Another unarmed Black man is dead after an altercation with the police. Jonathan Sanders of the small Mississippi town of Stonewall died from asphyxiation after a struggle with local police officer Kevin Harrington, according to The Guardian. Like Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York, Sanders’ death is just another incident in a long line of cases of police using deadly force against Black citizens. The Guardian, one of few organizations tracking the figures, reported 601 Americans have been killed by the police this year.
The incident happened in Stonewall, a town of 1,100 people, which is named after confederate general, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. According to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, Stonewall is 77 percent white and 23 percent Black. Twenty-nine percent of families had incomes below the federal poverty line. Only one of Stonewall’s 10 police officers is Black.
There are conflicting reports about what led to Sanders’ death. A relative of Sanders, who claimed to have witnessed the incident, said Harrington pulled Sanders off his horse and, after a struggle, choked him to death with a flashlight. However, Police Chief Michael Street had a different view of the incident.
“We won’t know until the autopsy is over what was the actual cause of death,” said Street in The Guardian. “But there was no flashlight used to choke anybody – that’s false. And there were no shots fired by either man, there were no weapons at all, and he was not dragged off a horse.”
Street added the case was being investigated by the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation (MBI). The final MBI report will be turned over to a Clarke County grand jury, who will consider criminal charges, Street said.
J Stewart Parrish, a Meridian, Miss.-based criminal defense lawyer who represented Sanders on drug charges, said the officer used excessive force.
“Officers typically have Tasers, they have pepper spray—there are lots of different non-lethal ways to subdue somebody,” said Parrish, who is a former police officer. “And one way, of course, is to walk away and come back with more officers.”
The altercation occurred on Wednesday when Harrington allegedly pulled over Sanders because he had no lights on his buggy. However. Sanders’ relatives said the buggy did have lights. Sanders reacted angrily to being pulled over and later got into a scuffle with the police officer. During the scuffle, he was reported to have said “I can’t breathe,” like Eric Garner, who choked to death after a struggle with New York police officers.
Sanders, a father of two, did not have any active warrants. His family are not taking the incident lying down. Apart from hiring a lawyer, they are also expressing their outrage on social media.
“Friends and relatives of Sanders have embarked on a campaign demanding ‘Justice for Jonathan,’ displaying a flyer that shows Sanders riding a horse on social media accounts. A community horse ride is being planned as a tribute,” reported The Guardian. “‘Please continue praying for me and my family as we so desperately need,’ his mother, Frances Sanders, said in a post to Facebook.”
WTOK reported a horse ride was held in Sanders’ memory this weekend.
“We always rode horses. We’d go from here, to Texas, Louisiana, or wherever. This was always something that we did and we are going to keep it up for him and make sure he’s smiling over us,” said Lon McCoy, who organized the event.