Racial bias in police shootings 

Once again, an African-American male has been killed in Ferguson, Mo., by a white police officer. The killing of Michael Brown, who was unarmed, and attempting to get away from a police officer, is just another casualty in a long line of such tragedies. Brown's killing has raised many questions. But the real question, which everyone seems to avoid, is why do white police officers shoot and/or kill so many unarmed African-American males? When is the last time that a white police officer killed an unarmed white male in the United States?

Unfortunately, there will be other police killings of unarmed African-American males. Race is the primary reason why so many white officers kill unarmed African-American males. To a white officer, and so many white Americans, the African-American male is the enemy who must be eliminated. White officers who shoot and kill African-American males get tremendous support. When George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., the white community contributed over $100,000 toward his defense. In the few days after the killing of Michael Brown, the white community had already contributed nearly $177,000 toward the defense of Darren Wilson (as of Aug. 21). In essence, those who have contributed financially to the defense of Wilson, despite the overwhelming evidence that the shooting was not justified, are giving their seal of approval to the killing of yet another unarmed African-American male.

The following represents just a few examples of unarmed African-American males who have been killed by white officers and/or citizens:

Kimani Gray, 16: Shot seven times and killed by New York police. Police say he was armed; his family says he was not.

Kendrec McDade, 19: Killed in Pasadena, Calif., while holding a cell phone. Police said that an officer thought McDade had a gun. One was never found. Pasadena paid his parents $1 million.

Timothy Russell and Melissa Williams: Killed by white Cleveland police officers, who fired 137 rounds fired into Russell's car. No guns or bullet casings were found in their car; the chase began because a police officer thought he heard a gunshot.

Amadou Diallo, 22: Killed by New York police officers, who fired 41 rounds, with 19 hitting Diallo, after Diallo pulled his wallet from his pocket to show police.

Patrick Dorismond, 26: Killed by an undercover officer. The officer claimed Dorismond grabbed his gun and shot himself.

Ousmane Zongo, 43: Killed by New York police in 2003. The police officer was convicted of negligent homicide, but served no time. Family settled for $3 million.

Timothy Stansbury Jr., 19: Killed by a Brooklyn officer who claimed that Stansbury startled him. A grand jury ruled that the shooting was an accident.

Sean Bell, 23: Killed in Queens on his wedding day. Officers shot 50 rounds into a car with four occupants, including Bell, who was shot at least 19 times. Family settled wrongful death suit for $7 million.

Orlando Barlow, 28: Was on his knees at the time he was shot and killed by Las Vegas Police Officer Brian Hartman. The officer was 50 feet away. After the shooting, the white officers, including Hartman, purchased T-shirts with "BDRT" that some said stood for "Baby Daddy Removal Team."

Aaron Campbell, 25. Shot to death in Portland, Ore.; witnesses say that at the time Campbell was shot, he was backing up to the officers, with his hands locked behind his head. A grand jury cleared the officer. The family settled for $1.2 million.

Victor Steen, 17: Was riding his bicycle in Pensacola, Fla., when an officer tried to stop him. The officer tased Victor, then ran him over. A Florida judge ruled that no crime had been committed.

Steven Eugene Washington, 27: Killed by a Los Angeles police officer, who contended that Washington, who was autistic, was acting suspiciously.

Alonzo Ashley, 29: Died from being tased after he'd thrown a trash can at a police officer at the Denver Zoo.

Wendell Allen, 20: Killed in New Orleans by a police officer. The officer was sentenced to four years for manslaughter.

Ronald Madison, 40, and James Brissette, 17: Killed on the Danziger Bridge in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina by members of the New Orleans Police Department, one of whom was black. Madison, mentally disabled, was shot in the back.

Travares McGill, 16: Killed in Sanford, Fla. (where Trayvon Martin was killed), by two white security officers. Shot in the back.

Remarley Graham, 18: Killed by Officer Richard Haste in the Bronx, New York. Graham was killed in his grandmother's house as he was trying to flush some marijuana down the toilet.

Oscar Grant, 22: Shot and killed by transit police in Oakland, Calif. Grant was lying face down, with several police officers on his back, when Officer Johannes Mehserle pulled out his weapon and killed Grant; the officer claimed he thought Grant was reaching for his taser.

Eric Gardner, 43: The father of five was killed by Staten Island police officers who put him in a chokehold and suffocated him.

Jonathan Ferrell, 24: Former Florida A&M football player shot 10 times by a Mecklenburg, N.C., officer who suspected he'd attempted a break-in called in to 911.

DeAunta Terrell Farrow, 12: Killed by West Memphis Police Officer Erik Sammis. DeAunta had a toy gun.

Eugene Ellison, 67: Killed by off-duty Little Rock Police Officers Donna Lesher and Tabitha McGrillis at his home. Ellison was armed with a walking cane.

Henry Lee Jones Jr., 20: Shot in the back by a North Little Rock police officer who claimed that Jones had a weapon. Jones had only a cell phone. Jones was paralyzed and later died from his injuries.

Again, why do mostly unarmed African-American males get killed by the police? If race is not the predominant factor, then what is? When it comes to African-American males, the practice seems to be: Shoot first, and ask questions later. An investigation in 2007 by ColorLines and the Chicago Reporter of shootings in 10 major American cities found that shootings of African Americans were disproportionally high. In essence, it appears that whites are given the benefit of the doubt before a shot is fired. Had the above named individuals been white, most if not all would be alive today.

Austin Porter is a lawyer in private practice.

A previous version of this column mistakenly included Donald Rickard and Kelly Allen among the names of unarmed African Americans killed by police. They were white.


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