenna into the transport vehicle. McKenna was shocked with a taser four times, after which she stopped breathing.

Freddie Gray, 27, died in police custody after being arrested by Baltimore, Maryland police officers. Gray fled when an officer made eye contact with him, and the police began pursuit. In video footage of his arrest, Gray screams in pain and appears to have a broken leg when place in a van. Ten minutes later, video footage shows officers removing Gray from the van to place him in leg irons. At no time was Gray placed in a seatbelt. After a 45 minute ride that should have taken 5 to10 minutes, Gray was unresponsive. He was taken to nearby hospital in a coma. Gray had three fractured vertebrae, a damaged voice box, and his spine was 80 percent severed at the neck. Gray died one week after his arrest.

One year ago, Sandra Bland, 27, was found dead in her jail cell in Waller County, Texas. Bland, a Chicago native, had recently returned to Waller County to start a new job with her alma mater. On July 10, officer Brian Encinia pulled Bland over for changing lanes without signaling. Encinia arrested Bland, alleging that she assaulted him. Video of Bland’s arrest does not show her assaulting him, but does show Encinia’s escalation of events at every turn. Bland was held on $5,000 bail, and was waiting for family and friends to come up with $500 bond. Three days after her arrest, Bland was found unresponsive in her cell. Authorities ruled her death a suicide by hanging.

There are many more names; more than I have time or room to chronicle here. The list keeps growing, as does the list of things that can get you killed, if you’re black.

But there’s reason to hope, as well. Black Lives Matter celebrated its birthday with a invited it Twitter followers to imagine a future in which black lives matter.

And many of the responses inspired continued hope.

Terrance Heath

Terrance Heath

Terrance Heath is the Online Producer at Campaign for America's Future. He has consulted on blogging and social media consultant for a number of organizations and agencies. He is a prominent activist on LGBT and HIV/AIDS issues.

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