Americans continue to grieve the lives the two African American men who were shot and killed by police last week, and for the following killings of five Dallas police officers. These instances have left Americans heartbroken, asking a lot of questions, and engaging in meaningful conversations on race and privilege.
The circumstances that surrounded the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, the two African Americans shot and killed by police officers last week, have many people demanding justice and begging for these killings to stop. While the men were from different parts of the country, their stories are sadly similar.
Both men were African American. Both had their last moments caught on camera. Both lives ended with millions to view the tragic end. In case you have missed the details, here is a quick overview.
Philando Castile was shot after being pulled over for a broken tail light in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Castile worked as a kitchen supervisor for the St. Paul School District. Castile carried a concealed weapon with a permit. His girlfriend in the car at the time of the shooting, live streamed video right after Castile was shot.
Alton Sterling was shot and killed outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He was known as the “CD man” who sold CDS and DVDs outside the store. The incident was filmed by a bystander.
To view more details of these killings, you can check out the article on CNN. Warning, there are videos in the article that are very graphic.
Gaining Clarity in the Aftermath of the Shootings
In the aftermath of these shootings and deaths, many people are working hard to gain understanding and clarity. When it comes to keeping records of people killed by police, there are no national statistics kept by the US government. According to CNN,
“The U.S. government does not keep national statistics on the number of people killed by police. However, at least two newspapers, the Washington Post and the Guardian, maintain databases based on news reports, public records, social media, and their own reporting.”
The criteria are slightly different from both the Washington Post and the Guardian, but both sources have found that from January 1 to July 5, 2016 there have been over 500 cases of people being killed by police.
When is a Police Officer Authorized to Shoot?
In 1980, the Supreme Court set the rules for when a police officer is authorized to shoot. The decision was made that police officers can open fire if she or he believes the suspect poses threat to the officer or the community.
However, in the case of Tennessee v. Gardner in the ‘70s, a 15-year old Edward Garner climbing a fence was shot and later died at the hospital. He was not in possession of a weapon, but had $10 and a stolen purse. His father sued the state of Tennessee and the court issued a landmark ruling.
“Where the suspect poses no immediate threat to the officer and no threat to others, the harm resulting from failing to apprehend him does not justify the use of deadly force to do so. It is no doubt unfortunate when a suspect who is in sight escapes, but the fact that the police arrive a little late or are a little slower afoot does not always justify killing the suspect. A police officer may not seize an unarmed, nondangerous suspect by shooting him dead.”
That still leaves the issue up to the discretion of the police officer to determine if the situation is dangerous or not. There have been many more cases where these standards are challenged. We are left to deal with the killings of both Castile and Sterling. The difference this time is that each was caught on video for the world to see and judge.
Have you been a victim of racial profiling or been charged for a crime where you believe your race has played a role? Our goal at The David J. Kramer Law Firm, PLLC is to ensure that each and every one of our clients gets treated fairly and does not have to face unjust punishment. Call us today.
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