EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a first-person narrative used to highlight the recent discourse surrounding use of police force after of the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. The brief stories that follow this narrative recounting police-involved shootings is intended to underscore the scope and span of this issue.
I can’t shake memories of Trayvon Martin. How can we forget Trayvon? Repeatedly, he has been considered the Emmett Till of my generation. He’s the boy that President Obama said could have been his son – and later clarified as a boy that could have been him. Obama’s honesty and introspection is one that I had to mirror. The truth is I could have been Trayvon, and now I realize I could have been Michael Brown – two young black men with very different lives and very different paths and one common denominator.
Although Trayvon wasn’t killed by a police officer, the implications of authority and the perception of skewed justice make it difficult to not also recall Michael Brown. As an adult looking back, especially as a black man, I know how easy it is for any teenager’s innocence to be tarnished because of mistakes we make on our path to adulthood. After the death of Trayvon and Michael, critics pounced on them both, casting them in a negative light when neither of the two are here to defend themselves. Scrutiny of our justice system and law enforcement was averted by many – not just among conservative media. Before either could be buried, character assassination ensued without question of what appropriate force should look like. Growing up, I never deviated far from the “right” path. I was always self-aware and reticent with trouble, especially pertaining to the law, but I was never immune from the type of fateful encounter with a police officer that could have gone awry. I could have been that victim. I could have been painted in a negative light too. I didn’t tote guns or use drugs, but maybe I wasn’t as “cooperative” with an officer as I should have been. Maybe I was breaking my curfew again. Maybe I was defiant toward my parents – the norm for a teenager of any background. All of these things in our world of 5-second sound bites and news montages would earn me a reputation as difficult or troubled teen that maybe could have avoided (necessary) excessive force. Unfortunately, we live in a world where authority figures are granted more leniency and credibility than the young minorities who die in officer-involved shootings.
It is beyond my comprehension why tragedies similar to Michael Brown’s story unfold when past lessons should have been learned. The following are cases from the not-so-distant past – reminders that stories similar to Michael Brown have happened in our own backyards.
Tyisha Miller | RIVERSIDE COUNTY
The fatal shooting of Tyisha Miller was one of the most notable cases involving police officers from Riverside Police Department. Miller’s death galvanized the African-American community and exposed a history of racial animosity between minorities and the Police Department. Miller was 19-years-old when she was shot by four police officers while sitting in a parked car with a gun in her lap. Miller had allegedly sat up while in the car with the gun in her lap, which prompted officers to react. According to reports, of the four officers involved, three were white and one was Hispanic. The officers involved were not prosecuted, which touched off a fire storm of criticism and demonstrations from protesters, including Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton. The Federal Bureau of Investigators (FBI) and former state Attorney General Bill Lockyer launched investigations into the case.
Charges were never brought against the officers involved, but the community became more involved in communicating with Riverside Police Department. Miller’s death remains etched in the memory of the Riverside community and was the central theme of “Dreamscape”, an internationally-toured play authored and directed by Rickerby Hinds, a professor at University of California, Riverside (UCR).
Kendrec McDade | LOS ANGELES COUNTY
On March 24, 2012, not long after Trayvon Martin was killed, Kendrec McDade was fatally shot by two Pasadena police officers after he and another teenager allegedly fled from police through the streets of Pasadena. Officers pursued the two teenagers after it was falsely reported to 911 that two men with guns stole a computer from a man’s car.
According to reports, officers fired shots at McDade because they believed he was reaching for a weapon. The case was widely-criticized for having a racial undertone. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office cleared the officers involved of criminal wrongdoing. The 911 caller, identified as Oscar Carillo, plead guilty to misdemeanor charges of filing a false report and sentenced to 90 days in jail.
In June, it was reported that the city of Pasadena reached a $1 million settlement with the family of McDade.
Manuel Diaz | ORANGE COUNTY
Manuel Diaz was reportedly unarmed when he was fatally shot by an Anaheim police officer after he fled from police. Police allegedly stated that Diaz was a known gang member. Local residents from the mostly Hispanic neighborhood were outraged by the shooting death of Diaz, eventually touching off a violent protest and demonstrations. The protests inflamed with some protestors allegedly throwing objects at police, nearly sparking a riot.
Following a string of officer-involved shootings in the city, the mayor asked the state Attorney General and U.S. Attorney’s office to conduct an independent investigation. In March, a federal jury concluded that the fatal shooting of Diaz was not an excessive use of force.
Corey Arvin is a contributor to VOICE and editor of Black Voice News