Ever since Trayvon Martin was murdered by cop wannabe George Zimmerman in 2012, the #BlackLivesMatter movement has been rightly blossoming like the social justice movement the United States so desperately needs, and that necessity has only been underlined by the subsequent murders-by-cop that have followed: from Eric Garner, to Freddie Gray, to Sandra Bland and Laquan McDonald, and more. Seven-hundred and sixty-eight people were killed by police in 2013, according to Cop Block. That number rose to 1108 in 2014, and rose still further to 1126 in 2015. Clearly, something has to give, and #BlackLivesMatter is one foot stepping forward in what is likely to prove a long march.
Here are five of the most egregious murders committed by police in the past year:
On March 1, 2015, 43-year-old Charly Leundeu Keunang, who often went by the nickname “Africa,” was beaten by a crowd of cops in Los Angeles as they attempted to subdue the unarmed homeless man following reports that alleged Keunang had been involved in some sort of robbery or assault. Seconds into the struggle, shots rang out. He was fatally shot six times in the shoulders and chest. The incident was captured by a nearby witness’ smartphone. No officers were charged in Keunang’s murder, despite his being unarmed and mentally unstable. Keunang’s family has since filed a lawsuit against the city for $20 million as a result of his murder.
Barely over one month after “Africa’s” murder in L.A., unarmed 50-year-old Walter Scott was murdered in cold blood by Officer Michael Slager, in N. Charleston, South Carolina, during a “routine traffic stop.” Scott had been pulled over by Slager for a broken tail light. Scott attempted to flee the scene and a struggle ensued in which Scott was shot by Slager with a Taser. Scott then broke free and started to flee again when Slager, in no danger to himself at the time, fired eight rounds at Scott’s back, hitting him in the back three times, once in the ear, and one more time in his buttocks. One of the three rounds in his back also penetrated his heart.
Fortunately for Scott’s surviving family, a jogger captured the incident on camera via smartphone, as well – just like Africa. It didn’t take long for the public to see that Officer Slager’s “official” version of the incident wasn’t matching up with the footage shot by the passing jogger. Slager was consequently charged with 1st degree murder and is currently awaiting trail behind bars.
In further testament to the stranglehold of fear and violence American police officers reign over the communities they “protect and serve,” the jogger who’d filmed the incident was too afraid to share the video, so it was instead given to Scott’s family. The family’s lawyer quickly made it public and the rest is history in the making as the U.S. awaits the outcome of Slager’s impending trial.
Two and a half months after Walter Scott was gunned down in the middle of the day in South Carolina, 43-year-old Samuel Dobose was shot in the head and killed by University of Cincinnati police in Cincinnati, Ohio, on July 19, for lacking a front license plate. Like Africa and Scott, Dubose was unarmed, as well, but that didn’t help save his life or encourage Officer Ray Tensing to use less than lethal force.
Tensing claimed he was partially dragged by the arm when Dubose suddenly started to drive away from the traffic stop, resulting in his shooting Dubose in the head during the brief struggle leading up to the car rolling down the road. The officer’s body cam footage tells a different story, though. After being shot in the head, the car rolled out of control a short way up the street. One week later, Tensing was indicted for voluntary manslaughter and fired from the university police department. Like Africa, Dubose’s family has filed a lawsuit, as well.
Just one week after unarmed Samuel Dubose was fatally shot in the head in Ohio, 19-year-old Zachary Hammond was killed in Seneca, South Carolina, on July 26, during an undercover narcotics operation that went bad. Authorities were actually targeting the young lady passenger in his car who had mistakenly texted a cop with a similar number to a client to whom she was hoping to sell drugs.
Police lieutenant Mark Tiller entered the scene behind a Hardee’s restaurant as backup for an undercover officer intended to meet Hammond and his passenger for a drug deal. When Tiller arrived he pulled up behind Hammond’s car in an attempt to block him in. Hammond, however, did what he could to pull away and flee the scene. Tiller then jumped out of his car yelling, “Stop! Stop! I will shoot your fucking ass!” before he fired two shots into the car, killing Hammond.
Hammond’s lawyer has argued that Tiller put himself in danger by running to the front of Hammond’s vehicle, but Hammond’s death is still under investigation by the civil rights department of the Department of Justice, as well as by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney for South Carolina. So far, no criminal charges have been filed against Officer Tiller at the state level. The family, however, is pursuing federal charges.
Hammond, like so many others, was unarmed.
Even more recently, 26-year-old Mario Woods was executed against a brick wall by a five-officer “firing squad” in San Francisco because authorities merely suspected he was involved in a recent stabbing. Video footage of Woods’ fatal last moments show a literal crowd of cops around him as he stands against a brick wall. At times he raises his hands, which appear to be empty, though authorities say he was “gesturing with a knife” in a manner that made them feel a mob of cops surrounding a single man with potentially one small blade had no other choice than to utilize lethal means for his apprehension.
The blatant violence of witnessing Woods shot against a literal brick wall by a virtual wall of cops erupted protest in the community. The police chief even said the incident could have been avoided if the officers had had Tasers, though they apparently believed pepper spray and bean bag rounds would not have been enough. One has to wonder where all these riot shields used so often against protestors are at such a time and why they are not being utilized. Woods’ murder by cop is still under investigation and once again, like so many others, no charges have been filed against the officers involved.
The fact that the list of just those filmed in the midst of being gunned down by police continues to grow at such a frequent, steady pace, reinforces the necessity of movements like #BlackLivesMatter. After all, murder by cop has gone up every year in recent years, even as crime continues to go down, and 2015, as folks can see, has been no exception.
Long live the smartphone – the world’s great witness! Big Brother never considered that its cameras would be capable of pointing both ways.
Featured image via WikiMedia.