After our investigation, the Department of Justice decided to end its contracts with private prisons. Read our story, and what it took to report it.
Jaeah is a former reporter at Mother Jones. Her writings have appeared in The Atlantic, the Guardian, Wired, Christian Science Monitor,Global Post,Huffington Post,Talking Points Memo, and Grist. She tweets at @jaeahjlee.
Plus: the crazy way the FBI classifies all police shooting victims as criminals.
Jaeah LeeSep. 10, 2014 6:00 AM
Protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, August 2014
Since a police officer shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, one month ago, reporters and researchers have scrambled to find detailed data on how often cops wound or kill civilians. What they've uncovered has been frustratingly incomplete: Perhaps not surprisingly, law enforcement agencies don't keep very good stats on incidents that turn deadly. In short, it's a mystery exactly how many Americans are shot by the police every year.
However, as I and othershavereported, there is some national data out there. It's not complete, but it provides a general idea of how many people die at the hands of the police—and the significant racial disparity among them:
• The Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Reporting program records that 410 people were killed in justifiable homicides by police in 2012. While the FBI collects information on the victims' race, it does not publish the overall racial breakdown.
• The Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that between 2003 and 2009 there were more than 2,900 arrest-related deaths involving law enforcement. Averaged over seven years, that's about 420 deaths a year. While BJS does not provide the annual number of arrest-related deaths by race or ethnicity, a rough calculation based on its data shows that black people were about four times as likely to die in custody or while being arrested than whites.
Note: Most arrest-related deaths by homicide are by law enforcement, not private citizens. Rate calculated by dividing deaths by the average Census population for each race in 2003-09. "Other" includes American Indians, Alaska Natives, Asians, Native Hawaiians, other Pacific Islander, and persons of two or more races.
• The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Vital Statistics System offers another view into officers' use of deadly force. In 2011, the CDC counted 460 people who died by "legal intervention" involving a firearm discharge. In theory, this includes any death caused by a law enforcement or state agent (it does not include legal executions).
The CDC's cause-of-death data, based on death certificates collected at the state level, also reveals a profound racial disparity among the victims of police shootings.Between 1968 and 2011, black people were between two to eight times more likely to die at the hands of law enforcement than whites. Annually, over those 40 years, a black person was on average 4.2 times as likely to get shot and killed by a cop than a white person. The disparity dropped to 2-to-1 between 2003 and 2009, lower than the 4-to-1 disparity shown in the BJS data over those same years. The CDC's database of emergency room records also shows similarracial disparities among those injured by police.
However, these numbers provide an extremely limited view of the lethal use of force by law enforcement. For reasons that have been outlined by USA Today, Vox, FiveThirtyEight, the Washington Post, The Atlantic, and others, the FBI data is pretty unreliable and represents a conservative estimate. Some 18,000 agencies contribute to the FBI's broader crime reporting program, but only about 750 reported their justifiable homicide figures in 2012. New York state, for example, does not report justifiable homicides to the FBI, according to bureau spokesman Stephen G. Fischer Jr.
The FBI's data only counts "felons," but its definition of a felon differs from the common legal understanding of a felon as someone who has been convicted of a felony.
It's also not clear that Brown's death—the circumstances of which remain in dispute—would show up in the FBI's data in the first place. (Ferguson reported two homicides to the 2012 Uniform Crime Report, but neither were justifiable homicides, according to Fischer.) The FBI's justifiable homicide data only counts "felons," but its definition of a felon differs from the common legal understanding of a felon as someone who has been convicted of a felony. "A felon in this case is someone who is committing a felony criminal offense at the time of the justifiable homicide," according to a statement provided by Uniform Crime Reporting staff. The FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Handbook describes the following scenario to illustrate what constitutes the justifiable killing of a criminal caught in the act:
A police officer answered a bank alarm and surprised the robber coming out of the bank. The robber saw the responding officer and fired at him. The officer returned fire, killing the robber. The officer was charged in a court of record as a matter of routine in such cases.
And since the classification of felonies—usually serious criminal offenses such as murder and assault—may vary by jurisdiction, UCR staff states, there is no standard definition of the word.
