Since the August 9, 2014, fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, sparked protests and drew national attention to police killings of unarmed Black people, the death toll from lethal use of force by police has continued to rise. One national tally found police killed 464 people in the first half of 2015 and unarmed Black people were twice as likely as whites to be killed by police.
On April 12, 2015, a Baltimore police lieutenant made eye contact with 25-year-old Freddie Gray, a Black man. Gray ran and was caught by six police officers who handled him so violently that witnesses took cell phone videos. His repeated requests for medical help were ignored until, after riding unsecured in a police van for hours, doctors discovered his spinal cord had been severed and larynx crushed. He died in the hospital. Activists nationwide joined West Baltimore residents to protest longstanding police brutality and official indifference to poverty in their community, chanting “Black Lives Matter.” In response, the State’s Attorney decided to prosecute the officers.
For decades, communities of color have complained of abusive police tactics. Freddie Gray, Walter Scott (fatally shot in the back by police in South Carolina, April 4, 2015), and Eric Garner (killed by police in Staten Island, New York, July 17, 2014), are among the names invoked today as an end to law enforcement’s racially biased use of force against people of color is sought.