An unarmed 16-year-old schoolgirl who refuses to put away her cellphone does not deserve being grabbed by the neck and brutally slammed to the ground by a trained police officer. I repeat: an unarmed 16-year-old schoolgirl who refuses to put away her cellphone does not deserve being grabbed by the neck and brutally slammed to the ground by a trained police officer.
Last week, 16-year-old Shakara — a student at Spring Valley High School — was seen on cellphone video being thrown to the floor of her math classroom by South Carolina Sheriff’s Deputy Ben Fields. Cellphone video shows that Shakara was seated at her desk and making no sudden moves immediately prior to the violent assault where Fields grabbed Shakara from behind by her neck, and flipped her over so suddenly that the desk she was seated in overturned with her, and then bodily drags her out of the tangle of plastic and metal to lie prone on the classroom floor (video embedded after the jump). Already, social justice activists have rightfully identified the incident as yet another example of excessive police force targeting a Black body for unnecessary and unprovoked violence.
Already, too, however, a chorus of naysayers have also chimed in. “Hold up,” they say, “we haven’t seen the ‘rest’ of the video.”
“We don’t know,” they say, “what Shakara did to provoke the attack.”
There is nothing a seated, unarmed, and non-violent teenager could do that would justify this kind of brutal assault.
Last year, nineteen month-old Bounkham “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh was sleeping peacefully in his playpen in Habersham County, Georgia. The Phonesavanh family had recently moved to Georgia from Janesville, Wisconsin after their home had been destroyed in a fire, and the family — including the four young Phonesavanh children — were temporarily living in a converted guestroom of the house owned by Bounkham Phonesavanh’s sister.
At 2 am on May 28, 2014, Bou Bou and his three older siblings were asleep when a team of militarized Habersham SWAT officers — conducting a “no-knock” raid of the family home — broke down the door and blindly threw a stun grenade into the room. The grenade landed in Bou Bou’s playpen and exploded just inches from the toddler’s face. Bou Bou immediately started screaming from the injuries of the devastating explosion: the grenade detached Bou Bou’s nose, permanently disfiguring him, and create a gash in his chest that collapsed his left lung and prevented the infant from breathing on his own.
SWAT officers prevented Bou Bou’s mother, Alecia Phonesavanh, from approaching her child. Instead, they downplayed the injuries; in a later interview, Alecia Phonesavanh recollects:
Bou Bou was rushed to a hospital in Atlanta where he was placed in a medically induced coma for months. Although he survived the grenade explosion, Bou Bou underwent multiple surgeries with more scheduled. In total, medical bills have already surpassed $1 million dollars.
This post was published hours before the verdict in the Rekia Boyd manslaughter trial was announced. This post has been updated to reflect the outcome of that trial.
Earlier this month, 50 year old Walter Scott was shot and killed by North Charleston police officer Michael Thomas Slager following a routine traffic stop for a broken tail-light. Slager’s cruiser dash-cam shows that Scott — who was Black and unarmed — fled his car moments after being stopped. Slager gave chase and says he hit Scott with his Taser. Scott again fled, and that’s when Slager pulled out his handgun and fired eight shots from 20 feet away. Five hit Scott from behind, fatally wounding him.
We know these details of Walter Scott’s final moments because of eyewitness video captured by Feidin Santana (embedded after the jump). Understandably, many have focused on the first few minutes of the video: Scott and Slager are seen in the middle of a physical altercation. A black object drops to the ground while Scott turns to flee. He breaks into a determined run. Slager reaches for his gun and pauses, then fires seven times in rapid succession into Scott’s back. A momentary silence, and then Slager fires one final shot. Scott crumples to the ground.
This is easily the most gut-wrenching moment of the Walter Scott shooting video; but, it is not the only remarkable moment. There is a second portion of the video that also demands our attention.
A minute after Scott falls to the ground, Slager radios his dispatcher saying he shot a suspect who went for his Taser. Then, after he handcuffs an unresponsive Scott, Slager jogs back the 20 metres to the site of the initial altercation. He picks up the black object that fell to the ground. As a second officer arrives on the scene, Slager strides back and casually drops the object — his Taser — next to Scott’s prone body.
Later, Slager claimed through his lawyer that Walter Scott was shot after he allegedly overpowered Slager. Slager claimed he “felt threatened” when Scott got control of Slager’s Taser. That narrative, combined with Slager’s moving of his Taser from its original position, might have been accepted as the official account regarding Walter Scott’s death — had it not been for Santana’s surreptitious cellphone footage.
In December of last year, I predicted that Officer Peter Liang — the rookie New York Police Department cop who fatally shot Akai Gurley in a dark stairwell in the Louis H. Pink Houses complex — might be the first (and perhaps only) police officer indicted in the killing of an unarmed Black man when this issue was captivating national headlines.
Earlier that year, the killing of unarmed Black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson failed to result in an indictment for his killer Darren Wilson. Eric Garner’s death following an illegal chokehold administered by Daniel Pantaleo also did not produce an indictment. The shooting of unarmed John Crawford III in an Ohio Walmart by police did not result in an indictment. The shooting of unarmed college student Jordan Baker by police in Houston did not result in an indictment. No charges were even filed against the Utah police who shot and killed Darrien Hunt, cosplaying with a replica sword at the time of his death.
In fact, post-Ferguson analysis suggests that although any district attorney worth their weight can get a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich“, this rule of thumb only seems to apply to civilians; indictment rates for police officers are markedly lower. Josh Voorhees estimates for Slate that most police officers are not indicted for on-the-job shootings: between 2005-2011, only 41 officers were ever indicted, which works out to only a little less than 7 indictments a year. Many sources further report that only 1 in 3 of those police officers who are actually indicted are ever convicted.
I predicted in December that Officer Peter Liang might be one of those police who would face indictment.
There was no indictment in the shooting death of unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. There was no indictment in the choking death of unarmed Black man Eric Garner by NYPD officer Dan Pantaleo.
Now, a Brooklyn Grand Jury is considering an indictment in the shooting death of Akai Gurley, a 28-year-old Black man who died after being shot once in the chest by NYPD rookie officer Peter Liang, who is Asian American.