Police Killing Unarmed Minority Men on Video with Impunity is not New

The grand jury’s decision to not indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner despite video of the incident, in the wake of the failure to indict Darren Wilson, further illustrates the apparent immunity of police officers in cases where officers have killed ethnic minority Americans. The Garner case is a reminder that the interpretation of (crime) videos is filtered through pre-existing cultural lenses, but it also speaks to a more fundamental problem. The case provides more evidence that video has not been a panacea in addressing lethal violence by police officers, a fact which is relevant in discussing the likely efficacy of cop cams. I have posted other similar disturbing videos of lethal force being used against unarmed ethnic minority men (after the jump) wherein there has been no accountability in the criminal justice system for the officers involved.

From the Chicago subway, an officer shot and killed an unarmed man at point blank range:

Officer Weems was never charged and received only a 30-day suspension.

More recently from the Windy City, two officers had guns trained on an unarmed man before one shot him:

That case is still under administrative review.

In Oklahoma, officers killed Luis Rodriguez after he refused to provide identification to the police:

Like Garner, Rodriguez’s last words were that he couldn’t breathe. The District Attorney cleared the officers of wrongdoing.

Police shot and killed Ernesto Duenez Jr. after attempting to confront him for a parole violation:

Police said that Ernesto was pulling out a “large knife,” but the only knife found at the scene was in the truck bed.

In Arizona, police shot an unarmed man in the back while his arms were raised in the air:

Police reports made no mention of his hands being up and the officer was cleared of wrongdoing.

In Georgia, police shot and killed Kenneth Brian Walker during a traffic stop while he was on the ground in custody:


The police believed Walker was a drug dealer, but no evidence was found to support that claim. The grand jury did not indict the officer who shot Walker.

The above cases are a just a sample of the unusual instances where video was recorded (and made public) during the use of lethal force by the police. Without such evidence, the odds of indictment are likely even less (if that is possible). The mentally ill and homeless have also proven to be populations vulnerable to police shootings with no criminal liability for the police. There are more videos out there, including the well-known case involving the death of Oscar Grant on the BART train, but the videos above give a small window into the problem of police unjustifiably using lethal violence against minority populations.

Update (7/6/2016): I changed one of the video links which no longer worked in light of the recent shooting of Alton Sterling. I’m still looking for a link to the other missing video.

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9 Responses

  1. Brett Bellmore says:

    Worth remembering, neither are police killing unarmed ethnic majority men without consequence new. Can we agree that it’s a problem regardless of the race of the cop, or of the person who dies?

  2. PrometheeFeu says:

    Is there evidence that police killings are more likely to go unpunished if the dead person is a minority? I find it intuitively likely, but am won’t to just assume that is the case.

    Have there been success stories of states or some other entity reducing police killings? (Without having started at a higher-than-average level) There are some solutions that seem self-evident such as separate prosecutors (who have not been captured by constantly working with the police) or change in training. But it would be nice if there had been examples we could follow. This sort of thing should not be happening.

  3. Brett Bellmore says:

    In any event, it’s not a racial problem, it’s a police problem. Making it into a racial problem doesn’t contribute at all to solving it.

  4. Howard Wasserman says:

    At the risk of engaging: If police engage in misconduct, that’s a police problem. If that misconduct is disproportionately directed at minorities in a way that suggests at least disparate impact, that’s also a racial problem.

    • Brett Bellmore says:

      But ‘disparate impact’ does not identify the source of the disparity. To use my favorite example on the subject, Krogers charges everybody the same price for ground chuck. But blacks are disproportionately poorer than whites. So Kroger’s pricing policy exhibits ‘disparate impact’. But, would anybody really suggest this means that Krogers should adopt a race conscious pricing policy?

      Minority neighborhoods often have disproportionately high crime rates, and under any rational allocation of police resources, should get the majority of police attention. This assures that, even if police misbehavior is entirely race neutral, it will exhibit ‘disparate impact’. Indeed, police misbehavior would have to be discriminatory against non-minorities to NOT exhibit that disparity.

      My main point is that the police behave badly, period. White against black, black against white, each against their own, it’s all rife with misbehavior. Don’t make a racial problem of it, that will just make it harder to solve.

    • Jay O. says:

      First, we need to distinguish “who” we speak of; there seems to be a false impression that the term “minorities” is synonymous with “blacks”—not quite so. Further, the neighborhoods referred to in the comments are “disadvantaged” rather than “minority” neighborhoods…Finally(and maybe even disheartening to the author of the colorful Kroger’s analogy), statistics show that: whites form the largest racial group on welfare(generally see Google).

  5. Corey Yung says:

    Hi Brett,

    It is a tragedy when an unarmed man (or woman) gets unjustifiably shot by police. However, young black men are an estimated 21 times more likely to be shot dead by police than young white men (http://www.propublica.org/article/deadly-force-in-black-and-white?utm_source=et&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=dailynewsletter). Hispanics of all ages are over twice as likely to be shot and killed by police as non-Hispanic whites. Data for racial disparities in grand jury findings is unavailable to my knowledge.

    If we accept your assumption that some of the disparity is due to distribution of police resources (which is questionable as these shootings may be uncorrelated with foot patrols, stops and frisks, etc.), there are two reasons to still recognize the racial dimensions to the problem. First, those policing practices are not set in stone, may also be an important component of the race issue, and this problem gives a reason to alter those practices. Second, even assuming distribution of police explains some of the disparity, that does not mean it accounts for a 21-fold differential.

    • Brett Bellmore says:

      But, now you’ve changed the subject, from “unjustifiably shot dead”, to “shot dead”. Which raises an obvious question:

      Is there a racial disparity in how often black men are justifiably shot dead? That really does have to be a legitimate question, or you’ve pre-judged the entire subject.