State-sanctioned violence against African Americans has been a reality in the United States for centuries. In recent years, widespread civilian use of cell phone video cameras and requirements that police use body and dashboard-mounted cameras have increased the amount of documented evidence of the brutal realities of policing in many Black communities.
In July 2016, Americans witnessed multiple recorded police shootings of Black men. On July 5, Alton Sterling, 37, died after a police officer shot him several times at close range while he was pinned to the ground outside of a Baton Rouge, Louisiana, gas station. The following day, during a traffic stop in Minnesota, a police officer fired into a stopped vehicle and fatally shot Philando Castile, 32, four times as his fiancee and her young daughter watched in horror.
The officer who shot Mr. Castile was charged with second-degree manslaughter and endangering safety by discharging a firearm into Mr. Castile’s car. He was found not guilty of all charges. The Justice Department decided in May not to bring charges against the officers involved in Mr. Sterling’s death.
African Americans and other people of color are burdened by a presumption of guilt and dangerousness that increases their risk of being injured or killed in an encounter with police and protects their killers from punishment by assigning fault to the victims. Dramatic video of the deaths of Mr. Sterling and Mr. Castile, however, provided the public an unfiltered view of events. The videos spread widely and launched local, national, and global protests.
The day after Mr. Castile’s death, Minnesota governor Mark Dayton acknowledged the racial injustice of the shooting. “Would this have happened if those passengers would have been white?” he asked. “I don’t think it would have.”