May 30, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Deaths without consequences

Community organizations and activists demand police accountability at a rally in Grand Central Terminal to commemorate the 5-year anniversary of Mike Brown's death by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. Photo: Erik McGregor/Getty Images

Seven years after the launch of the Black Lives Matter movement, it's still rare for police officers to be charged in the deaths of African Americans — and even more rare for an officer to go to jail.

The big picture: The Minneapolis police officer who was captured on video kneeling on George Floyd's neck has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter — which is already a step beyond the consequences other police officers have faced. But it's no guarantee that he will face jail time.

The backstory: The Black Lives Matter movement took off in 2013 when George Zimmerman, a civilian, was acquitted of shooting Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager. The case kickstarted the international movement to address the controversial deaths of black people, particularly at the hands of police.

  • But since then, the cases have usually ended with either no charges or no jail time for police officers.
  • One exception is Amber Guyger, the former Dallas police officer who was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison for fatally shooting 26-year-old Botham Jean, an unarmed black man, in his Dallas apartment.
  • Yet Peter Liang, a former New York police officer who was convicted of manslaughter in the 2014 shooting death of Akai Gurley, an unarmed black man, got off with five years of probation and community service.

Here's how other prominent cases ended:

Michael Brown

Age: 18

Location: Ferguson, Mo.

Date of death: Aug. 9, 2014

Police officer Darren Wilson encountered Brown and another suspect following reports of Brown taking a pack of cigarillos from a convenience store and shoving an employee.

  • That interaction was debated, with one side claiming Brown attacked Wilson in his car, attempting to take his gun, and the other alleging Brown actively surrendered before Wilson shot him.
  • Wilson was not indicted, but did resign from the Ferguson Police Department.
Students at American University in Washington D.C. protesting a judge's decision to not indict Darren Wilson. Photo: Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Students at American University in Washington protesting a judge's decision not to indict Darren Wilson. Photo: Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Eric Garner

Age: 43

Location: Staten Island, N.Y.

Date of death: July 17, 2014

Garner allegedly sold individual cigarettes outside a convenience store when police confronted him. Officer Daniel Pantaleo reportedly restrained Garner in a chokehold, an act that is prohibited by the New York Police Department.

  • Garner reportedly said "I can't breathe" 11 times during the encounter.
  • Pantaleo was fired, but a grand jury declined to indict him and the Justice Department declined to bring charges against him.
  • The city settled with Garner's family for $5.9 million.

Tamir Rice

Age: 12

Location: Cleveland, Ohio

Date of death: Nov. 23, 2014

Two officers, Frank Garmbark and Timothy Loehmann, answered a call reporting a person pulling a gun in a park. The caller said the gun was "probably fake" and the holder "probably a juvenile." The dispatcher failed to relay either detail to the officers, per the New York Times.

  • Video shows less than two seconds after the car reached Rice, Loehmann shot him, per NBC.
  • The officers were not indicted. Loehmann was later fired for discrepancies on his job application. Garmback was suspended for 10 days — shortened to five — for violating tactical rules in driving to the scene. The dispatcher was suspended for eight days, per
  • The Rice family received a $6 million settlement.
Protestors in Cleveland after a jury decided not to indict Loehmann. Photo: Angelo Merendino/Getty Images

Freddie Gray

Age: 25

Location: Baltimore, Md.

Date of death: April 19, 2015

Gray was reportedly fleeing from officers when police caught him, found a knife in his pocket and arrested him. Officers placed him in a van without proper restraints, per the Baltimore Sun. Gray suffered a spinal-cord injury during the commute and later died.

  • Six officers were charged in Gray's death. Three were acquitted, while the charges against the other three were dropped.
  • A $6.4 million settlement was issued for claims related to Gray's death.

Philando Castile

Age: 32

Location: Falcon Heights, Minn.

Date of death: July 6, 2016

Castile, with his girlfriend in the car, was pulled over for a traffic stop by St. Anthony Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez, CNN reports. Castile told Yanez he was legally carrying a gun. Castile then reached for something, resulting in Yanez, thinking the object was his gun, shooting Castile.

  • Castile's girlfriend, who broadcast the event on Facebook Live, said he was reaching for his license.
  • Yanez was acquitted of second-degree manslaughter. The city issued a $3 million settlement to Castile's mother.

Stephon Clark

Age: 22

Location: Sacramento, Calif.

Date of death: March 18, 2018

Clark was killed by two Sacramento police officers in his grandmother's backyard after they responded to a 911 call about a man breaking car windows. The shooting was captured on the officers' body cameras.

  • The officers — Jared Robinet and Terrence Mercadal — fired 20 shots at Clark, hitting him at least seven times, because they believed he had a gun, per NPR. The only thing Clark had was a cellphone.
  • The district attorney declined to file criminal charges.
  • Clark's family reached a $2.4 million settlement with the city of Sacramento.

Go deeper: Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin's mother, says she's running for office

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