On August 9th 2014, eighteen year old African-American Mike Brown was shot and killed by police officer Dennis Wilson in Ferguson, St. Louis. The police claim to have suspected him of a crime, attempted to stop him and acted on his refusal to cooperate accordingly. However, there have been numerous inconsistencies in police reports, and eyewitness reports suggest that not only had Brown not committed a crime, but that he was complying with Wilson’s orders and lying face down on the ground when he was shot at least six times. This atrocity sparked an array of protests in Ferguson, which were the focus of media attention for much of summer 2014.
Sadly, the Mike Brown case is not an isolated incident. Just this week, Danielle Watts – a black American actress who appeared in Django Unchained – was seen kissing her white boyfriend in a car in Los Angeles. She was reportedly mistaken for a sex worker and was detained after refusing to present her ID on principle.
A study carried out concerning the New York Police Department showed that in the late 2000s approximately 80% of all police stops made were of African-Americans or Latinos, while only 10% were of Caucasians. This unfair if comparatively innocuous tendency has not improved with the passing of time, and often results in the brutal and unjustified deaths of civilians, entirely provoked by racial prejudice. While racial discrimination is a common thread in the US police force, there are also examples of often fatal discrimination based on disability or gender. This article lists four cases of shocking police prejudice, some of which resulted in deaths or near-deaths, across the US.
4. Bloody Christmas
In an event that became known, rather chillingly, as “Bloody Christmas”, police officers in L.A. lauched a brutal and unprovoked attack on seven young men, five of whom were of Mexican descent. This event, which occurred on December 25th 1951, began with a slight overindulgence in alcohol, both at a police Christmas party in the Central police station — at which around a hundred officers were in attendance — and at a bar in which the aforementioned seven men had met for a few beers. The police party received reports that there was under-age drinking happening in the bar in question, so two officers were dispatched to check things out. They encountered the seven men, all of whom produced valid identification when asked. Despite this, the officers forcibly ejected them from the bar, which led to a physical fight in the parking lot between the officers and the men. Several hours later, the officers went to the homes of all seven men and arrested them individually, putting them all in jail.
Back at the officers’ Christmas party, false rumours were circulating that the fight in the parking lot had caused one of the two officers to lose an eye, so a significant number of enraged police travelled down to the jail to brutally injure the prisoners, spurred on by alcohol, unrighteous indignation and the knowledge that the Mexican-American prisoners were powerless at the time. The prisoners’ injuries included punctured kidneys and punctured bladders post-attack, with one of them left so near death that the only thing to save his life was multiple consecutive blood transfusions. As many as fifty officers participated in the beatings, and those involved were brought to court. Of these, eight were indicted, and in due course one was cleared, two were acquitted, and five were convicted of assault under the colour of authority.
3. Oscar Grant
The case of Oscar Grant involves the unprovoked and unlawful shooting and killing of the twenty-two year old African-American Grant. The shooting occurred at Oakland’s Fruitvale Station on January 1st, 2009. The police officer convicted of shooting Grant is Johannes Mehserle. He served only twelve months in prison for his crime, under charges of involuntary manslaughter.
The incident occurred when officers responded to reports of a fight on the train platform. Grant was one of those detained on suspicion of being involved. Mehserle shot Grant in the back while he was lying on the ground and complying with the officers’ wishes. Mehserle claimed that he was reaching for his Taser and mistook his revolver for the same, but racial tensions and suspicions of racial motives arose due to the fact that Mehserle’s defence was murky. Mehserle refutes claims of racially motivated violence, and claims that he “wasn’t trying to shoot [Grant]”.
2. Tarika Wilson
In an unthinkably brutal attack, twenty-six year old Tarika Wilson was shot at and killed by police in her home in Lima, Ohio, on January 4th, 2008. The shooting occurred when a SWAT team came to Wilson’s rented house, looking for her partner, Anthony Terry. Terry was wanted for questioning on suspicion of drug dealing. Although Terry was not in the home at the time, the team opened fire on Wilson while she was carrying her fourteen month old son in her arms, killing the mother and wounding the child. It was later confirmed that Wilson had never been suspected of any illegal activity by the police. Wilson was bi-racial, a factor that seems unavoidably important in her death: reports from Lima suggest that there is a strong sense of racial discrimination running throughout the police force. Post-shooting, members of the African-American community of the town came forward to say that they regularly had guns pointed in their faces, were stopped without cause and were cursed by local police. The pastor of the New Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church summed up the general feeling in saying “there is an evil in this town”.
1. Police post-Obama election
By and large, the behaviour of Chicago police immediately after the election of President Barack Obama in 2008 was far from textbook. The election of the first African-American president might have been seen as a symbol of movement towards a more equal and open-minded country, but behaviour of some of the Chicago police force suggested otherwise. Understandably, there was a lot of African-American celebration in the city on election night, and during the festivities various white police officers were accused of hate crimes.
A family was celebrating the election just outside their home when they were pepper sprayed by officers. After several under-age family members ran into the house in fear, the police officers battered down the front door and shouted racial insults before leaving. Another instance in the city saw unmarked police cars containing white officers shadowing a black family driving home on election night. The children cheered for Obama through their open windows, prompting the officers to use pepper spray, shout “white power” and use racial slurs. An Independent Police Review Authority spokeswoman said at the time that the agency received numerous allegations of similar police misconduct on the same night.