We shouldn’t just say their names – we should know their stories.
In order to familiarize myself with the stories of those who have been unjustly killed by the police because of their race, I went through a list of their names and looked up each story. I’m sharing a basic summary of their stories here – knowing that this list is not even close to exhaustive and these men and women are just a small representation of the countless black lives that have been cut short due to racial bias and discrimination.
Another powerful way to experience these stories is through the interactive cover of The New Yorker – found here.
As a white person who benefits from white privilege, I am so sorry. I hope that we can learn from these mistakes.
Amadou Diallo – New York City, New York – On February 4, 1999, Amadou Diallo, who was unarmed, was shot 19 times by four plain-clothes NYPD officers, Sean Carroll, Richard Murphy, Edward McMellon, and Kenneth Boss. Diallo was standing outside of his apartment when the officers drove by and apparently thought he looked a little like a rape suspect. When they called out to him to raise his hands, he reached for his wallet and they opened fire, shooting a total of 41 rounds. All four officers were charged with second-degree murder and were acquitted at trial. NO CONVICTION.
Oscar Grant – Oakland, California – On New Years Day, 2009, Oscar Grant was fatally shot in the back by police officer Johannes Mehserle, while another officer, Anthony Pirone, held him down with his hands cuffed behind him [he was unarmed]. The officers had been called to the location to break up a fight. Mehserle was indicted and convicted of involuntary manslaughter, but not second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter. He served 11 months in the Los Angeles County Jail.
Aiyana Jones – Detroit, Michigan – On May 16, 2010, Aiyana Jones, a ten-year-old, was shot in the head and killed by police officer, Joseph Weekley, during a raid. After two mis-trials, the charges against Weekley were dropped. NO CONVICTION.
Trayvon Martin – Sanford, Florida – On February 26, 2012, Trayvon Martin was fatally shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordintor who suspected for no apparent reason that Martin was “up to no good” and began chasing him. After some sort of violent altercation between them, Zimmerman shot Martin. Zimmerman was charged with murder, but was acquitted because he claimed it was self-defense. NO CONVICTION
Jonathon Ferrell – Charlotte, North Carolina – On September 14, 2013, Jonathan Ferrell was fatally shot twelve times by police officer, Randall “Wes” Kerrick. Ferrell had crashed his car and went to a nearby house and knocked on the door. The resident called the police and three officers arrived. Ferrell ran toward them and one officer attempted to fire his taser at him, but missed, so Kerrick opened fire. Kerrick was charged with manslaughter, but after a mistrial, the charges were dropped. NO CONVICTION.
Eric Garner – New York City, New York – On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner was killed by NYPD police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, who held him in a choke-hold while Garner famously said “I can’t breathe” eleven times before he lost consciousness [he was unarmed]. Garner was being arrested for supposedly selling single cigarettes without tax stamps, which he denied. A grand jury determined not to indict Pantaleo for the murder. NO CONVICTION.
John Crawford III – Beavercreek, Ohio – On August 5, 2014, John Crawford was fatally shot by a police officer named Sean Williams in Walmart for holding a BB gun that was for sale in the store. Evidence showed that the officers shot him without giving any verbal cues, or a chance to obey them. A grand jury chose not to indict Williams. NO CONVICTION.
Tamir Rice – Cleveland, Ohio – On November 22, 2014, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was fatally shot by Timothy Loehmann. The police had been called about someone pointing a gun at people. Tamir was holding an airsoft gun and when police arrived, they believed him to be drawing his weapon and shot him twice immediately. A jury declined to indict Loehmann for the murder. NO CONVICTION
Walter Scott – North Charleston, South Carolina – On April 4, 2015, Walter Scott was fatally shot in the back by police officer Michael Slager, who had stopped him for a broken tail light. Slager plead guilty to civil rights violations so that the state murder charge would be dropped. He was sentenced to twenty years in prison.
Freddie Gray – Baltimore, Maryland – On April 19, 2015, Freddie Gray died from injuries to his spinal cord which he received while being transported in a police van. Officers did not follow the policy to secure him inside the vehicle, which had been recently put into affect after a history of transport related injuries while in police custody. Six officers were charged when Freddie’s death was ruled a homicide. Caesar R. Goodson Jr, Edward M. Nero, and Brian W. Rice were acquitted. William Porter’s trial ended in a mistrial. And charges against the other two officers, Garrett E. Miller and Alicia D. White, were dropped. NO CONVICTION.