This leaves much room for interpretation. Was Michael Brown committing a felony at the time Officer Darren Wilson shot him? Local authorities in Ferguson have claimed that Brown was a robbery suspect and that he assaulted Wilson prior to the shooting. Whether Brown's case might be classified as a justifiable homicide hinges on the details of what happened in the moments before his death and whether local investigations determine that Wilson was justified to shoot. The FBI's records ultimately rely on police departments' word and the assumption that the victim was a criminal.
BJS, meanwhile, collects its data from state-level coordinators that identify arrest-related deaths in part by surveying law enforcement agencies. But the majority of these coordinators do not contact each law enforcement agency in their states, so BJS has no way of telling how many deaths have gone unidentified, according to spokesperson Kara McCarthy. BJS collects some details about each reported death, such as how the victims died, whether they were armed, whether they were intoxicated or displayed signs of mental illness, and whether charges had been filed against them at the time of death. It does not collect information about whether the victims had any prior convictions.
Some of the gaps in the FBI and BJS data can be filled in by the CDC data, but there are limitations here, too. The CDC data does not evaluate whether these killings were justified or not. The agency categorizes fatalities by International Classification of Diseases codes, which are used by coroners and medical examiners to record the medical cause, not the legal justification, of death. And death certificates aren't immune to reporting problems, explains Robert Anderson, chief of the CDC's Mortality Statistics Branch. This data is still "at the mercy of the medical examiner and coroner," who often write death certificates and may not include details about officer involvement. Anderson says those details are necessary in order for the CDC to categorize a death as a legal intervention.
Better data, and the will to collect it, is necessary to get the full picture of how many criminals and law-abiding citizens are killed by police every year. Until then Michael Brown—and others like him—may never even become a statistic.
We also spoke with the six-time Grammy nominee about religion, almond milk, and feuding with Eminem.
Jaeah LeeSep. 2, 2014 6:00 AM
Moby is tired. Since he released his 11th and latest studio album,Innocents, last October, the six-time Grammy nominee has been crisscrossing the country on tour and spinning DJ sets at electronic dance music festivals, not to mention starring in a video with Miley Cyrus and Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne. But then again, he reminds me, "I've been traveling for the last 25 years."
Indeed, the last quarter century has been an epic voyage for the 48-year-old musician. Born in Harlem and raised in Connecticut, Moby (born Richard Melville Hall, an actual descendent of Moby Dick author Herman Melville) has led a prolific, star-studded career that has included collaborations with Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Slash, Gwen Stefani, and countless other A-listers. Longtime fans will remember his punk-inflected days in the early '90s, although most of us are more familiar with his quieter, cinematic sounds, which have graced Hollywood blockbusters such as Tomorrow Never Dies and The Bourne Identity.
When he isn't writing, spinning, performing, or recording his music, Moby likes to raise some hell. A longtime vegan and animal rights activist, he has testified before Congress in defense of net neutrality and raised money to keep California from shuttering its domestic-violence shelters. But unlike his heroes—Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Chuck D among them—Moby usually steers clear of activism in the music itself. "Whenever I've tried to write issue-oriented or political music," he explains, "it just hasn't been good."
In advance of our exclusive rollout of his latest music video, "The Last Day," Moby regaled me with stories about (almost) rubbing shoulders with Prince, his activist origins, and coming to terms with his feud with Eminem. Check out the video below, and stay for our conversation.
Mother Jones: So, tell me what you've been up to this past year?
Moby:Innocents. What I love about making albums in the 21st century is that so few people buy albums! I can make an album without any commercial concerns whatsoever. There's something sort of emancipating about that. An artist in 2014 who is thinking about album sales is either sadly deluded or has to make so many commercial compromises that it sort of takes the joy out of making music.
MJ: I can kind of sympathize with that as a journalist working both in print and online. So how does a musician make a living now?
Moby: Oddly enough, I think that the current climate enables a lot of musicians to do relatively well. Twenty-five years ago, you could be a bass player in a folk-rock band and do pretty well—that sort of means that you're going to have to go get a day job. But a lot of my friends have learned how to write classical music for movies and produce other people and do remixes, and DJ and go on tour, and do all these different things. The more diverse their approach, the better their chances of actually having a career.
