Trayvon Martin’s death has not only sparked a national debate over racial profiling and prompted a federal investigation, it has also made many recall other fatal shootings of unarmed civilians. In less than two months since Martin died, reckless police behavior has been cited in the deaths of two other people. In some instances, law-enforcement officials have acted unlawfully themselves—and not in self-defense. On Wednesday, five New Orleans police officers were sent to prison following the deaths of two unarmed civilians and a subsequent coverup. Will the crackdown set a new precedent for rogue cops? From the post-Katrina victims to Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell, see the cases of other unarmed civilians who were shot dead by police.
Less than a month after the death of Trayvon Martin, another unarmed black teen was shot dead, this time in Pasadena, Calif. Kendrec McDade, 19, was shot and killed on March 24, after the Pasadena Police Department received a 911 call about an armed robbery. Investigators later determined the caller had lied about McDade’s possession of a gun, and that the teen had allegedly acted as a “lookout” during a burglary at a restaurant. When police caught up with McDade and his juvenile accomplice, an officer reportedly shot McDade several times after he allegedly made a motion at his waistband. His family has since filed a federal wrongful-death lawsuit citing racial profiling.
Last week, some 200 people protested outside the home of a Chicago police officer who shot and killed an unarmed woman on March 21 while he was off duty. Chicago Police have admitted that the victim, Rekia Boyd, 22, was an innocent bystander. She was struck in the head by a bullet after an officer opened fire at a man who police say was approaching him with a gun in his hand. While police maintain 39-year-old Antonio Cross was indeed armed, Cross and his family insist he was only carrying a cellphone. No weapon was recovered from the scene. The shooting that killed Boyd is being investigated by Chicago’s independent police review authority.
Kenneth Chamberlain Sr.
Last November, Marine veteran Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. was killed at his home in White Plains, N.Y., by police who were initially responding to a call for medical help. Chamberlain, 68, suffered from a chronic heart condition and wore a pendant that could signal for help in case of a medical emergency. Having accidentally set off the pendant in his sleep, he was surprised when an armed police squad showed up outside his apartment early in the morning and reportedly demanded to be let in, despite his assurance that he was OK. Chamberlain grew increasingly agitated as cops allegedly swarmed his home and the clash resulted in him being shot twice in the chest. As in the case of Trayvon Martin, the incident was apparently sheltered from the media and authorities initially resisted a grand-jury probe. But as reports about the incident have become widely circulated, and at least one officer has reportedly been recorded on tape taunting Chamberlain and using racial slurs just before they broke down his door. More than four months later, a grand jury is hearing evidence regarding the incident.
Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old mentally disabled man who lived at home with his mother, was shot by New Orleans police officers near the now-infamous Danziger Bridge, six days after Hurricane Katrina battered New Orleans. Ronald’s brother, Lance, said they were walking across the bridge when a group of teens came up behind them and began shooting. The police showed up and began firing at people on the bridge. Madison was hit in the back and reportedly stomped on while dying by former Sgt. Kenneth Bowen, who was sentenced to 40 years in prison Wednesday.
Along with Ronald Madison, James Brissette was a victim of the Danziger Bridge shooting for which five NOPD officers were sentenced to prison on Wednesday. (Aside from Madison and Brissette, four others were gravely wounded in the gunfire.) Speaking in court, Brissette’s mother mentioned that he was only 17 when he died and that “he never knew what hit him.”
Oscar Grant was in a BART transit station in San Francisco on Jan. 1, 2009, when he was shot in the back while laying face down. Dozens of witnesses said they saw the shooting, which was filmed on several cellphones. Johannes Mehserle, the BART officer who shot Grant, said it looked like Grant was going for a gun. Grant was unarmed. The district attorney filed murder charges, but Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served 11 months for the crime. Grant’s family filed a $25 million civil suit against six BART police officers who were present during the shooting.
Hit by 19 bullets, Amadou Diallo died in the doorway of his apartment building in New York City on Feb. 5, 1999. Diallo was a 22-year-old West African immigrant whose death became a symbol of police brutality. Four plain-clothes police officers approached Diallo at his apartment because they thought he might be the suspect in a rape case. When Diallo reached for his wallet, the officers said they thought he was reaching for a gun and fired 41 shots at the unarmed street peddler. The officers were acquitted of second-degree murder charges.
The morning before his wedding, Sean Bell died in a hail of bullets in Queens, New York. Bell was out with friends for his bachelor party, and police suspected one of them had a gun. Bell and his buddies were driving out of a parking lot, when Detective Gescard F. Isnora reportedly ordered them to stop. Bell instead accelerated and crashed into a police minivan. Isnora thought he saw one of Bell’s friends reach for a gun and the team opened fire, blasting 50 bullets at the car. Bell was killed, while his two friends survived. Isnora and two other detectives were acquitted in a criminal trial in 2008, although Isnora was kicked off the force in March 2012.
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