4 Dead Unarmed Men and the Police: What You Need to Know

Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Ezell Ford and John Crawford III all died after confrontations with police, and their deaths are still shrouded in mystery, even as the black community reels from the losses. 

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Eric Garner; Michael Brown; Ezell Ford; John Crawford III

Family photo via Facebook; YouTube screenshot; KTLA screenshot; WHIO screenshot

Eric Garner. John Crawford III. Michael Brown. Ezell Ford.

You should recognize these names. They all belong to unarmed black men who were killed by law enforcement since July 2014 for seemingly inexplicable reasons: allegedly selling loose cigarettes, allegedly holding a toy gun in the toy section of Wal-Mart, allegedly running away after a scuffle with the cops, and allegedly complying with police and lying down on the street.

All of these cases are in varying stages of investigation. Here’s a roundup of what you need to know about each one:

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Ezell Ford

KTLA SCREENSHOT

Family says: Ford’s family claims that when he was shot Aug. 11 in South Los Angeles, he was obeying Los Angeles Police Department officers and lying on the ground. The 25-year-old, who was mentally disabled, was stopped by police for what was described as “investigative” reasons. A cousin, who did not want to be identified, said that the unarmed young man was laid out before he was shot in the back three times. Ford was rushed to the hospital, where he had to undergo surgery, but he did not make it. Tritobia Ford, who was identified as the young man’s mother, said that the police would not tell her where her son was hospitalized.

Officers say: During the “investigative stop,” there was allegedly a “struggle” that caused shots to be fired, according to an LAPD news release. The officers involved did not require medical attention, although they did reportedly have minor scrapes. The department also said that it was unaware of any information being withheld from the family.

Any charges? So far no charges have been filed in this particular case, but the officer responsible, who has yet to be identified, has been put on paid administrative leave as the incident is investigated. According to reports, LAPD police Chief Charlie Beck, the Office of the Inspector General and the Board of Police Commissioners are expected to review the case.

Community reaction: Twitter has taken the lead on this case, as usual, with the hashtag #EzellFord. News of Ford’s death is still spreading online and in real life as the nation reels from the loss of Ferguson, Mo.’s “gentle giant,” Michael Brown. According to reports, a rally for Ford is being planned for Sunday, Aug. 17, at LAPD headquarters.

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Michael Brown

Mike Brown via Twitter

Family says: Details remain extremely sketchy in this particular case. One eyewitness to the shooting, Brown’s friend Dorian Johnson, told MSNBC in an exclusive interview that the young men were confronted on Aug. 9 by a cop in Ferguson, who told them to “get the f--k off the sidewalk.” The officer tried to get out of the squad car, but the door slammed against Brown’s body and closed. The officer allegedly reached out of the car, grabbing Brown by his throat before threatening to shoot.

That was when Darren Wilson, a six-year veteran, ended up firing the first shot. The young men allegedly started running, and Johnson ducked behind a car. Brown, 18, kept running and was hit again by another bullet. At this point he tried to surrender, holding up his hands and attempting to get to the floor, but the officer continued shooting, according to reports. In the aftermath, Brown’s body was left lying in the street for hours, and his mother claimed that she was not given an opportunity to identify her own son.

Officers say: Police claim that Brown was attempting to reach for the officer’s gun when a scuffle ensued and he subsequently took off running, resulting in the shooting.

Any charges? So far the officer is on paid administrative leave. The FBI has gotten involved in the case and is said to be conducting an investigation parallel to that of local authorities. The Department of Justice is apparently also watching this case closely.

Community reaction: This particular case has rocked the community both online and on the ground with incredible force. Almost immediately, people took to the streets of Ferguson demanding answers and justice and refusing to be budged by police, who eventually came out with dogs, SWAT teams and heavy equipment to try to quell the protest.

Eventually, some of the protesters turned to violence, with looting and destruction of property. Police have been deploying tear gas and smoke bombs into the crowd, which has responded by throwing back tear gas and Molotov cocktails. Online, the powerful hashtag #iftheygunnedmedown surfaced, while citizen reporters tweeted pictures and video from the scene. Currently, black community leaders like the Rev. Al Sharpton, and organizations like the NAACP, are urging protesters to stay calm and peaceful while adding their own voices to the calls for justice.

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John Crawford III

WHIO Screenshot 

Family says: His relatives tell the story of a young, loving father who was just handling a toy gun in the toy section of Wal-Mart in southwestern Ohio on Aug. 5 before he was inexplicably gunned down by law enforcement. Since then the family have been demanding that surveillance video from the store be released so that they can prove exactly what happened. They have taken their case to civil rights organizations in hopes of finding closure.

Officers say: Authorities say they responded appropriately to a 911 call about a man who was supposedly holding a rifle and seemed to be loading the weapon. Officers claim that Crawford, 22, was waving the rifle at a customer and would not drop it, which was the reason the police opened fire. That weapon turned out to be a pump air rifle, a type of BB gun, which cannot kill people but can kill small animals.

Any charges? The two law-enforcement agents who fired their weapons—Officer Sean Williams and Sgt. David Darkow—were put on leave after the incident and pending an investigation. Local authorities have asked the state to take over, with Beavercreek Police Chief Dennis Evers requesting that the state attorney general and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation look into whether the use of deadly force was justified, according to reports.

Community reaction: Social media have led the campaign on this slaying, with Twitter users pointing out the disparity between the reaction to Crawford holding what ended up being a toy rifle and the response to (white) open carriers of assault rifles, who have walked into business establishments without worry or confrontation.

Eric Garner Facebook Picture 1
Eric Garner

Family photo via Facebook

Family says: The tragic video showing the death of the Staten Island, N.Y., father of six on July 17 was widely publicized. From the moment the footage was released, Garner’s family has been demanding justice.

Video footage taken at the scene of the incident shows Garner in what appears to be a choke hold after he was accused of selling loose cigarettes illegally. His family pointed to the fact that he did not have any cigarettes on him or in his car at the time of his death. His widow, Esaw Garner, alongside black leaders like Al Sharpton, called for a thorough and prompt investigation and civil rights probe into the incident, given that it is illegal in New York to subdue suspects using a choke hold.

Officers say: An internal report by the New York City Police Department after the death did not make any mention of the alleged choke hold and stated that officers apparently did not pick up any cues that Garner was in distress.

Any charges? Internal Affairs was looking into the matter as of last month, and in the immediate aftermath two officers, Daniel Pantaleo and Justin Damico, were put on desk duty. A medical examiner ruled at the beginning of August that Garner did, in fact, die as a result of the choke hold, ruling the 43-year-old father’s death a homicide.

Community reaction: Once again, social media has led the battalion in the call for justice. The video of Garner’s confrontation with police spread like wildfire as viewers questioned the need to apprehend the father in such a violent manner.

With distrust of the NYPD running deep within the black community—fueled by rampant stop-and-frisk tactics—Sharpton, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton decided to come together for a community roundtable about the relations between the two groups. De Blasio stayed in the middle of the argument, carefully walking the line between holding the NYPD responsible and praising Bratton for his job thus far. Bratton proposed retraining for all NYPD officers, especially those walking the streets, while Sharpton called for appropriate punishments to be meted out in order to curb such inappropriate behavior.

Breanna Edwards is a newswriter at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.

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