15 Most Outrageous Responses by Police After Killing Unarmed People
by Bill QuigleyPolice kill a lot of unarmed people. So far in 2015, as many as 100 unarmed people have been killed by police.
There have been around 400 fatal police shootings; one in six of those killings, 16 percent, were of unarmed people, 49 had no weapon at all and 13 had toy guns, according to the Washington Post. Of the police killings this year less than 1 percent have resulted in the officer being charged with a crime. The Guardian did a study which included killings by Tasers and found 102 people killed by police so far in 2015 were unarmed and that unarmed black people are twice as likely to be killed by police as whites.
Here are 15 of the most outrageous reasons given by police to justify killing unarmed people in the last 12 months.
1. He was dancing in the street and walking with a purpose. On June 9, 2015 an unarmed man, Ryan Bollinger, was shot by police in Des Moines after “walking with a purpose” toward the police car. After a low-speed chase started when Bollinger was observed dancing in the street and behaving erratically, Bollinger exited his vehicle and began charging toward a police car. An officer shot him through the rolled-up cruiser window. The shooting is under investigation.
2. Thought it was my Taser. An unarmed man, Eric Harris, ran from the police in Tulsa, Oklahoma on April 2, 2015. After he was shot in the back by a Taser by one officer and was on the ground, a 73-year-old volunteer reserve officer shot and killed him (watch the video). While dying he yelled that he was losing his breath, to which one of the officers responded, “F*ck your breath." Police said the officer thought he was shooting his Taser and “inadvertently discharged his service weapon.” The officer has been charged with second-degree manslaughter. Running away from the police often provokes a police overreaction given several names, including the “foot tax” and the “running tax."
3. Naked man refused to stop. Anthony Hill, a naked, unarmed, mentally ill Air Force Afghanistan veteran, was shot and killed March 9, 2015 by DeKalb County Georgia police. Police said Hill refused an order to stop. The killing is under investigation.
4. Not going to say. On March 6, 2015 Aurora, Colorado police shot and killed unarmed Naeschylus Vinzant while taking him into custody. For the last three months, while the investigation into the killing continues, the police have refused to say what compelled the officer to shoot Vinzant.
5. Felt threatened by unarmed homeless man. On March 1, 2015, Los Angeles police shot and killed Charly Leundeu Keunang, an unarmed homeless man, after five officers went to his tent and struggled with him. Los Angeles police have killed about one person a week since 2000. An investigation is ongoing.
6. Taser didn’t work. On Feb. 23, 2015, an unarmed man, Daniel Elrod, was shot twice in the back and once in the shoulder by Omaha, Nebraska police after he tried to jump a fence to escape police who suspected him of robbery. Police said their Taser did not work, Elrod ignored their demands to get down on the ground, did not show his hands, and they felt threatened. Video was not made available and the officer later resigned. Elrod was the second person killed by this officer. No criminal charges were filed.
7. Armed with a broom. Lavall Hall’s mother called the police in Miami Gardens on Feb. 15, 2015 and asked for help for her son who was mentally ill. Hall, who was only 5'4", walked outside with a broom and was later shot and killed by police, who said he failed to comply with instructions and engaged them with an object. The killing is still under investigation.
8. Throwing rocks. On Feb. 10, 2015 an unarmed man, Antonio Zambrano-Montes, was fired at 17 times and killed by police in Kennewick, Washington. A video of his killing has been viewed more than 2 million times. Officers said he had been throwing rocks at cars, ran away and then turned around.
9. Taser worked but he didn’t stop. On Feb. 2, 2015, a Hummelstown, Pennsylvania police officer shot unarmed David Kassick in the back with a Taser. When Kassick went to the ground on his stomach, he was shot twice in the back. The officer said Kassick, who was running away from a traffic stop, was told to show his hands and not move, yet he continued to try to remove the Taser prongs from his back, and the officer believed he was reaching for a gun. The officer has been charged with homicide.
10. Car going 11 miles an hour was going to kill me. On Jan. 16, Denver police fired eight times at unarmed Jessica Hernandez, 17, who was killed after being hit by four bullets. The police said she drove too close to them when she was trying to get away and may have tried to run them down, so they shot into the windshield and driver’s windows. The police said the car may have reached 11 miles per hour in the 16 feet it traveled before hitting a fence. The police were not charged.
11. Armed with a spoon. Dennis Grigsby, an unarmed mentally ill man holding a soup spoon, was shot in the chest in a neighbor’s garage by Texarkana police on Dec. 15, 2015. The killing is under investigation.
12. Armed with prescription bottle. Rumain Brisbon, a 34-year-old unarmed man, was shot and killed by police in Phoenix on Dec. 2, 2014. After running away, he was caught and engaged in a struggle with the officer, who mistook a prescription pill bottle in Brisbon’s pocket for a gun. The police officer was not charged.
13. It was an accident. On Nov. 20, 2014, a New York City police officer fired into a stairwell and killed unarmed Akai Gurley. The officer, who was charged with manslaughter, is expected to say he fired his gun accidently.
14. Don’t mention It. On Nov. 12, 2014, an unarmed handcuffed inmate was shot multiple times by officers while fighting with another handcuffed inmate in the High Desert State Prison in Carson City, Nevada. His family was not told, and did not know he had been shot until three days later when they claimed his body at a mortuary.
15. Armed with toy gun. John Crawford was in a Walmart store in Beavercreek, Ohio on Aug. 4, 2014, when he picked up an unloaded BB gun. When officers arrived, they ordered him to put down the gun, and started shooting, hitting him at least twice and killing him. In a widely viewed video, Crawford can be seeing dropping the BB gun, running away and being shot. Likewise, Cleveland police shot and killed a 12-year-old boy, Tamir Rice, who was playing with a toy pellet gun on Nov. 22, 2014. Police said they shouted verbal commands from inside their vehicle in the two seconds before they shot him twice. In both cases, the police story of shouting warnings and orders looks iffy at best.
These are the responses of police authorities who face less than one chance in 100 of being charged when they kill people, even unarmed people. These outrages demand change in the way lethal force is used, reported, justified and prosecuted.
Bill Quigley is a human rights lawyer and professor at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law. He is also a member of the legal collective of School of Americas Watch, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.