Samuel Dubose – Cincinnati, Ohio – On July 19, 2015, Samuel Dubose was fatally shot in the head by Ray Tensing, a University of Cincinnati police officer, during a traffic stop for not having a license plate on the front of his car. Tensing claimed that Dubose was trying to drive away and dragging Tensing by the arm, but body cam evidence showed otherwise. After two two trials both ended with hung juries, the charges against Tensing were dropped. NO CONVICTION.
Corey Jones – Palm Beach Gardens, Florida – On October 18, 2015, Corey Jones was fatally shot by a plainclothes police officer named Nouman K. Raja while waiting for a tow truck. Raja shot six times, hitting Jones three times, claiming that he was acting in self-defense, which a video recording of the shooting proved to be a lie. Raja was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Philando Castile – St Anthony, Minnesota – On July 6, 2016, Philando Castile was shot fatally shot by police officer, Jeronimo Yanez, during a traffic stop. Castile informed the officer that he had a gun, which he was licensed to carry, but as he was reaching for his license, Yanez became afraid he was pulling his weapon and shot him at close range five times. Yanez was charged with manslaughter, but was then acquitted of all charges. NO CONVICTION
Terence Crutcher – Tulsa, Oklahoma – On September 16, 2016, Terence Crutcher was fatally shot by police officer Betty Jo Shelby for refusing to show his hands while he walked towards his vehicle which was stopped in the middle of the road. Shelby was charged with first-degree manslaughter, but a jury found her non-guilty. NO CONVICTION.
Keith Lamont Scott – Charlotte, North Carolina – On September 20, 2016, Keith Lamont Scott was fatally shot by a police officer named Brentley Vinson. The police account indicates that Scott was armed and that he refused to drop his weapon, but a video recording showed his wife saying that he didn’t have a weapon. Vinson was never indicted. NO CONVICTION.
Jordan Edwards – Balch Spring, Texas – On April 29, 2017, Jordan Edwards was fatally shot in the back of his head by police officer, Roy Oliver, while riding in the passenger seat of a car that was driving away from the officer who was attempting to stop it. Oliver was convicted of murder and sentenced to fifteen years in prison.
Stephon Clark – Sacramento, California – On March 18, 2018, Stephon Clark was fatally shot multiple times by police officers Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet, who suspected that he was holding a gun – but he was only holding his cellphone. Neither of these officers were charged with any crimes. NO CONVICTION.
Botham Jean – Dallas, Texas – On September 6, 2018, Jean Botham was fatally shot in his own apartment by police officer, Amber Guyger, who claimed that she thought she was in her own apartment and believed that Botham was a burglar. She was convicted of murder and sentenced to ten years in prison.
Atatiana Jefferson – Fort Worth, Texas – On October 12, 2019, Atatiana Jefferson was fatally shot by police officer Aaron Dean, after a neighbor called police to inform that that her door was open. When he arrived, body camera footage shows she came to the window to observe the police and he shot her through the glass. Dean was indicted for murder and the trial is still pending.
Ahmaud Arbery – Brunswick, Georgia – Arbery was out for a jog on February 23, 2020 when he was pursued and confronted and fatally shot by two white men, Travis and his father Gregory McMichael. The McMichael’s were not convicted until a video of the murder went viral on May 5th.
Breonna Taylor – Louisville, Kentucky – Shortly after midnight on March 13, 2020, three police officers entered Taylor’s home with a “no-knock search warrant,” and shot twenty rounds, eight of which hit Taylor and killer her on site.
George Floyd – Minneapolis, Minnesota – On May 25th, 2020, Floyd was killed by Derek Chauvin during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit bill. Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. Video footage went viral, sparking protests around the world.
Rayshard Brooks – Atlanta, Georgia – On June 12, 2020, Rayshard Brooks was fatally shot outside of a Wendy’s where he had fallen asleep in his car while in the drive-thru. The officers gave Brooks a sobriety test which he failed. When he resisted arrest and grabbed one of the officers tasers, he was chased by one officer named Garrett Rolfe who shot him from behind. Rolfe has been charged with felony murder and other charges.
All of these tragedies show that while the American justice system is supposed to be built on the idea that someone is innocent until proven guilty, that has never been the case for black Americans. The assumption of guilt, based on racial stereotypes and prejudice, is responsible for most of these murders and the rest are a result of a gross lack of concern for black humans.
The saddest part of all is that for every death that gets media attention, there are likely many more that we never hear about.