MJ: Like much of your work, the tracks on Innocence have a subtle quality. Is that intentional, to make music that contrasts with—as you phrased it at one point—the "bombastic" tunes we hear so much, in the Top 40 and whatnot?
Moby: Yeah, I have nothing against bombastic music, but when it comes to making albums, I'd prefer to make music that has a sort of vulnerable subtlety to it. That's what I was trying to accomplish with the song and the video.
MJ: Over the years, you've collaborated with icons from Michael Jackson to Lou Reed. Who's on your wish list?
"I think it'd be great if Prince made an album of just romantic, slow ballads."
Moby: Well, my main interest is just to work with people who have beautiful, interesting, emotive voices; I'm not too concerned whether someone is famous. But I guess the two people on the planet that I would love to work with: One is James Blake—I just think his voice is so touching and beautiful, and his approach to music is really interesting. And also, at some point in my life, I'd love to make an album with Prince. I love Prince. I've just never been interested in his fast, exciting music. But I love the ballads that he writes, and I think it'd be great if he made an album of just romantic, slow ballads.
MJ: Have you ever approached him?
Moby: Once, in 1988, I danced next to him and his security guard at a nightclub on 14th Street in New York City. I think it was called Nell's. And then, about 12 years ago, I dated a woman who had grown up in Minneapolis and at one point had gone to a party at Prince's house and turned down the offer to have a threesome with him. So that's the only contact I've had. I can't even call either of them technically a contact. It's more just like six degrees of separation.
MJ: So, you talk about being drawn to subtlety, yet some of your earlier work had inflections of punk and was a lot louder. Was there a moment of transition for you?
"To choose one type of music at the exclusion of another would feel kind of sad and arbitrary."
Moby: When I was very young, I played in a punk-rock band, but I also studied music theory and classical music. In the late '80s and early '90s, I was playing a lot of electronic music but also playing drums in a punk band and writing experimental film music for friends of mine. I guess I've never seen the need to choose one type of music at the exclusion of another. That would feel kind of sad and arbitrary.
MJ: You're credited, though, for helping usher electronic dance music into the mainstream.
Moby: In some ways it's hard to see electronic music as a genre because the word "electronic" just refers to how it's made. Hip-hop is electronic music. Most reggae these days is electronic. Pop is electronic. House music, techno, all these sorts of ostensibly disparate genres are sort of being created with the same equipment. So it's sort of ironic for me to be associated exclusively with electronic music considering my background is punk rock and classical.
But in the early '90s, when I was making techno and electronic dance music, it really felt like I was working in this maligned ghetto. A lot of music journalists wouldn't take it seriously, so it's been nice to watch electronic music rise to prominence. One of the things I love is how egalitarian it is. Up until the rise of electronic music, if you were a musician in Portugal or Germany or Italy or Japan, and you didn't sing in English, you really were limited: You could be successful in the country where people understood your language. The world of electronic music is completely international. You have DJs from Finland making huge records for people in New Zealand, DJs in South Korea making huge records for people in France. By the fact that it doesn't cost anything to make, and that it transcends language, nation, and barrier, it accidentally accomplishes a lot of really remarkable things.
MJ: So does Eminem now look foolish for claiming "no one listens to techno"?
"What I also found really odd, when I was criticizing Eminem for being misogynistic, is how few people came to my defense."
Moby: I have a weird passing respect for him. I think he's quite talented. And in 2004, he put out a song called, I forget what it was called, but he made this really powerful video that was a call to arms to get inner-city youth to vote. The fact that he dissed me—he said I was too old and nobody listens to techno—it's sort of ironic, because now he's quite a lot older than I was when he made fun of me for being too old, and clearly everybody in the world is listening to techno. But I learned a lesson: Never have public feuds with anyone who's surrounded by people who carry guns.
The way the feud started was that I had assumed, as we got into the '90s, that things like homophobia and misogyny were old, pernicious things that were sort of fading away. And I found it incredibly disheartening that in the late '90s, suddenly pop culture became even more misogynistic and more homophobic, and so I criticized Eminem for having lyrics that were egregiously homophobic and egregiously misogynistic.
