The police are killing people, and the deaths are being ruled as justified without the general public even being aware this is taking place, at a time when the #BlackLivesMatter movement is calling for greater transparency and accountability.
According to a new study from The Guardian and their police fatality database known as “The Counted,” dozens of deaths in police custody — 1 in every 6 deaths for the first three months of 2015 — were found justified and the officers involved were cleared of wrongdoing and returned to the force. The report calculates that at this rate, nearly 200 deaths by police last year will be officially approved, away from community scrutiny. In addition, even as families of the victims of police brutality seek questions regarding the deaths of their loved ones, one quarter of police-related fatalities for the first quarter of 2015 remain unresolved or the investigation is pending.
“Of 289 people killed in the first three months of 2015, 202 cases have now been ruled justified or accidental,” according to the report. “But in 51 of these, no public statements announcing the decision appear to have been made by authorities involved, and no local media reports could be found through extensive online, public records and media archives searches.”
Further, in another 71 cases, officials either declined to disclose details after at least three requests from reporters, or confirmed that the investigation was ongoing over a year later.
However, under the current landscape — which has taken shape following the movement emanating from the August 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri — there is a dramatic increase in prosecutions of such cases.
In police fatalities from early 2015, 10 officers have been charged, resulting in one conviction to date. In Chatham County (Savannah), Georgia, former deputy Jason Kenny was found guilty in the jailhouse death of college student Mathew Ajibade, 21. According to CNN, Ajibade was kicked and punched in the head numerous times, hogtied and dragged away by officers. Kenny, who is white, and his former supervisor, Cpl. Maxine Evans — a 56-year-old Black woman — faced involuntary manslaughter. However, Kenny was convicted of a lesser charge of cruelty, while Evans was found guilty of perjury and public records fraud in connection with falsifying a report. Gregory Brown, a nurse on duty at the jail, was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter but was found guilty of making a false statement.
Further, The Guardian notes that four police officers were disciplined or terminated from deaths arising during this time period. One officer, Lisa Mearkle of Hummelstown, Pennysylvania, was acquitted of third-degree murder and manslaughter charges in the fatal shooting of David Kassick, who was unarmed. Kassick was lying down when he was shocked four times with a stun gun, and he was shot twice in the back after running away from a traffic stop. The video was caught on the officer’s stun gun. Mearkle claimed self-defense, arguing she fired because she thought Kassick — who was stopped for expired inspection stickers — was reaching for a gun. Although Kassick was white, his death was compared to that of Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina. A video caught by a passerby showed officer Michael Slager firing eight times at a fleeing Scott, shooting him in the back as he ran from a traffic stop in connection with a broken tail light.
Further, a troubling number of cases were closed without any comment or announcement by authorities, despite the controversy surrounding the circumstances of the killings. Four of these cases involved the deaths of unarmed people, and another four involved those who were accused of using their vehicle as a weapon.
For example, in Tahoka, Texas, Joshua Garcia, 24, was arrested at a traffic stop and placed in the front seat of a police car. Officers claim the Latino man managed to place his hands, while cuffed in front of him, and attempt to drive the police vehicle away. The officers fired at Garcia 14 times, killing him, according to The Guardian.
The databases of police killings maintained by The Guardian and The Washington Post have arisen due to incomplete record-keeping by the federal government. Last year, the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that police killings recorded over seven years were under-counted by more than half, making it all but impossible to assess the racial disparities in said killings. This prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to test a new system to count the number of people killed by police across the country. Last year, a Harvard study called police killings in the U.S a public health epidemic, exceeding the number of deaths by such common diseases as influenza, measles, malaria and mumps, and rivaling Hepatitis A.