What do Madison, WI, Aurora, CO, and Chamblee, GA have in common? They are three cities in which three unarmed black men were killed over a period of four days.
Naeschylus Vinzant was shot and killed by an unidentified officer in Aurora last Friday, but the reason for his death is still unknown. The 37-year-old was approached by officers for violating parole by removing an ankle monitor, and was allegedly tied to a kidnapping, robbery, and assault incident that occurred last week. Commander Paul O’Keefe has not provided an explanation about why the officer discharged his weapon, but he has concluded that Vinzant was unarmed. The officer is currently on administrative leave.
Later that night, 19-year-old Tony Robinson died of gunshot wounds after Madison police officer Matt Kenny allegedly fired his gun in self-defense. The local police chief, Mike Koval, said that Kenny was responding to reports of a black man yelling and jumping in front of cars who then broke into a home and tried to strangle someone inside. Koval allegedly shot Robinson after the suspect assaulted him. Before Kenny arrived at the scene, an unidentified officer claimed that shots were fired, but officers later concluded that Robinson was unarmed. Kenny is now on administrative leave with pay.
On Monday, 27-year-old Anthony Hill, who had a history of mental illness, was shot and killed by officer Robert Olsen in his apartment complex outside of Atlanta. A maintenance worker called police after he saw Hill on the ground, naked. Accounts vary, but three separate witnesses saw Hill approach the officer before the gun was fired. One said Hill had his hands raised, a second said Hill’s hands were at his side, and a third claimed that Hill had run at the officer. According to DeKalb County Police Captain Steve Fore, Olsen previously received training in how to approach people with mental illness, but did not specify what the curriculum entailed. Olsen is also on administrative leave.
Though the details surrounding these cases remain murky, research suggests that bias may inform officers’ split-second decisions to use lethal force. Furthermore, officers associate black faces with criminal behavior and are more likely to view African Americans as threatening.