Protests in the United States over the past several weeks have thrown light on the growing problem of deaths at the hands of the police. In a number of incidents this year, unarmed civilians have been shot across the country. According to statistics compiled from media reports, 103 people were shot by the police in the United States in August, and 77 in September.
But this isn’t just a problem for the US. Over the years, there have been a series of high profile cases of individuals dying at the hands of the police in various countries. The following is a list of 12 of the most brutal killings for which law enforcement officers were responsible.
12 Steve Biko
An anti-Apartheid activist in the 1970s, Steve Biko was taken into police custody at a time of growing struggles against the government. He was detained under South Africa’s draconian anti-terrorism act and held for questioning. In custody, he was assaulted by police officers, beaten with a hose pipe and tied to a gate. The security forces left him for a day before contacting a doctor, and several days later, on 12 September 1977, Biko died. Because of his prominence in the anti-Apartheid movement, Biko’s death attracted protests in South Africa and around the globe. The government sought to deny any responsibility for the death, claiming Biko had gone on a hunger strike. But he was the 18th person to die in police custody in less than two years, illustrating the brutality with which detainees were treated.
11 Christopher Alder
Alder’s death in police custody was caught on film. In 1998, he was involved in a fight at a club. He was taken to a local hospital to be treated for his injuries, but was shortly afterwards arrested by the police and removed from the building. He was taken into custody, at which point the film begins. Grainy CCTV images show several police officers carrying Alder’s prone body into the custody room, where he is dumped on the floor. Although he is clearly having difficulty breathing, as shown by the choking sounds he repeatedly makes, Alder is left lying on the ground for at least 10 minutes. The group of officers present only took action to get assistance after Alder had died.
10 Amadou Diallo
Diallo was a west African immigrant who was stopped by the police on his doorstep in the Bronx, in 1999. One of the four officers, who were all dressed in plain clothes, saw Diallo remove a wallet from his pocket and told his colleagues that he feared it was a gun. A barrage of 41 bullets was immediately fired, killing Diallo. Not only did he turn out to be unarmed, but Diallo had committed no offence that would have warranted his arrest by the police. The authorities moved the subsequent trial to Albany, 150 miles away, arguing that the anger over police violence was so great in the local area that a fair trial would not have been possible.
9 Cameron Doomadgee
Doomadgee was an aboriginal man from Palm Island, Australia, who was arrested on November 19th, 2004, for drunk and disorderly behavior. An hour after being locked in his cell, he was found dead. The coroner’s report, delayed for a week, revealed serious injuries to Doomadgee’s body, including internal bleeding, and a ruptured spleen and liver. The horrifying findings backed up two witness statements, claiming that Doomadgee had been assaulted by police officers when he was taken into custody. Although the authorities denied any wrong-doing, the fact that they refused to release the full coroner’s report fueled doubts about this version of events. Australia has a terrible record of aboriginal people dying in custody, with nearly 300 fatalities occurring between 1980 and 2005.
8 Jean Charles de Menezes
Just two weeks after the London bombings in July 2005, special forces police believed that they had information on another terrorist plot. A unit was sent to Stockwell underground station on the London Underground network. De Menezes, a Brazilian living and working in London, proceeded through the barriers unaware that he was being pursued. As he sat down on the train, when officers appeared and fired at least seven shots into his head, killing him instantly. Almost immediately, it was clear that this had been a case of mistaken identity, as there was no evidence that De Menezes had done anything wrong. Attempts to claim that he had jumped the barriers to evade capture later turned out to be lies. It was also revealed that the British government had secretly adopted a shoot-to-kill policy, which officers were to follow when dealing with people they believed to be terrorist suspects.
7 Sean Bell
Along with his friends, Bell was celebrating the day before his wedding in November 2006, when he was gunned down by plain-clothes police officers. The officers were sent to a club in Queens, New York, to investigate allegations of prostitution and drug smuggling. Having found nothing, the three officers got into a confrontation with Bell and his friends, as they sat in their car. The sight of a man approaching with a gun drawn prompted the group to drive away, at which point, the officers opened fire. A total of 50 bullets hit Bell, and his friends were also seriously injured. No guilty verdict for any crime was ever secured against the officers.
6 Ian Tomlinson
During protests in London in 2009, a large police presence was on the streets. Ian Tomlinson was a newspaper seller who was on his way home, walking past the demonstration. Surveillance cameras show that he was shoved to the ground from behind by a police officer and attacked with a baton. His killing drew angry criticism of the heavy-handed policing tactics used during the protest. Despite the incident being captured on film, no charges against the officer for murder or manslaughter were ever pursued.
5 Trayvon Martin
Martin was shot on February 26th, 2012, while on his way back to a friend’s home from a convenience store. He was not killed by a police officer, but by a neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman. Hundreds of thousands of people signed a petition for Zimmerman’s prosecution, but this was complicated by Florida’s stand your ground law, which permits the use of lethal force by someone who feels they are in danger. Zimmerman began following Martin after noticing him from his car, and according to Zimmerman’s account, he acted in self-defense. Martin was unarmed and witnesses reported seeing him run away from Zimmerman, before they became involved in a fight and Martin was shot.
4 Milton Hall
A mentally ill homeless man in Michigan, Hall was surrounded by eight police officers in November of 2013. Responding to threats from the assembled officers, Hall took out a small pocket knife to defend himself. Eye-witnesses commented that he remained in a defensive position and did not pose a threat to anyone. However, the police reacted by opening fire, with the eight officers releasing 45 shots, 13 of which hit him. The incident came to light in an ACLU report to the Organisation of American States on human rights violations, being described by one official as a “death by firing squad.”
3 Eric Garner
Police confronted Garner on July 17th, in Staten Island for illegally selling cigarettes, which he did frequently as a means to raise some much-needed income. A by-stander filmed the incident. One of the officers placed Garner in a choke hold, which he maintained for several minutes, despite Garner’s repeated protests that he could not breathe. The shocking way in which he died led to the video going viral when it was released online. Despite the video evidence, the officer responsible was not indicted for any crime.
2 Michael Brown
The events of August 9th this year in Ferguson, Missouri, became the trigger for nationwide protests across the United States. Brown, an 18-year-old, was assailed on the street by the police after coming out of a store. He was shot repeatedly by one officer, including a bullet to the head which suggested that he was lying on the ground when it hit him. Eye-witness accounts contradicted police claims that Brown had rushed at the officers. His body was left on the pavement for several hours after his death. Last month, a grand jury verdict exonerated Darren Wilson, the officer involved, of any wrong-doing.
1 Tamir Rice
Police found Rice, a 12-year-old boy, in a park used by a local school in Cleveland as a playground, playing with a toy gun on November 22nd. A nearby security camera caught the incident on film, showing that within 2 seconds of arriving, the police had shot Rice. He died in hospital from his wounds the following morning. Criticism was leveled at the two officers, because they made no attempt to save the child’s life as he lay on the ground. It was only several minutes afterwards, when a local FBI agent arrived, that first aid measures were taken. In addition, evidence of the emergency call made to the police confirmed that the caller explained he was calling about a child with a fake gun.