What I also found really odd, when I was criticizing Eminem for being misogynistic, is how few people came to my defense. I'm not trying to look for pity or sympathy. I was just surprised that so many people in the world of entertainment seemed to be okay with misogyny and homophobia as long as they were profiting from it. And I asked this one question, which was not necessarily for Eminem, but any musician: If you take a song that talks about committing acts of violence towards women and gay people, and if you change the subject and instead have songs about committing acts of violence against Jews and blacks, would the entertainment industry still be okay with it? Clearly the answer is no.
MJ: Your song "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad" came out around that time. Any connection?
Moby: Not really. I always just made music that resonates with me emotionally. A lot of my heroes are people who've written very political, issue-oriented music—Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger and John Lennon and Neil Young and Chuck D. I wish that I could write politically inspired and issue-inspired music as well as Neil Young, but honestly, I just can't.
MJ: But you're a serious activist offstage. How did that all begin?
Moby: I was raised by very progressive intellectuals. At Thanksgiving and Christmas we'd sit around and talk politics and semiotics and art theory. It was instilled in me that every individual should do what they can to try and make things better. I have such a disparate list of causes, but the guiding principle is simply—and maybe this sounds obnoxious—that I'm offended by two things. One, when the actions of institutions or individuals involve the imposition of will upon people or animals. That violates my basic ethical understanding of the world. You can do basically whatever you want to, but the moment that you impose your will on another person or animal, that's when we are allowed to say you have committed an ethical breach.
"I'm offended by the is-ought fallacy, which has been used to justify slavery, women not being allowed to vote, children working in factories."
The other is: As a philosophy major, there's one logical fallacy that really stuck with me. It's called the is–ought fallacy. It states that because something is, it ought to be. That's been used to justify slavery, women not being allowed to vote, children working in factories, cigarette smoking, the use of DDT. It's so pernicious and asinine, but people still keep going along with it. When we look at factory farming, for example, the justification that most people have is, "Oh, well, we've always had factory farming, therefore we should continue to have factory farming." It's so illogical. The only people who benefit from it are the people who own the factory farms—everyone else is just lazy or complicit.
MJ: What other experiences or people have shaped your outlook?
Moby: Everyone from Jane Goodall to John Robbins, Peter Singer: I can't even count the activist heroes I've had. Two of the things that I've learned over the years is how can you be an effective and sustainable activist? And I don't mean driving a Prius. How can you apply yourself in a way that can be sustained over decades? Because I've seen a lot of my activist friends get burned out. And I see a lot of activists wasting time on actions that might not necessarily achieve their goals.
Moby: I've seen friends who are so well intentioned, and they have these great NGOs or charities, and at some point they decide to have a benefit concert. So they spend a year organizing a concert when they know nothing about organizing concerts, and at the end of the day either the concert doesn't happen or it does, and they end up losing money and not drawing awareness to what they're doing.
MJ: What would you consider a successful model of activism?
"For me to go up against Monsanto in a financial realm is absurd. But on a media level, a grassroots level, that's where we win."
Moby: I think it's really being clear-eyed and having goals that are in line with a rational understanding of your resources. If I'm fighting factory farming, I don't have their financial resources, but I have media resources they don't have. So for me to go up against Monsanto in a financial realm is absurd. But on a media level, a grassroots level, that's where we win. Luckily, in the online platform insincerity becomes pretty apparent pretty quickly.
MJ: Which brings me to Gristle, your 2010 book of essays about factory farming and meat consumption.
Moby: I've been an animal rights activist and a vegan for 28 years. The entire time, I've asked myself: How do I best advance an animal rights agenda? At the time my friend Miyun Park at the Humane Society and I put out Gristle, there was this new wave of animal media from Food Inc. to Jonathan Safran [Foer]'s book EatingAnimals to Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. We wanted to put out a very factual resource that would be a companion to all of this other media. It's not a fun book, and it's not really a pop-culture book. It's more academic, in a way.
MJ: Can we expect more books from you in the future?
Moby: I hope so. I'm not quite sure what. I'm writing a memoir right now about my life in New York from 1989 to 1999.
