Just as the guilty verdict was about to be read in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, the Ohio police officer shot and killed a black teenager in broad daylight during a confrontation.
The shooting of Ma’Khia Bryant, 16, who swung a knife during a fight with another person in Columbus, is in some ways more representative of how black and other people of color are killed during police rallies than George Floyd’s death, captured on the ground by Chauvin and captured on video for the whole world to see.
Unlike Chauvin’s case, many murders of police officers involve a decision to shoot in a hot moment and are notoriously difficult to prosecute even when they trigger grief and outrage. The jury has tended to give officials doubts when they claim to have acted in a life-or-death situation.
While Tuesday’s conviction was hailed as a sign of progress in the fight for equal justice, it still leaves unanswered difficult questions about law enforcement’s use of force and systemic racism in the police. The verdict in the Chauvin case may not be repeated quickly, although the list of those killed by the police is growing.
“This was something unique. The world saw what happened, said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, who has investigated more than 100 cases of violence there. Having video, witnesses, forensic evidence and multiple police officers testifying against one of their own is unique and “shows how high the field must be to actually have that kind of responsibility,” he said.
Beliefs like Chauvins are unusually unusual. Of the thousands of fatal police shootings in the United States since 2005, fewer than 140 officers have been charged and only seven convicted of murder, according to Phil Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green State University.
“This is a success, but there are so many more unjustified murders that still need to be counted that we still need to address,” said Princess Blanding, a Virginia state candidate whose brother was killed by Richmond police. Marcus-David Peters, who was black, was fatally shot by a black police officer during a mental health crisis after he ran naked on a highway and charged at the officer.
In Columbus, Bryant had swung a knife wildly at another girl or woman who was pinned to a car when the officer fired after yelling at the girl to get down, according to police and body camera video released within hours of the shooting. The mayor mourned the 16-year-old’s death but said the official had acted to protect someone else.
Kimberly Shepherd, who lives in the neighborhood where Bryant was killed, had celebrated the guilty verdict in Floyd’s killing when she heard the news about the teenager.
“We were happy with the verdict. But you could not even enjoy it, Shepherd said. “Because when you get a phone call that he was guilty, I get the next phone call that this is happening in my neighborhood.”
In Chauvin’s case, however, cell phone video around the world showed the white officer pressing his knee against the black man’s neck for more than nine minutes while Floyd went for air. It sparked protests across the United States, and Chauvin’s staff took the extraordinary step of testifying against him.
“When we look at future prosecutions, the question will be: Is this perhaps the beginning of a new era, where the walls of silence are not impenetrable?” said Miriam Krinsky, a former federal prosecutor and executive director of the Reform and Justice Prosecution Group. Chauvin’s case could also make future juries more skeptical of police, she said.
The day after Bryant was killed, at least two others were killed by police in the United States.
On Wednesday morning, an officer killed a man while executing a search warrant in eastern North Carolina. And in the San Diego suburb of Escondido, police said an officer killed a man who apparently hit cars with a metal pole.
On Thursday, a funeral will be held for Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old black motorist who was shot during a traffic stop earlier this month in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, just a few miles from the courthouse when the Chauvin trial took place. In Chicago last month, 13-year-old Adam Toledo was fatally shot less than a second after he threw a gun and began raising his hands as an officer had ordered.
Police officer Kim Potter, who is white, has been charged with second-degree murder in Wright’s shooting. The former police chief said Potter accidentally fired her gun when she tried to use her Taser. She resigned from the police afterwards and was charged with second-degree murder. Wright’s family has demanded more serious charges and compared her case to the murder agreement against a black officer who killed a white woman in nearby Minneapolis in 2017.
The state’s law firm in Cook County will decide whether to charge Eric Stillman, the white police officer who shot Adam in an alley in Chicago on March 29 in Little Village, a predominantly Spanish area on the southwest side of the city. The boy, who was Latino, appeared to drop a gun moments before the officer shot him. The graphic video of the boy’s death sparked outrage across the United States, but some legal experts have said they do not believe Stillman can or should be removed according to criteria set by a 1989 Supreme Court landmark on police use of force.
Instead of just being prosecuted after shootings, more needs to be done to prevent such meetings from happening in the first place, says Eugene Collins, who was a local organizer of the NAACP’s Baton Rouge, Louisiana branch when Alton Sterling, a black man selling CDs records in front of a convenience store were shot and killed by a white police officer in July 2016. The two officials involved in the meeting were not charged in his death.
“We are pulled over more, stay and get healthier,” said Collins, now head of the NAACP department. “It’s about putting responsibility on the decision makers.”
Activists say the fight for police reform and a fairer justice system is far from over.
Rachael Rollins, the first woman in color to become a district attorney in Massachusetts, said it must partly begin with breaking down the misconception that questioning the police or suggesting how they can improve means you do not support the blue.
“The police have an extremely hard job, and believe me, I know that there are violent people who harm society and the police, but not all of us. So we have to admit that it does not work and we have to sit down together to come up with solutions, but it is urgent, says Rollins, District Attorney for Suffolk County, which includes Boston.
“I’m scared, I’m exhausted and I’m in charge of law enforcement, so imagine how others feel,” she said.