Black and Unarmed: Men Without Weapons Killed by Law Enforcement

The shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., reopens a fresh wound just weeks after a police chokehold killed Eric Garner in New York City.

Oscar Grant; Eric Garner; Wendell Allen
Oscar Grant; Eric Garner; Wendell Allen Wikimedia Commons; Family photo; Family photo
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    Michael Brown

    Michael Brown, 18, was on his way to his grandmother’s house in Ferguson, Mo.–a surburb just outside of St. Louis — on August 9, 2014 when a series of events would claim his life.
    According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, some reports indicate that Brown and the police officer who’s accused of shooting him engaged in an initial struggle for an officer’s gun inside a patrol car before the teen was shot. But a 19-year-old witness told the paper that she saw a police officer attempting to place Brown in the rear seat of a police car. She then saw Brown trying to flee the car, with his hands in the air, while multiple shots were fired at him. 
    Brown planned to start college on Monday, August 11. 
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    Eric Garner

    Outrage continues to mount over the death of Eric Garner, 43, who died on Thursday, July 17, 2014, after a New York City Police Department officer put him in a “choke hold” on a sidewalk in broad daylight in front of concerned bystanders. Stunning cellphone video recorded by a passerby shows at least five officers piling onto an unarmed Garner, who suffered from asthma and diabetes and could be heard repeatedly shouting, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.” Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has said that the maneuver used by the officer “would appear to have been a choke hold,” which the department banned 20 years ago.

    In light of the death of Garner, a father of six, The Root reviews incidents in which black men and boys without weapons lost their lives to law-enforcement officers or others who decided that they were dangerous enough to die.

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    Kimani Gray

    Sixteen-year-old Kimani was shot four times in the front and side of his body and three times in the back by two New York City police officers as he left a friend’s birthday party in Brooklyn on March 9, 2013. The only publicly identified eyewitness is standing by her claim that he was empty-handed when he was gunned down.

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    ABC News

    Kendrec McDade

    Nineteen-year-old college student McDade was shot and killed in March 2012 when officers responded to a report of an armed robbery of a man in Pasadena, Calif. He was later found to be unarmed, with only a cellphone in his pocket. His death has prompted his family to file a lawsuit, in which McDade’s parents argue that he was left on the street for a prolonged period of time without receiving first aid. According to court documents, McDade’s last words were, “Why did they shoot me?” The officers involved were initially placed on paid administrative leave but have since returned to duty.

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    Timothy Russell

    Russell and his passenger, Malissa Williams, were killed in Cleveland after police officers fired 137 rounds into their car after a chase in December 2012. Officers said they saw a possible weapon, but no weapon or shell casings were found in the fleeing car or along the chase route. 

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    Ervin Jefferson

    The 18-year-old was shot and killed by two security guards—also African American—outside his Atlanta home on March 24, 2012. His mother says that he was unarmed and trying to protect his sister from a crowd that was threatening her.

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    Amadou Diallo

    In 1999 four officers in street clothes approached Diallo, a West African immigrant with no criminal record, on the stoop of his New York City building, firing 41 shots and striking him 19 times as he tried to escape. They said they thought the 23-year-old had a gun. It was a wallet. The officers were all acquitted of second-degree-murder charges.

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    Patrick Dorismond

    The 26-year-old father of two young girls was shot to death in 2000 during a confrontation with undercover police officers who asked him where they could purchase drugs. An officer claimed that Dorismondwho was unarmed—grabbed his gun and caused his own death. But the incident made many wonder whether the recent acquittal of the officers in the Amadou Diallo case sent a signal that the police had a license to kill without consequence.

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    Dallas Weekly

    Ousmane Zongo

    In 2003 Officer Bryan A. Conroy confronted and killed Zongo in New York City during a raid on a counterfeit-CD ring with which Zongo had no involvement. Relatives of the 43-year-old man from Burkina Faso settled a lawsuit against the city for $3 million. The judge in the trial of the officer who shot him (and was convicted of criminally negligent homicide but did not serve jail time) said he was “insufficiently trained, insufficiently supervised and insufficiently led.”

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    Timothy Stansbury Jr.

    Unarmed and with no criminal record, 19-year-old Stansbury was killed in 2004 in a Brooklyn, N.Y., stairwell. The officer who shot him said he was startled and fired by mistake. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly called his death “a tragic incident that compels us to take an in-depth look at our tactics and training, both for new and veteran officers.” A grand jury deemed it an accident.

