This weekend, many cities in the U.S. saw their streets blocked due to protests sparked by the shooting of two African American men by police. The latest victims were Alton Sterling, from Baton Rouge, and Philando Castile, from Minnesota.
Police are on high alert, as a lone shooter attacked the Dallas Police Department, killing five officers on Thursday night.
These, along with the three-day protests that seemed to stop on Saturday, are only the most recent episodes in the crisis of contentious killings performed by police officials. In 2014, a related event occurred where teenager Michael Brown was shot to death in Ferguson, sparking nationwide riots and protests.
Even if police argues that the shootings were “justified,” the fact that similar events keep occurring displays a tangible flaw in the American system of justice. Most of the shootings have taken place in circumstances where the officer is in apparent threat, which by law, allows him or her to use force and point a gun at the suspect.
DeRay McKesson, a voice for the Black Lives Matter movement, was one of over 200 arrested last night across the U.S. https://t.co/qVttNb3blx
— The New York Times (@nytimes) July 10, 2016
The facts behind the latest shootings
18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed on August 9, 2014. A court ruled that the gunman would not be indicted. Brown, who stole some cigarettes, was leaving the convenience store along with a friend. Officer Darren Wilson spotted him and arrested both suspects. Brown tried to take Wilson’s gun, but amid the struggle, two shots were fired, and Brown’s hand was injured. Brown fled, and Wilson chased him.
According to Officer Wilson, Brown charged toward him like if he “wasn’t even there.” Witnesses claim that Brown at some point put up his hands to signal surrender and not get shot. In the end, the police report registered that actually, Brown did raise his hands before he charged toward Wilson. Over 200 people were surveyed to get an accurate depiction of the facts, but still, what America saw was a young black man shot and killed by police.
Even if the conditions deem the shooting as legal and justifiable, perhaps other methods could have been used to pacify young Michael Brown. But the fact that Brown did try to take Wilson’s gun shows that a different, but perhaps not as controversial scenario could have occurred, where a young black man would have shot and killed an officer of the law.
37-year-old Alton Sterling was killed by police on July 5. Sterling was selling CDs outside a convenience store. The store clerk reported to police that Sterling had pulled out a gun on somebody. Due to the existence of a gun, police officers confronted Sterling aggressively. The officers tasered the black man and pinned him to the ground. Officials were pointing at Sterling in the chest at point-blank range when he allegedly pulled out a gun from his backside. Again, the suspect had tried to use a weapon against police officers, which lawfully abides police to use lethal force. Sterling had a criminal record including violent offenses and a conviction for carrying a firearm while in possession of a controlled substance.
32-year-old Philando Castile was shot to death after officer Jeronimo Yanez pulled him over at a traffic stop on July 6. According to his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, a police officer stopped them due to a broken tail light. The police officer asked for Castile’s papers, and Castile stated that he had a license to carry a concealed weapon.
Reynolds said that the officer said “don’t move,” but Castile reached for his back pocket, to which Yanez reacted and shot him in the arm “four to five times.” She claims that Castile, barely alive, did not receive first aid until paramedics arrived at the scene, but an unidentified officer did come to Castile’s help before the arrival of paramedics. 20 minutes later, Castile was pronounced dead in the emergency room of Hennepin County Medical Center. His 4-year-old daughter was present at the time of the killing.
Reynolds recorded the aftermath of the shooting. She was handcuffed, but her phone kept on recording the moments after Yanez shot Castile. You can watch the age-restricted video here. Other sources have now revealed that Castile matched the profile of an armed robbery suspect four blocks away from the scene where Castile was shot. An alert was issued the day before Castile’s shooting and Officer Yanez reported through police radio that he had reasons to pull over Castile’s vehicle.
Black Lives Matter protest in New York attracts new people https://t.co/GuHjrA6380
— TIME.com (@TIME) July 10, 2016
A week’s worth of pressure explodes
On July 7, Reserve Army veteran Micah Johnson killed five police officers from Dallas. He had no criminal record in Texas and no apparent links to the Black Lives Matter movement despite the fact that he was black. Johnson said he planted bombs in the nearby area, but this was proven to be false. He claimed that he was upset about the shootings that occurred the previous days. Reportedly, Johnson wanted to “kill white people.” He was killed by using a remote controlled bomb robot, to avoid risking officer’s lives. Although the police report that Johnson acted alone, many witnesses claim that other suspects were seen with camouflage bags in the vicinity.
Black Lives Matter silently protest in Indianapolis. pic.twitter.com/7r4y8jFcoU
— Breaking911 (@Breaking911) July 10, 2016
Protesters blocked roads in Nashville, shut down I-94. Louisiana saw an armed standoff between riot police and Black Panther activists, where almost 30 people were arrested. Dozens were arrested in New York City for shutting down Fifth Avenue.
The protests are not just a call for racial tolerance in the eyes of the law but are a display of many factors that are not working in congruence within the U.S.’s social and legislative system, in favor of the American people. The general idea is that police have inadvertently killed black men. But in reality, based on police reports and witness accounts, the implicated officers have been under an apparent threat, which allows them to use force against the suspect. That is the law, and until there are clear directions regarding reforms, the Black Lives Movement may witness more “justifiable” shootings in the future.