A tragic death at police hands, fed-up African American residents, and a militarized police force converged to draw national outrage fixed on Ferguson, Missouri. Coming weeks after New York Police Department officers killed Eric Garner using an illegal chokehold, national attention turned to the cases involving these two men. But as protests roar over the grand jury’s decision not to press any charges, the community isn’t just angered about Brown and Garner, or even all those who came before them.
In just in the few months since Brown’s death, police in other jurisdictions took the lives of countless others, many with allegations just as outrageous as those in Brown’s case, and with no greater police accountability thus far. In the movement fighting police brutality, each of their names has become hashtags. But much of the public hasn’t heard nearly as much about them:
Darrien Hunt; Saratoga Springs, Utah
22-year-old Darrien Hunt was carrying a sword his mother said was a toy when he was shot dead by officers in the small town of Saratoga Springs, Utah. Hunt was wearing an outfit that bore a striking resemblance to the Japanese anime character Mugen prompting suspicion that his sword was part of a costume. In the weeks after his death, his family found drawings of a number of Japanese anime characters, including several carrying swords.
A county autopsy revealed that Hunt was shot six times toward the back of his body, corroborating other evidence that Hunt was shot while running away. But In a quiet announcement, the local prosecutor said earlier this month he would not file charges against the cops who shot Hunt. In fact, the cops were slated to have their jobs back within days of the announcement. After the prosecutor’s announcement, Hunt’s lawyer released police documents showing that one of the officers involved in Hunt’s death was wearing a body camera — but he didn’t turn it on.
Ezell Ford and Omar Abrego, Los Angeles
Outrage fomented in Ferguson as residents demanded the release of the officer who shot Brown — now known to be Darren Wilson. But it’s taken even longer for police to share information on the fatal police shootings of two victims in South Los Angeles that occurred a week apart.
One victim was Ezell Ford, who exhibited signs of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Friends said he was a quiet guy whose mental illness was known by community members and police. There is no indication that he was armed during the fatal incident. Instead, police say he was trying to take their gun. Police also issued a press release after the incident stating “It is unknown if the suspect had any gang affiliations,” implicitly raising the possibility of gang activity. There is no known evidence of gang activity.
Three months later, police haven’t even released Ford’s autopsy, although Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti reportedly ordered the autopsies to be released soon. Among the reasons provided for a “security hold” on the autopsy were a rap video by a South LA rapper who referred to Ford as “cousin.” The Los Angeles Police Protective League sent an email to its members warning that the video — which it alleged was created by “a Los Angeles street gang” — raises “safety concerns for all officers” because they simulate a pistol with their hands and say “Fuck tha Police.”
Less is known about the other victim, 37-year-old Omar Abrego. What we do know is that his autopsy had also not yet been released as of earlier this month, and that he died several hours after a brutal police altercation that left him with a severe concussion and “multiple facial and body contusions.” Abrego was pulled over for allegedly driving erratically in the same South Los Angeles neighborhood, and was pursued by police on foot after he started to run away, according to police.
Tamir E. Rice And Tanesha Anderson; Cleveland, Ohio
Cleveland also saw two fatal shootings over a period of weeks. One involved 12-year-old Tamir E. Rice, who was gunned down by police while carrying a toy gun at a playground. A worried 911 caller told a dispatcher there was a “guy pointing a gun at people” although he said twice it was “probably fake” and that the person was “probably a juvenile.” None of this information was reportedly communicated to police, and they said when they asked Rice to put his hands up and he seemed to reach for the toy gun, they fired two shots. It is far too early to know what the outcome will be. But in another mistaken shooting last year of a 13-year-old carrying a toy gun, a Santa Rosa, California, police officer never faced any charges.
Tanesha Anderson’s death did not involve a gun. But it did also involve a call to police for help. Anderson suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Police reported to her family’s home after a caller reported she was “disturbing the peace.” Police said they were planning to take her for a psychiatric evaluation, but a struggle ensued that family members said involved a “take-down” move in which Anderson was thrown to the pavement. Police counter that witness report, saying Anderson went limp in officers’ arms. Police officials have thus far deflected questions about officers’ training on mental illness.
John Crawford; Beavercreek, Ohio
22-year-old John Crawford III had just picked up a BB gun stocked on the shelf of the WalMart where he was shopping that he seemingly intended to buy when he was shot dead by officers. Surveillance video reveals Crawford never even pointed the sporting gun. But in September, a grand jury decided not to file any charges against the officers, as one of the cops was already back on the job. Announcing the decision, special prosecutor Mark Piepmeier conceded that “Mr Crawford did not commit a crime that day … He didn’t do anything wrong.” He added, “They took the lives of someone that didn’t need to die.” Piepmeier nonetheless defended the officers’ conduct that day, citing their training on “active shooters” and several other factors that culminated to lead to Crawford’s death.
In the days leading up to Wednesday’s grand jury decision, hundreds of community members and activists marched 11 miles from the WalMart to the courthouse where the jury deliberated, demanding an indictment as well as the release of the tape. They’re still fighting for some justice.
Akai Gurley, New York City
Akai Gurley was walking down a darkened stairwell last Thursday after he and his girlfriend got tired of waiting for the elevator, when he was shot by two rookie cops who had been patrolling the stairwell at the apartment complex in East New York, Brooklyn. Within hours, police said the shooting was an accident and Police Chief Bill Bratton has said Gurley was a “total innocent.” He said officer Peter Liang had his gun in his left hand and his flashlight in his right, and when he heard a noise he fired accidentally. But as the New York Times reported, “The shooting focused scrutiny on everyday tactics used by officers in housing projects, where rooting out entrenched violence has been a departmental priority, even as basic questions about the death remained unanswered: Had Officer Liang, surprised by a figure in the shadows below, reflexively squeezed the trigger, or had he merely lost his grip as he opened the door to the stairs?”
The cops had been engaged in what is known as “vertical patrol,” a long-controversial NYPD practice in which officers police buildings thought to be dangerous by patrolling the stairwells, frequently with their guns out. The medical examiner has already ruled the incident a homicide.