In most cases, trained law enforcement officials should be able to apprehend people suspected of criminal behavior without killing them. On Monday, police in Linden, New Jersey, arrested Ahmad Khan Rahami, who authorities say set off powerful bombs in Manhattan and on the Jersey Shore over the weekend, injuring 31 people and terrorizing thousands. Mr. Rahami was armed with a handgun, shot one police officer in the abdomen, and engaged in a shoot-out with police that left another officer and Mr. Rahani wounded. Officers nonetheless were able to disarm and arrest him without using lethal force.
In stark contrast, two Black men who were not crime suspects, at least one of whom was clearly unarmed, were killed by police in the past week.
Yesterday, a police officer in Charlotte, North Carolina, shot and killed 43-year-old Keith Scott, who is Black, while serving an arrest warrant on someone else in an apartment complex. Police claim Mr. Scott was armed with a gun; his family members told reporters that he had not had a weapon and was instead holding a book while waiting to pick a child up after school. The killing sparked protests in Charlotte last night.
On Friday, a police officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma, shot and killed 40-year-old Terence Crutcher, who is Black, while he was walking away from the officer with his hands up. Mr. Crutcher was unarmed, but the officer’s lawyer told reporters that she believed Mr. Crutcher was “under the influence of something” after he made eye contact with her, which she described as “a thousand-yard stare.” Another officer, observing from a police helicopter that was taking video of the scene, can be heard on that video saying that Mr. Crutcher “looks like a bad dude.”
No one rendered medical aid to Mr. Crutcher for more than two minutes, even though the officer who shot him is certified in basic emergency medical services.
The shootings in Charlotte and Tulsa come within a week after a white police officer in Columbus, Ohio, shot and killed Tyre King, a Black 13-year-old boy who was carrying a BB gun, last Wednesday.
These killings have intensified concerns about the way police engage with Black men in jurisdictions throughout the United States. “The presumption that people of color are dangerous is deeply entrenched in American law enforcement,” says EJI director Bryan Stevenson. “Police officers are steeped in a ‘warrior’ mindset that leads them to treat young Black men as enemy combatants.”
Mr. Stevenson served on President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which last year released detailed recommendations for reform, including teaching officers de-escalation tactics and training them to avoid the use of lethal force in most circumstances.
Too many police departments across the country have been slow to implement these changes. But as police violence against Black people continues at an alarming rate, demands for reform are becoming increasingly urgent.
EJI is working to challenge the presumption of guilt and dangerousness that burdens people of color by promoting awareness and recognition of how police violence and racial disparities throughout our criminal justice system are a legacy of our nation’s history of racial injustice.