CHICAGO – In the wake of the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black teen in suburban St. Louis, civil-rights groups and a lawyer for the teen’s family have compared Michael Brown’s death to other racially charged killings of black men. Here’s a look at some prominent examples:
On a rainy February night in 2012, George Zimmerman was patrolling his gated community in Sanford, Florida, as a neighbourhood watch volunteer when he came across an unarmed 17-year-old named Trayvon Martin. The two fought, and Zimmerman pulled out a gun he was legally allowed to carry and shot Martin, killing him.
Zimmerman, who claimed self-defence, was arrested weeks later and charged with second-degree murder. Though he was not a police officer, his actions raised some of the same questions as Brown’s killing about the role of race in the slaying of young black men by people in positions of authority. Among those asking questions was the Martin family’s attorney, Benjamin Crump, who now represents Brown’s relatives.
When Zimmerman was acquitted the next year, authorities braced for rioting. But despite widespread frustration with the verdict, public protests were overwhelmingly peaceful.
The same year that Trayvon Martin was killed, 17-year-old Jordan Davis was sitting in an SUV parked outside a Jacksonville, Florida, convenience store listening to music with friends. A white man named Michael Dunn didn’t like the volume of what he later described as “thug music” coming from the van. He and Davis started to argue.
Davis said he opened fire on the SUV after Davis threatened him and raised an apparent shotgun. No gun was found in the SUV, and Dunn was arrested. During his subsequent trial, Dunn was convicted of three counts of attempted second-degree murder and a count of firing into an occupied car. Jurors deadlocked on the murder charge.
The 47-year-old Dunn is scheduled to return to court next month to stand trial on the murder charge.
Last month, a 43-year-old man named Eric Garner, was arrested on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes on New York’s Staten Island. Like some other racially charged incidents in recent years, this one includes an amateur video, which showed an officer putting Garner, a 350-pound asthmatic, in a choke hold after he refused to be handcuffed. Garner yelled “I can’t breathe” as several officers took him down.
The case has created tension in New York between police officers and Mayor Bill de Blasio, in large part because of an appearance the mayor made with the Rev. Al Sharpton that signalled to many of them that the mayor was taking sides against them in the case.
A medical examiner found that Garner was killed by neck compression from the chokehold and “the compression of his chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police.” The city is waiting to see if the case will be presented to a grand jury to determine whether the officers involved should face criminal charges.
Police did not kill Rodney King, but his case looms over all that have followed. The grainy 1991 video of King curled up on the ground while four white Los Angeles officers clubbed him more than 50 times made him a national symbol of police brutality. It was all the more powerful because of the apparent casualness with which the officers went after a helpless man whose only resistance appeared to be his futile attempts to shield himself from the blows. The beating left him with 11 skull fractures and a broken eye socket.
But that was just a prelude to what happened next, when three of the officers were acquitted by a jury, and the case against the fourth ended with a mistrial. Three days of rioting left 53 people dead, injured more than 2,000 and caused $1 billion in damage.