MJ: You've identified as a Christian. How do you square your religious views with your 2002 song "We Are All Made of Stars," which seems to espouse evolution over creationism?
"If I had to label myself now, I'd call myself a Taoist-Christian-agnostic quantum mechanic."
Moby: It's a great question. In high school I was a punk-rock atheist. Then I became what I'll call a sort of Kierkegaardian Christian. There was a time when I was a very serious Christian. Over time, I started becoming more and more aware of the vastness and complexity of the universe, which led me away from any sort of conventional Christianity. I realized the universe is 15 billion years old and unspeakably complicated. I still love the teachings of Christ, but I also believe that the human condition prevents us from having any true objective knowledge and understanding of the universe. All human belief systems are inherently flawed. If I had to label myself now, I'd call myself a Taoist-Christian-agnostic quantum mechanic. Also, there's nothing in the actual Bible that limits a Christian in their appreciation of or interest in science. Anti-science is purely a function of ignorant fundamentalism.
MJ: Before I let you go, I've gotta ask: As a vegan who's into sustainability, what's your take on almond milk?
Moby: I make my own every now and then. It takes about 30 seconds and tastes great. But honestly, I'm not too concerned about almond milk.
What we know so far about the Justice Department's probe into Michael Brown's death.
Jaeah LeeAug. 22, 2014 6:00 AM
Attorney General Eric Holder talks with Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson.
Update March 3, 2015:The New York Times and others report that the Justice Department has concluded its civil rights investigation into the Ferguson Police Department. The DOJ accused Ferguson officers of routinely exercising racial bias and excessive force, and making unjustified traffic stops for years. The full report is expected on March 4. A separate DOJ investigation into Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson is expected to clear him of criminal wrongdoing.
On August 11, the Department of Justice announced that FBI agents were working with attorneys from the Civil Rights Division and US Attorney's Office to conduct what Attorney General Eric Holder promised would be a "thorough and complete investigation" into the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Since then, more than 40 FBI agents have arrived in the St. Louis suburb to interview witnesses and canvas the neighborhood where Brown was shot by a police officer on August 9.
The following week, the AG himself arrived in Ferguson for a series of meetings with federal investigators, local authorities, and community members. Writing in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Holder said, "At a time when so much may seem uncertain, the people of Ferguson can have confidence that the Justice Department intends to learn—in a fair and thorough manner—exactly what happened."
What exactly happens when the feds step in to investigate a case like Michael Brown's? A quick explainer:
What is the Justice Department investigating? Holder initially announced that the DOJ is specifically investigating "the shooting death of Michael Brown," and "looking for violations of federal, criminal civil rights statutes." The investigation is separate from local authorities' investigation. Some have asked the DOJ to take a broader view: In a letter to Holder on August 11, Reps. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), Marcia L. Fudge (D-Ohio), and William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) asked the DOJ to consider expanding the scope of its investigation to include "the potential for any pattern or practice of police misconduct by the Ferguson Police Department." Meanwhile, the US Commission on Civil Rights, a panel appointed by the president and members of Congress, has asked the DOJ to look into the disproportionately low representation of African Americans on Ferguson's police force and city council. On September 3, a federal and Missouri official told CNN that the DOJ will also investigate complaints involving Ferguson police and how the department operates, to determine whether it is compliant with federal standards.
What could happen as a result of the DOJ investigation? The findings of the investigations could lead to a federal prosecution against Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Brown.
Who is conducting the investigation? So far, three branches of the DOJ are working together on the federal investigation. More than 40 FBI agents from the St. Louis field office are canvassing the area and interviewing witnesses. They're working with the Civil Rights Division and the US Attorney's Office, which would handle a potential prosecution. Within the Civil Rights Division, two sections appear to be involved: There's the Criminal Section, which "prosecutes cases involving the violent interference with liberties and rights defined in the Constitution or federal law," including excessive use of force by police officers; also, the Special Litigation Section conducts investigations into systematic violations of civil rights by state and local institutions, including police departments. The Criminal Section launched the initial investigation into the death of Michael Brown.
