This weekend marks the National Anti-Police Brutality Day. From Cleveland to Oakland, people fighting for police accountability will be out in the streets to demand reform and accountability. The national day of action comes a week after a police shooting of a college student named Danroy Henry in Boston last Sunday.
This has been a landmark year for police accountability efforts. This summer ex-BART cop Johannes Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for killing 22-year-old Oscar Grant. The verdict was a disappointment to Grant’s family, who insist that the shooting was not an accident. But convictions of any kind in police shootings are rare. In New Orleans the famously corrupt New Orleans Police Department is undergoing systemic overhauls; the federal government is now involved in overseeing reform of the force. More than a dozen police officers have been indicted in federal court for shootings and cover-ups that occurred in the days after Hurricane Katrina.
Despite these efforts, 2010 has also been a tough year for communities and families all over the country who have mourned the loss of loved ones killed by police officers. We remember four people whose tragic, violent deaths made national headlines this year and sparked protests. Every death became a spark that ignited a community’s renewed calls for accountability, a fight that continues long after families lay their loved ones to rest.
Seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones was asleep on her grandmother’s couch when a bullet from a police rifle pierced her neck on May 16. Police officers were looking for a murder suspect when they raided her home with a television crew trailing. Aiyana’s family filed lawsuits in both state and federal court charging police with a cover-up; police maintain the shooting was accidental. On Oct. 8, police said an internal investigation was close to completion.
John T. Williams was shot by Seattle police on Aug. 30 when the 50-year-old Native American man didn’t obey police commands to drop a knife and piece of wood he was carrying. Williams made a living selling his traditional American Indian wood carvings, and friends say he was deaf in one ear and weakened by years of illness and alcoholism. Seattle Police promised more sensitivity in the future.
Sergio Adrian Hernandez Huereca was shot at the El Paso-Juarez border on June 8 by a Border Patrol officer who said the 14-year-old boy and his friends were throwing rocks at him, a “deadly threat” that merited gunshots in return. According to eyewitnesses, the Border Patrol agent ran across the border into Mexico and shot Huereca twice in his eye. He died on the scene. The Department of Justice opened a probe into the shooting.
Manuel Jamines was killed on Sept. 5 by Los Angeles police who responded to reports of a drunken knife-wielding man. According to eyewitnesses, Jamines did not have a gun with him, even though others said they saw the 37-year-old father of three try to stab a pregnant woman. The officer who shot Jamines had a history of aggressive force in the predominantly immigrant Westlake neighborhood where Jamines was killed.