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    Sean Bell

    In the early-morning hours of what was supposed to be 23-year-old Bells wedding day, police fired more than 50 bullets at a car carrying him and his friends outside a Queens, N.Y., strip club in 2006. Bell was killed, and two of his friends were wounded. The city of New York agreed to pay more than $7 million to settle a federal lawsuit filed by the family and two friends of Bell. The three detectives who were charged—one of whom yelled “gun,” although Bell was unarmed—were found not guilty of all charges. In March 2013 the NYPD fired four of the officers involved in the shooting for disobeying departmental guidelines on the scene.

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    Orlando Barlow

    Barlow was surrendering on his knees in front of four Las Vegas police officers when Officer Brian Hartman shot him in 2003. Hartman was 50 feet away and said he thought the unarmed 28-year-old was reaching for a gun. The deadly shooting was ruled “excusable.” But a federal investigation later revealed that Hartman and other officers printed T-shirts labeled “BDRT,” which stood for “Baby Daddy Removal Team” and “Big Dogs Run Together,” and that they’d used excessive force during two separate investigations.

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    Aaron Campbell

    In 2005 Campbell was shot in the back by Portland, Ore., police Officer Ronald Frashour, who said he thought the unarmed man was reaching toward his waistband for a weapon. Witnesses said the 25-year-old was walking backward toward police with his hands locked behind his head moments before the fatal shot was fired. A grand jury cleared Frashour of criminal wrongdoing but sent a letter to the county district attorney’s office condemning police handling of the incident. Campbell’s mother received a $1.2 settlement in the family’s federal wrongful-death lawsuit against the city of Portland.

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    Victor Steen

    In 2009, 17-year-old Victor, who was riding his bicycle, refused to stop when chased by a police officer in a cruiser in Pensacola, Fla. In response, the officer aimed his Taser out of the driver’s window and fired and then ran over the unarmed teen, killing him. The deadly incident was captured on video. A judge ruled that no crime was committed.

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    Steven Eugene Washington

    Washington was shot by gang-enforcement officers Allan Corrales and George Diego in Los Angeles one night in 2010 after he approached them and appeared to remove something from his waistband. The officers said they’d heard a loud sound in the area and the 27-year-old, who was autistic, was looking around suspiciously. No weapon was ever recovered.

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    Alonzo Ashley

    Police say that 29-year-old Ashley refused to stop splashing water from a drinking fountain on his face at the Denver Zoo one hot day in 2011, then made irrational comments and threw a trash can. The responding officers, who didn’t dispute that he was unarmed, killed him with a Taser, saying he had “extraordinary strength.” No criminal charges were filed against them.

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    Wendell Allen

    Allen was fatally shot in the chest by officers executing a warrant on his house on March 7, 2012, in New Orleans. The 20-year-old was unarmed, and five children were home at the time of his death. Police found 4.5 ounces of marijuana on Allen after they killed him. Former cop Joshua Colclough admitted that he shot an unarmed Allen and pleaded guilty to manslaughter. He accepted a four-year prison sentence.

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    Danziger Bridge (Mario Tama/Getty Images)  

    Ronald Madison and James Brissette

    In 2005, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, five officers opened fire on an unarmed family on the east side of the Danziger Bridge, killing 17-year-old James Brissette and wounding four others. Next, officers shot at brothers Lance and Ronald Madison. Ronald, a 40-year-old man with severe mental disabilities, was running away when he was hit, and an officer stomped on and kicked him before he died. In a federal criminal trial, five officers involved in what have become known as the “Danziger Bridge Shootings” were convicted of various civil rights violations, but not murder.

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    City of Sanford Police Department (Gerardo Mora/Getty Images)  

    Travares McGill

    In 2005 in Sanford, Fla. (the same county in which Travyon Martin was killed), the 16-year-old was killed by two security guards, one of whom testified that Travares was trying to hit him with his car. But evidence showed that the bullet that killed the teen hit him in the middle of the back and that the guard kept firing even after the car was no longer headed toward him.

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    Ramarley Graham

    In 2012 Officer Richard Haste shot and killed 18-year-old Graham in the bathroom of his grandmother’s Bronx, N.Y., home after a chase while he was attempting to flush a bag of marijuana down the toilet. Police did not have a warrant to enter the house, and Graham had no weapon. A grand jury charged the officer with manslaughter, but a judge tossed the indictment in May, ruling that the prosecution inadvertently misled jurors by telling them not to consider whether he was warned that Graham had a gun.

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    Getty Images

    Oscar Grant

    Oakland, Calif., transit-police Officer Johannes Mehserle said that he accidentally used his gun instead of his Taser when he shot Grant on a train platform on New Year’s Day 2009. The 22-year-old was lying facedown with his hands behind his back, being subdued by another police officer, when he was killed. Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to only two years for taking Grant’s life. He was released after 11 months.

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