Across the country, police officers in 2018 were held accountable in high profile use-of-force incidents involving black men. The New York City Police Department (NYPD) moved forward with disciplinary proceedings against the officers involved in the 2014 death of Eric Garner, a black resident of Staten Island, New York.J. David Goodman and Al Baker, “Police Move to Discipline Officer Involved in Eric Garner’s Death,” New York Times, July 19, 2018.
The U.S. Department of Justice had asked the NYPD to wait until it could finish its own civil rights investigation, which began in 2014 but stalled during the transition to the Trump administration and appears unlikely to resume.J. David Goodman, “Eric Garner Died in a Police Chokehold. Why Has the Inquiry Taken So Long?” New York Times, November 7, 2018.
The NYPD internal administrative trial of Daniel Pantaleo, the officer involved, is set to begin in May 2019, and the NYPD’s Civilian Complaint Review Board has recommended departmental charges that could lead to his suspension or dismissal.Mark Morales, “Four Years After Eric Garner's Death, Officer Faces NYPD Trial To See If He Will Keep His Job,” CNN, December 6, 2018.
The sergeant in charge, Kizzy Adonis, will also face disciplinary charges, NYPD says.Goodman and Baker, “Police Move to Discipline Officer,” 2018.
In August, a Texas jury returned a murder verdict against former Beach Springs police officer Roy Oliver for the 2017 death of Jordan Edwards.Faith Karimi and Emanuella Grinberg, “Texas Ex-officer is Sentenced to 15 Years for Killing an Unarmed Teen,” CNN, August 30, 2018.
Oliver was responding to a call about a house party when he fired his weapon into a car full of teenagers leaving the gathering, killing Edwards, a 15-year-old high school freshman.Karimi and Grinberg, “Texas Ex-officer is Sentenced to 15 Years,” 2018.
The jury sentenced Oliver to 15 years in prison—significantly less than the 60 years requested by the prosecution.Karimi and Grinberg, “Texas Ex-officer is Sentenced to 15 Years,” 2018.
Despite the lesser sentence, the verdict drew praise as a rare instance of a police officer being held accountable for a deadly shooting involving an unarmed civilian.Ryan Tarinelli, “Dallas Police Association: Convicted Officer Held Accountable,” Chicago Sun Times, August 30, 2018.
Chicago officer Jason Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder in another high-profile police shooting case, the 2014 death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.Don Babwin and Michael Tarm, “Officer Convicted of Murder in Slaying of Laquan McDonald,” Associated Press, October 5, 2018. Dashcam video of the shooting on a city street shocked the nation and ignited calls for police reform and accountability.“Dash-Cam Video Released Showing Laquan McDonald’s Fatal Shooting,” NBC Chicago, December 17, 2015. Van Dyke was the first Chicago officer charged with murder for an on-duty shooting in nearly 50 years.Megan Crepeau, Christy Gutowski, Jason Meisner, and Stacy St. Clair, “A Historic Murder Conviction of a Chicago Cop—and a City’s Sigh of Relief,” Chicago Tribune, October 6, 2018.
The courts weren’t alone in taking action. In Washington State, Initiative 940, which passed with 60 percent of the vote, will change the legal standard for use of deadly force in officer-involved shootings.Washington State Initiative 940 (2018). The initiative overhauls a previous law under which prosecutors attempting to hold officers criminally liable for on-duty fatalities had to prove that the officer acted with malice.Steve Miletich, “Initiative 940, Modifying Law Regulating Police Use of Deadly Force, Passes with Strong Support,” Seattle Times, November 6, 2018. Washington is the first state to pass a police accountability measure and did so in response to several high-profile shootings.Steve Miletich, “Seattle Police Review Finds Fatal Shooting of Charleena Lyles Was Within Department Policy,” Seattle Times, November 15, 2017; and Steve Miletich, Jurors Find Officers Believed Che Taylor Was Threat Before He Was Fatally Shot,” Seattle Times, February 10, 2017. The measure also requires law enforcement officers to receive ongoing training in de-escalation and improving interactions between the police and people with mental health issues.Washington State Initiative 940 (2018).
But fatal shootings of civilians by police continued to make headlines. According to the Washington Post, which tracks police shootings of civilians through reviews of media reports in its “Fatal Force” database, an estimated 998 people were shot and killed by police during 2018, compared to 987 in 2017.“Fatal Force,” Washington Post, accessed January 11, 2019. In September, an Oregon grand jury declined to indict two members of the Portland State University campus police in the fatal shooting of a 45-year-old black man, Jason Washington, a U.S. postal worker and Army veteran.Shane Dixon Kavanaugh, “Portland State University Cops Won't Be Charged in Killing of Navy Vet,” Oregonian, September 13, 2018. Washington was shot in June while attempting to break up a street corner fight in downtown Portland.Kavanaugh, “Portland State University Cops Won't Be Charged,” 2018. In November, an Alabama police officer shot and killed Emantic Bradford Jr., a 21-year-old black man, in a shopping mall.Jamil Smith, “The ‘Good Guy with the Gun’ is Never Black,” Rolling Stone, November 27, 2018. Officers initially claimed to have identified Bradford as the gunman in an incident in the mall, but later retracted the statement.Mihir Zaveri, “Black Man Killed by Officer in Alabama Mall Shooting Was Not the Gunman, Police Now Say,” New York Times, November 24, 2018. Bradford had a firearm permit and Alabama is an open-carry state.Smith, “The ‘Good Guy with the Gun,’” 2018. In Chicago in November, security guard Jemel Roberson had just stopped a shooting and subdued the gunman when officers responding to the incident shot him instead.Matthew Walberg and Zak Koeske, “Witness to Shooting of Security Guard Jemel Roberson: Officer Opened Fire 'Not Even 5 Seconds' After Warning,” Chicago Tribune, November 16, 2018. And, in Texas, Dallas police officer Amber Guyger was indicted for murder in November after she shot and killed a neighbor, Botham Jean, inside his apartment. The police department terminated Guyger after an investigation concluded that although she was off duty when the shooting occurred, she had “engaged in adverse conduct.”Minyvonne Burke, “Ex-Dallas Officer Who Fatally Shot Black Man Inside His Apartment Indicted on Murder Charge,” NBC News, November 30, 2018.
The consequences of police killings reverberate into the community. A study undertaken by researchers from Harvard and Boston University and released in June by the British medical journal The Lancet showed a correlation between police shootings of unarmed black people and the mental health of black Americans living in the states where the shootings happened.Jacob Bor, Atheendar S. Venkataramani, David R. Williams, and Alexander Tsai, “Police Killings and Their Spillover Effects on the Mental Health of Black Americans: A Population-Based, Quasi-Experimental Study,” The Lancet 392, no. 10144 (2018), P302-P310. Using individual-level data from the 2013–2015 U.S. Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, researchers mapped responses from black Americans on their current mental health to police killings of unarmed black people occurring within the previous three months in the same state.Bor, Venkataramani, Williams, and Tsai, “Police Killings and Their Spillover Effects,” 2018. They found that each killing directly correlated to as much as two weeks’ worth of poor mental health, and that the same effects did not occur for police killings with different characteristics, such as the killings of armed black people or unarmed white people.Bor, Venkataramani, Williams, and Tsai, “Police Killings and Their Spillover Effects,” 2018. The research lent weight to similar arguments made by racial justice activists regarding the mental health of black communities across the country.John Eligon, “They Push. They Protest. And Many Activists, Privately, Suffer as a Result,” New York Times, March 26, 2018.