Justice

An Interactive Guide To Police Killings And The System That Excuses Them

CREDIT: AP Images

Upon hearing the news that NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, caught on film using an illegal chokehold and ignoring Eric Garner’s now-famous cry of “I can’t breathe,” would not be indicted, hundreds of thousands of Americans took to the streets in protest. Major New York thoroughfares were clogged for days with protesters chanting “black lives matter,” “shut it down,” and “the whole damn system is guilty as hell.”

Since then, more people have realized that it’s extremely rare for officers to face any kind of consequences for misconduct, let alone criminal charges. Actual convictions are even harder to come by. Some believe that’s starting to change, now that national attention has elevated certain cases and put pressure on local politicians. But once the protests subside and TV cameras depart, does the commitment to accountability last?

ThinkProgress compiled 22 high-profile police killings of the past year to monitor the fates of the police officers involved. Many cases are still under investigation — some more recent incidents are still fresh in the community’s memory, while others, like the deaths of Tamir Rice and Tanisha Anderson, have hung in limbo for nearly a year. Some cases involve clear aggression from police toward unarmed victims, others are more complicated encounters with mentally ill people acting erratically.

We’ve organized the cases by status below. Learn more by clicking on the faces of the victims:

Shocking video footage was often the reason these deaths were vaulted into the national media’s awareness. When an encounter was caught on video, it sometimes helped result in charges against the officer. For instance, body camera footage of the shooting of Samuel DuBose directly contradicted Officer Ray Tensing’s claim of self-defense, leading the prosecutor to declare the incident “without question, a murder.” A witness’ video also made a difference in the case of Walter Scott, whom police initially claimed tried to grab a Taser even though video showed Officer Michael Slager shoot him from several feet away as he fled.

But video doesn’t always lead to charges. Grand juries declined to indict Pantaleo for Garner’s death, or the officer caught on Walmart surveillance video shooting John Crawford III for holding a packaged toy gun. Sometimes only part of the encounter was filmed, leaving more questions than it answered — as in the case of Tony Robinson of Madison, Wisconsin. Still, without any video evidence, the public has mainly had to piece together what happened from the official police accounts, which almost always claim the officer acted in self-defense, and witness statements, which can be unreliable.

This interactive will be updated periodically.