After days of protests around the nation in the aftermath of the killing of a 46-year-old Black man by a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter in George Floyd’s death.
The arrest came quickly historically speaking, as charges on police officers who kill Black Americans tend to come after months-long investigations — if at all — and more often than not those charges are dropped.
According to an organization called Mapping Police Violence, in 2015 police killed 104 unarmed Black people. Of those, only 13 of those cases resulted in charges being filed. Four of those cases ended in a mistrial or dropped charges.
In four of the cases in which there were convictions, none of the sentences exceeded four years, and some served as little as three months or were allowed to serve their time in jail just on the weekends. The other cases in which there were charges were still awaiting trial at the time of publication.
In 5 Cases of Police Killing African Americans in Recent Memory, There Were Either No Charges or No Convictions
St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted of shooting Philando Castile seven times after pulling Castile over in St. Paul, later saying he stopped the car because Castile looked like an armed robbery suspect, according to NBC News. Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her 4-year-old daughter were in the car a the time and Reynolds recorded a Facebook Live video as Castile sat bleeding next to her from gunshot wounds perpetrated by Yanez after reaching for his i.d. Castile died from the injuries. Yanez said he believed Castile was reaching for a gun.
In a case eerily similar to Floyd’s, a 43-year-old Black man named Eric Garner died after an NYPD officer put him in a chokehold. Cell phone video showed Garner saying, “I can’t breathe,” just like in the Floyd case. According to the New York Times no charges were filed against Officer Daniel Pantaleo, but he was fired for using the hold which had been prohibited by the NYPD. Garner was selling loose, untaxed cigarettes on Staten Island when he was approached by Pantaleo.
In 2015, Freddie Gray died while in the custody of Baltimore Police. According to a statement from his family’s attorney, Gray’s spine was 80% severed from his neck after police failed to secure him into the back of a police van. He died seven days later. The Baltimore Sun reported that none of the officers involved were convicted of any wrongdoing and that all charges were dropped. Gray was arrested for having a switchblade knife.
Sandra Bland, was pulled over for a traffic stop. Police cam video shows things escalating to the point where a police officer ended up throwing her on the ground before arresting her. Three days later she was found dead in a jail cell. Her death was ruled a suicide but her family has always suspected foul play, according to The Guardian. Bland was pulled over for an improper lane change.
Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014 after an officer told Brown and someone he was talking to get out of the street and onto the sidewalk.
According to the Associated Press, words were said, things escalated, and 18-year-old Brown was shot dead in the street. Police left his body there for hours in the summer heat. That killing sparked huge protests in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis. In November 2014 the grand jury announced they would not indict the officer who shot Brown, Darren Wilson. More protests erupted with that announcement and Wilson quit the force only days later after only three years with the agency.
Charges Have Still Not Been Filed in the Cases of Breonna Taylor & Sean Reed
In March, Louisville police raided a home in the middle of the night, ramming through the door unannounced. It turned out to be the wrong home, and 26-year-old emergency medical technician (EMT) Breonna Taylor was killed when police shot her eight times after her boyfriend fired on police in self-defense, not knowing who had ambushed the couple in their home while they slept, according to Heavy’s earlier reporting.
That case is still under investigation as the issue of who should do the investigation has been mired, according to USA Today. They reported that the Louisville Metro Police Department’s Public Integrity Unit was investigating, only to turn the case over to Attorney General Daniel Cameron. Then FBI Louisville announced they would do their own investigation. Sen. Kamala Harris of California and Rep. Lucy McBath of Georgia have both requested the Department of Justice conduct an investigation into what happened the night of Taylor’s death.
The three officers involved in the young EMT’s death are on administrative reassignment.
Police were criticized in the shooting of Reed because after the shooting the video picked up audio of a presumed police officer saying, “looks like it’s gonna be a closed casket homie.” Police said a gun was found near Reed and it was “reasonable to believe” it belonged to him, according to WUSA.
Black Men & Boys Have a 1 in 1,000 Chance of Being Killed by Police
A paper published in 2019 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that “Among all groups, Black men and boys face the highest lifetime risk of being killed by police,” saying Black men and boys have a 1 in 1,000 chance of being killed by police in their lifetimes.
“Police violence is a leading cause of death for young men, and young men of color face an exceptionally high risk of being killed by police,” PNAS wrote. “Inequalities in risk are pronounced throughout the life course. This study reinforces calls to treat police violence as a public health issue.”