What triggered the investigation? Generally, DOJ investigations into civil rights violations can begin in response to an official complaint filed with the Civil Rights Division, or in response to major events like those in Ferguson. The CRD has not said if there was an official complaint filed by citizens, or if the department decided to initiate the investigation on its own. "There's no rule book" that the department follows to determine if a case warrants an investigation, explains Samuel Walker, a criminal-justice scholar at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. The Civil Rights Division doesn't announce all of its investigative activities. The agency has not responded to a request for comment on what percentage of incoming complaints it decides to investigate, and why. But back in 2012, then-DOJ spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa told my colleague AJ Vicens that "the department investigates each jurisdiction based on the allegations received. There is no one-size-fits all approach to our investigations or our settlements."
Where else besides Ferguson is the DOJ investigating civil rights violations? The Civil Rights Division's Special Litigation Section is currently investigating systematic violations of civil rights by law enforcement in at least 34 other jurisdictions across 17 states plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, according to a list on the DOJ website. But these cases are different from the investigation in Ferguson, which so has been focused on Wilson's shooting of Brown, which falls under the purview of CRD's Criminal Section. A new investigation into department-wide practices would fall under Special Litigation. According to its website, the Special Litigation Section can step in "if we find a pattern or practice by the law enforcement agency that systemically violates people's rights.Harm to a single person, or isolated action, is usually not enough to show a pattern or practice that violates these laws." The Criminal Section, meanwhile, lists 17 past investigations into criminal misconduct by law enforcement officials in 11 states.
The Justice Department's Office for Civil Rights, which is separate from the Civil Rights Division, monitors discrimination in DOJ-funded state and local law enforcement institutions. In a May 2013 memo, OCR reported that over the previous four years, it handled 346 discrimination complaints, many of them alleging that federally funded law enforcement agencies "engaged in unlawful racial profiling in conducting traffic stops."
Since when does the DOJ investigate civil rights violations? The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 authorizes the Civil Rights Division's Special Litigation Section "to review the practices of law enforcement agencies that may be violating people's federal rights," and oversees cases involving discrimination—prohibited under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964—in state or local agencies receiving federal funds. As a result of these special litigation cases dating back to 1997, the St. Louis Post-Dispatchreports that 21 police departments across the country have signed consent agreements with the DOJ to improve their procedures and policies, often the use of force and relationships with minority communities. Samuel Walker says that the number of these cases fell dramatically during the Bush administration, but picked back up under the Obama administration, which has doubled the size of the special litigations unit. While criminal civil rights prosecutions under the DOJ date back to 1939, the Criminal Section's powers were limited until the Civil Rights Division was created in 1957 as part of the Civil Rights Act.
How else is the DOJ involved in Ferguson? Holder has announced that the DOJ's COPS (Community-Oriented Policing Services) office and Office of Justice Programs are also assisting local authorities "in order to help conduct crowd control and maintain public safety without relying on unnecessarily extreme displays of force." It's unclear how this assistance has played out on the streets of Ferguson.Holder added that Justice Department officials from the Community Relations Service are also helping "convene law enforcement officials and civic and faith leaders to plot out steps to reduce tensions in the community."
When will we see some results from the investigation? It may be a while. As Holder wrote in Wednesday's St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "Long after the events of Aug. 9 have receded from the headlines, the Justice Department will continue to stand with this community." For now, there are many more questions than answers.
Jaeah Lee and Katie Rose QuandtAug. 20, 2014 6:00 AM
In the week since 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, initial autopsy findings, police reports, and eyewitness accounts have begun to provide some insights into the circumstances of his death. But plenty of questions remain unanswered, not the least of them: Where is Officer Darren Wilson, and what's likely to happen to him?
Wilson, who was put on administrative leave after killing Brown, reportedly left home with his family a few days before his name was made public. A fundraising campaign launched on August 17 has already raised more than $10,000 to cover the financial needs of Wilson's family, "including legal fees." (The campaign has since increased its goal to $100,000.)
It remains to be seen whether Wilson will face criminal charges, but a limited review of similar killings by police suggests that the officers more often than not walk away without an indictment, and are very rarely convicted. Delores Jones-Brown, a law professor and director of the Center on Race, Crime, and Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, looked at 21 publicized cases from 1994 through 2009 in which a police officer killed an unarmed black person. Of those, only seven cases resulted in an indictment—for criminally negligent homicide, obstruction of justice, conspiracy, or violation of civil rights—and only three officers were found guilty.
