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Their Deaths Inspired A Movement Against Police Violence And Systemic Racism
Several high profile police killings of Black people, including George Floyd, have inspired national movements promoting racial equality.
Peacock’s upcoming documentary “Use of Force: the Policing of Black America” focuses on fighting injustice and police brutality and highlights some of the lives lost in the last decade.
Black people, specifically men, are at an elevated risk of losing their life during police-involved incidents. A 2020 study conducted by researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that Black Americans are 3.23 times more likely than white Americans to be killed by police. The same year, protests across the nation and the world, ignited by a spate of police-related deaths and violence against Black people made the Black Lives Matter movement a household name.
We've gathered up some of the most high-profile cases in recent memory, all of which contributed to national awareness of the issue of police violence.
In 2020, former Minneapolis Police Department Officer Derek Chauvin, 45 killed George Floyd by pushing him to the ground and restraining him by pressing his knee against Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes. Floyd cried for his mom and said he couldn’t breathe, but Chauvin continued holding him down even as Floyd became unresponsive. The incident occurred after a report that Floyd had attempted to use a counterfeit $20 bill.
Last year, Chauvin was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death. He was sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison.
The killing, which was captured on video by a teen girl, ignited worldwide protests and calls for police reform and the dismantling of systemic racism.
Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, was fatally shot by police officer Kimberly Potter during a traffic stop while she attempted to arrest him for an outstanding warrant in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota in April of 2021. She claimed she confused her gun for a Taser.
The former cop was convicted in December of first- and second-degree manslaughter.
Breonna Taylor, 26, was shot to death in her Louisville, Kentucky apartment in 2020. Three plainclothes Louisville Metro police officers burst into her home using a battering ram in the middle of the night, according to news reports of the incident. Under the belief that an intruder had broken in, Kenneth Walker, Taylor’s boyfriend, shot at one of the officers. The officers “opened fire in return, shooting 32 bullets into the home. Six struck Taylor, killing her,” according to an account by NPR.
Taylor was an EMT who was working at two different hospitals to assist in the COVID-19 pandemic at the time of her killing. Of the officers involved — Sgt. Jon Mattingly, Myles Cosgrove, and Brett Hankison — only Hankison has been criminally charged in connection with the raid. Hankison, who was later terminated by the police department, was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment for firing into the wall of a neighbor’s residence and endangering three people, a charge that isn't directly related to Taylor's death. He is still awaiting trial. He has pleaded not guilty, according to local news reports.
Elijah McClain, 23, died in 2019, after police in Aurora, Colorado placed him in a chokehold and paramedics at the scene injected him with ketamine.
"Elijah was listening to music, enjoying the short walk home from the corner store with some iced tea when Aurora police officers grabbed, tackled, and assaulted him," states a lawsuit filed by his family and obtained by Oxygen.com.
He uttered “I can’t breathe” before he died, according to video of his attack. While police claimed he went for their gun, McClain was absolved of any wrongdoing following a state probe into his arrest and death.
Aurora officers Nathan Woodyard, Randy Roedema, and Jason Rosenblatt, as well as paramedics Peter Cichuniec and Jeremy Cooper, were indicted on manslaughter and second-degree negligent homicide charges by a grand jury last year. They have yet to enter pleas in the case. McClain’s family has also reached a settlement with the city of Aurora.
Eric Garner died in 2014 after NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo used a chokehold banned by NYPD regulations during his arrest. The incident, captured on video, shows police confronting Garner for selling untaxed cigarettes near his home on Staten Island. Garner protested his innocence, and resisted before Pantaleo put him in a chokehold and brought him to the ground.
Garner cried out, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe,” a plea which has since inspired people to use the same phrase in protest of police brutality.
“A Staten Island grand jury and the U.S. Department of Justice both declined to bring criminal charges against Pantaleo,” ABC News has reported.
Michael Brown was 18 when he was shot to death by Ferguson, Missouri officer Darren Wilson in 2014. Wilson stopped Brown after spotting him walking in the middle of a street and a confrontation ensued, according to a Department of Justice report. Some witnesses claimed that Brown had his hands up and told Wilson not to shoot, which inspired the protest mantra "hands up, don't shoot."
However, an FBI investigation found that there was no evidence that Brown had his hands up or uttered those words, Vox reported.
The St. Louis County grand jury declined to indict Wilson in 2014, and the U.S. Department of Justice also declined to charge him in 2015.
Philando Castile was shot and killed in 2016 during a traffic stop in Minnesota after he disclosed to St. Anthony Police officer Jeronimo Yanez that he had a gun in the car. Diamond Reynolds, Castile’s fiancée, live-streamed the aftermath of the shooting on Facebook, prompting national outrage. In the video, according to NBC News, “Reynolds says Castile was shot several times while reaching for his ID after telling Yanez he had a gun permit and was armed.”
Yanez was found not guilty of second-degree manslaughter in 2017, the Star Tribune reported.