As the number of unarmed African American shooting and murder victims continues to climb, at the hands of law enforcement officials, without any accountability, there is tremendous reason for concern; and to have those officers fail to be indicted, there is room for even more concern.
I need you to follow a disturbing pattern for me please.
- Jan. 16, 2014 – Jordan Baker – Mistaken Suspect with Hoodie – Officer Juventino Castro – Houston, Texas – “I Was in Fear of My Life”
- Jul. 17, 2014 – Eric Garner – Allegedly Selling Loose Cigarettes – Officer Daniel Pantaleo – “It is Never My Intention to Harm Anyone and I Feel Very Bad for Mr. Garner’s Death”
- Aug. 5, 2014 – John Crawford III – Taking Air Rifle off Shelf in Store – Officer Sean Williams – “He Wouldn’t Obey Commands”
- Aug. 9, 2014 – Michael Brown – Allegedly Stole Cigars – Officer Darren Wilson – “I Was in Fear of My Life”
- Nov. 22, 2014 – Tamir Rice – Officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback – Cleveland, Ohio – “I Was in Fear of My Life”
All of these police incidents took place in 2014, and all of them involved law enforcement officials who ended up killing a Black person, without any accountability or consequences, thanks to a grand jury that was convened to hear the evidence that was presented to them.
On Sep. 24, 2014, an Ohio grand jury found Officer Sean Williams’ actions were justified in the fatal shooting death of John Crawford III at a Wal-Mart store, after a 9-1-1 caller reported that Crawford was waving what appeared to be a rifle in the store. Police said he was killed after failing to obey commands to put down what turned out to be an air rifle taken from a shelf.
On Nov. 24, 2014, a Missouri grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson in the August 2014 shooting death of unarmed Black teen Michael Brown, who countless witnesses say had both his hands up in surrender in the street.
On Dec. 3, 2014, a grand jury in Staten Island decided not indict New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo in relation to the death of Eric Garner, a man that Pantaleo was seen on video putting in an apparent choke hold in July 2014.
On Dec. 23, 2014, a Harris County grand jury decided not to indict Houston Police Department (HPD) officer Juvenito Castro for his role in the January 2014 shooting death of unarmed 26-year-old Jordan Baker.
And now, on Dec. 28, 2015, an Ohio grand jury decided not to return an indictment on Officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback, the two officers involved in the November 2014 police shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was killed within seconds of police jumping out of their vehicles to confront the young teen who was playing with a toy gun.
These police killings have opened up the floodgates of discussion about race, grand juries and the negative perception problem that society has about African Americans in this country.
The overarching perception that many officers and grand juries seem to have is that Black people are traditionally overly aggressive and are inherently up to no good.
Sadly, most police shootings of unarmed Black men tend to turn out the same way – police officers are put on administrative leave; a grand jury is convened and fails to indict a police officer; and the police officer returns to his or her job and seemingly gets away with a slap on the wrist or no punishment at all.
After seeing many of the instances, especially those with quality and accessible video footage, it is clear that body cameras are not the only solution to this epidemic. We can look at instances caught on camera such as Eric Garner, Oscar Grant, Jordan Baker, Rodney King and Tamir Rice as prime examples of how acts of police brutality even caught on video camera can lead to a non-indictment by a grand jury.
Because the grand jury proceedings are secretive and not made public, we will never know why the grand jury decided not to indict any of these officers.
What we do know is there are several similarities surrounding the deaths of Black people in this country; one being that officers always typically say they were in “fear of their lives,” and the other being that most officers get away scot-free with no accountability for their actions.
Since the United States adopted its grand jury system from England, this secret gathering of select citizens was supposed to decide whether there was enough evidence to warrant a trial and not decide whether a suspect is guilty or innocent. As we look at the consistent pattern of outcomes from the grand juries across the U.S., I can’t help but wonder whether these grand juries have being doing both – determining if there is enough evidence and making a determination about guilty or innocence, depending on who is looking to be indicted.
The state of Texas just passed a new law to change the way grand juries are convened, so we will see over time how and if that changes things. Until people see this as a major issue and get engaged in seeking to bring forth change, however, we will continue to see the same results.
Black people must no longer be looked at as guilty criminals that are not worthy of having a member of law enforcement, who deserves to be indicted, held accountable for their irresponsible actions.
Honestly, it isn’t the officers that should be in “fear of their lives,” it is the Black man and woman who walk these streets every day who should really be in “fear of their lives.”
Jeffrey L. Boney serves as Associate Editor and is an award-winning journalist for the Houston Forward Times newspaper. Jeffrey is a frequent contributor on the Nancy Grace Show and has a daily radio talk show called Real Talk with Jeffrey L. Boney. He is a Next Generation Project Fellow, dynamic, international speaker, experienced entrepreneur, business development strategist and Founder/CEO of the Texas Business Alliance. If you would like to request Jeffrey as a speaker, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org