Let's take a closer look at five specific cases in which an unarmed black man was killed by officers while allegedly fleeing or resisting in some fashion.
City: Memphis, Tennessee Date: October 1974 Officers: Elton Hymon and Leslie Wright Victim: Edward Garner What happened: Officers Hymon and Wright were responding to a burglary call when Hymon spotted Garner, an unarmed 15-year-old, by a fence in the backyard of the home in question. After Hymon ordered Garner to halt, the teenager tried to climb the fence. In response, the officer shot him fatally in the head. A federal district court ruled that the shooting was justified under a Tennessee statute—the law said that once a police officer voices intent to arrest a suspect, "the officer may use all the necessary means to effect the arrest." Garner's father appealed, and the case ended up in the Supreme Court, which ruled the Tennessee statute unconstitutional and the killing unjustified. Justice Byron White wrote for the majority: "It is not better that all felony suspects die than that they escape. Where the suspect poses no immediate threat to the officer and no threat to others, the harm resulting from failing to apprehend him does not justify the use of deadly force to do so. It is no doubt unfortunate when a suspect who is in sight escapes, but the fact that the police arrive a little late or are a little slower afoot does not always justify killing the suspect. A police officer may not seize an unarmed, non-dangerous suspect by shooting him dead." Despite the reversal, the officer who shot Hymon was never charged.
Iris and Ramon Baez, parents of Anthony Baez, address the media after the sentencing of former police officer Frank Livoti Lynsey Addario/AP
City: Bronx, New York Date: December 1994 Officer: Francis X. Livoti Victim: Anthony Baez What happened: Officer Livoti choked to death 29-year-old Anthony Baez in a case that would later be featured in a PBS documentary titled Every Mother's Son. After their football struck his patrol car, Livoti had ordered Baez and his brother to leave the area. When the brothers refused, Livoti attempted an arrest. After Baez allegedly resisted, the officer administered the choke hold that ended his life. Livoti, who had been accused of brutality 11 times over 11 years, was charged with criminally negligent homicide, but found not guilty during a state trial in October 1996. He was fired the following year, however, after a judge ruled his choke hold illegal. In June 1998, a federal jury sentenced him to 7.5 years in prison for violating Baez's civil rights, and the Baez family received a $3 million settlement from the city later that year. In 2003, two more cops were fired for giving false testimony in Livoti's defense.
Officers Richard Murphy, left, Kenneth Boss, center, and Edward McMellon listen to their attorneys speak to the media, Mar. 31, 1999. David Karp/AP
City: Bronx, New York Date: February 1999 Officers: Sean Carroll, Edward McMellon, Kenneth Boss, Richard Murphy Victim: Amadou Diallo What happened: Amadou Diallo, an unarmed, 23-year-old immigrant from Guinea, was killed in the vestibule of his own building when four white police officers fired 41 shots, striking him 19 times. Diallo had just returned home from his job as a street vendor at 12:44 a.m. when he was confronted by the plainclothes officers. The officers later said he matched the description of a rape suspect, and that they mistakenly believed he was reaching for a gun. (He was pulling out his wallet.) Three of the officers had been involved in previous shootings, including one that led to the death of another black civilian in 1997. The four cops were acquitted of all charges, prompting citywide protests. They were not fired, either, but lost permission to carry a weapon—although one of the officers eventually had his carrying privilege restored. In 2004, Diallo's family received a $3 million settlement from the city. His mother said her son had been saving to attend college and become a computer programmer. A foundation in Diallo's name seeks to promote racial healing.
A candlelit vigil for Anthony Dwain Lee in front of the West Los Angeles police station, Oct 30, 2000 Kim D. Johnson/AP
City: Los Angeles, California Date: October 2000 Officer: Tarriel Hopper Victim: Anthony Dwain Lee What happened: Lee, a 39-year-old black actor who had roles in the 1997 movie Liar Liar and the TV series ER, was attending a Halloween party when the LAPD showed up, responding to a noise complaint. According to police accounts, a group of officers were searching for the party's host when they found Lee and two other men in a small room, engaged in what the police claimed looked like a drug deal. Lee, who was dressed as a devil, allegedly held up a toy pistol, whereupon Officer Hopper fired several times, wounding him fatally. The LAPD's internal review board determined that the shooting was justified because Hopper had believed Lee's pistol was real and feared for his life.
Johannes Mehserle, left, talks with his attorney Christopher Miller, Jan. 14, 2009. Cathleen Allison/AP
City: Oakland, California Date: January 2009 Officer: Johannes Mehserle Victim: Oscar Grant What happened: Early on New Year's Day, BART transit officers responding to reports of fighting on a train detained Oscar Grant, 22, and several other men on the platform at Fruitvale Station. In an incident captured on cell phone cameras, Officer Mehserle pulled out his gun and fatally shot Grant, who was face down on the platform at the time. Mehserle later testified that he thought he was reaching for his Taser while trying to put handcuffs on Grant, who resisted. A jury found Mehserle guilty of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced him to two years in jail. He was released after serving 11 months at the Los Angeles County Jail. The episode was turned into the acclaimed 2013 feature film, Fruitvale Station.
AJ Vicens, Tasneem Raja, and Jaeah LeeAug. 18, 2014 11:12 PM
The situation in Ferguson continued to deteriorate Monday night. The curfew imposed by Gov. Jay Nixon was lifted Monday as he called in the National Guard to help police the area. We kept tabs on the livestreams coming from Moustafa Hussein at Argus Radio and Tim Pool at Vice News (embedded below). See below for more updates as events unfolded.
1:06 a.m. CDT, Argus: Hussein and other media are gathered in the designated press area outside the protest area, waiting for updates. We're signing off for the night, but check back in the morning for more updates.
12:45 a.m. CDT, Argus: Hussein and his colleague are turned away at another entry point to the protest area. There appears to be a lot of confusion over where journalists and protestors can and can't go. As the Washington Post's Wesley Lowery tweeted earlier:
12:15 a.m. CDT, Argus: "Something is happening in the neighborhood and they're keeping media completely away from it," Hussein says. "Every time we get to the street that officers told us to go to, we're being told to go to another area."
11:53 p.m. CDT, Vice: Vice's Tim Pool trying to get into press area but can't find his credential. Officer: "Credentials." Pool: "I lost it when I was getting shot at." Officer: "Well you're not getting through." (Officer rips off "PRESS" decal on Pool's vest) "This doesn't mean shit."
11:52 p.m. CDT, Argus: Police officers appear to arrest several protesters. One officer tells the Argus reporter that all media needs to go up 2.5 miles back to the press area near the Target store, apologizing for the inconvenience. "We don't get told much," the officer says. Meanwhile:
FOX 2 News: One person shot in the hand in #Ferguson, and taken to St. Louis hospital
11:45 p.m. CDT, Argus: Police repeatedly tell protesters: "Everyone on the Ferguson-Market parking lot needs to leave immediately or you will be subject to arrest, with the exception of credentialed media. Do it now. Or you will be subject to arrest." Moments later, a line of police officers proceeds down the street, holding up their weapons:
11:41 p.m. CDT, Vice: Tim Pool, Vice News reporter, to officer: "Are there live shots?" Officer: "Yes. Bad guys shot. We didn't shoot."
11:30 p.m. CDT, Argus: Police ask media to shut off the lights on their cameras.
11 p.m. CDT, Vice: Police begin deploying smoke, tear gas, and flash bang grenades. Vice reporter Tim Pool, who is filming the feed, says he was hit in the leg by a rubber bullet.
10:40 CDT, Argus: Police rush in and grab two protesters, one a woman who can be heard saying she is trying to get home.
10:20 CDT, Argus: Protest leaders are able to calm an increasingly tense situation by moving media and protesters out of the street and onto the sidewalk after police give indications they might move on the crowd.
10pm CDT, Argus: Antonio French, a local alderman, can be seen trying to calm down several aggressive protesters, and keeping media from getting too close to police. The police have also deployed, on and off, a noise device to try and disperse the crowd. Read our interview with French here.