By Jon Swaine, Oliver Laughland, and Lois Beckett in New York, The Guardian, Thursday, July 7, 2016 (with video and photos)
According to numbers compiled by the Washington Post, 505 people have been shot and killed by the police in the U.S. in 2016 and 122 of them were black. The Guardian has tallied 558 people fatally shot by the police, including 135 black individuals.
Philando Castile’s death was broadcast live on Facebook by his girlfriend after he was shot by an officer in Minnesota through the window of their car on July 6. Castile was reaching for identification after warning the officer he was legally carrying a handgun, his girlfriend said.
Castile, a 32-year-old school cafeteria worker, was killed as protests continued in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where Alton Sterling was shot dead during a struggle with two officers on July 5. Sterling, who was selling CDs outside a shop, appeared to have a pistol in his pocket during the scuffle.
The men were the 135th and 136th African Americans to be killed by police across the U.S. in 2016, according to an ongoing Guardian project to document every death caused by law enforcement officers. In total 561 people have been killed so far this year.
Castile’s mother, Valerie, said she was outraged by his death. “Every day you hear of another black person being shot down – gunned down – by the people who are supposed to protect us,” she told CNN.
Minnesota governor Mark Dayton promptly asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Castile’s shooting after protesters gathered outside his mansion overnight and wrapped his gates in crime-scene tape. The department is already reviewing the death of Sterling, 37.
“I will do everything in my power to help protect the integrity of that investigation, to ensure a proper and just outcome for all involved,” Dayton said in a statement.
FBI director James Comey said on Thursday that the shootings were a cause for concern. Asked in a congressional hearing whether killings such as those of Castile and Sterling were “happening at an alarming rate”, Comey replied: “‘Yes’ is the emphatic answer.”
Comey had previously stood out within the Obama administration by focusing on concerns that protests against police shootings may be causing a rise in crime by prompting officers to hold back from confrontations.
Castile and his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, were pulled over at about 9pm on Wednesday because their car had a broken tail light, according to Reynolds. Quickly starting to film and broadcast to Facebook’s live video feature, Reynolds said to camera that the officer had just opened fire as Castile reached into his pocket.
“He was trying to get out his ID and his wallet out his pocket and he let the officer know that he was that he had a firearm,” she says in the video. “He was reaching for his wallet and the officer just shot him in his arm.” Reynolds estimated that the officer fired between three and five times.
Castile is seen slumped in the front passenger seat covered in blood. He squirms with his eyes half-open. Reynolds, in the driver’s seat, says to camera: “Please don’t tell me that he’s gone. Please officer, don’t tell me that you just did this to him.”
As other officers arrive, Reynolds is instructed to leave the vehicle. The phone continues to film as it is laid on the ground.
One distraught-sounding officer, who has not been identified, can be heard shouting “Fuck” repeatedly. After Reynolds is detained, her four-year-old daughter can be heard comforting her. “It’s OK mommy,” she says.
The deaths of Sterling and Castile have revived protests about the treatment by officers of black people who appear to be carrying firearms legally or non-threateningly, as millions of Americans do every day without incident.
Castile’s mother said her son was “trying to do the right things, and live accordingly by the law”. Minnesotans are entitled to carry a handgun if they obtain a permit from their local sheriff after earning a training certificate. Reynolds said Castile was licensed to carry his gun.
The officer who shot Castile works for the small St Anthony police department, whose chief John Ohl said in his 2015 annual report that outsiders “can easily overlook just how difficult it can be to deal humanely, as cops must, even with the dregs of our society.” The report suggested St Anthony’s 23 officers each received an average of 67 hours of training last year, including on de-escalation, the use of force, and firearms.
In the Baton Rouge case, police confronted Sterling because he matched the description of a man reported to have threatened someone with a gun. Two video clips of his struggle with police indicate, however, that his pistol remained in his pocket and was removed by officers after he was shot. It was unclear from the footage whether Sterling tried to reach for the weapon.
The cases joined a series of flashpoints in recent years including those of Tamir Rice and John Crawford, two young African Americans who were separately shot dead by police in Ohio in 2014 while handling pellet guns in a park and a Walmart store respectively. In both cases, officers fired within seconds of seeing them.
Campaigners said African Americans were treated unfairly to deadly effect. “No matter how well you follow the rules, you can still be dead because you’re black,” said Brittany Packnett, an activist and former member of Obama’s White House policing taskforce. “Compliance has never guaranteed our safety.”
Gun rights advocates who are typically forthright in defending firearms owners have been criticised for failing to speak out in support of black people targeted while armed. Asked about the Castile shooting, Jennifer Baker, the National Rifle Association’s director of public affairs, said only on Thursday: “We have not issued a statement.”
Larry Pratt, the executive director emeritus of Gun Owners of America, bristled at the suggestion that race made a difference. “We don’t speak out for black American nor white America or any other kinds of racial position. That is an obnoxious question. Keep asking questions like that and you’re going to get hung up on, like right now,” he said, then disconnected the line.
The Guardian has been counting the people killed by U.S. law enforcement agencies since 2015. Read their stories and contribute to our ongoing, crowdsourced project
Minnesota police shooting: the scene after a black man is shot dead. Warning: this video contains graphic images
Alton Sterling is one of more than 100 Black men killed by police in the U.S.in 2016
By Josh Sanburn, Time Magazine, July 6, 2016
The fatal shooting of Alton Sterling by Baton Rouge police early Tuesday morning [July 5], caught on video by a bystander, is just one of dozens of violent encounters between black men and police officers this year.
While there’s no official database of police shootings in the U.S., there are several independent tallies of fatal force incidents. According to numbers compiled by the Washington Post, 505 people have been shot and killed by the police in 2016, and 122 of them were black. The Guardian has tallied 558 people fatally shot by the police, including 135 black individuals.
The number of deadly incidents this year is tracking alongside 2015’s tally. According to the Post, there have been about 25 more fatal shootings this year compared with this time last year, while the Guardian shows similar figures.
While dozens of black men have been shot and killed in the U.S. by police this year, few have garnered the kind of attention that Sterling’s shooting is getting, largely because those incidents were not captured on a dramatic video like the one that surfaced following Sterling’s death.
Sterling was shot early Tuesday morning by police after he was pinned to the ground outside a convenience store. According to the New York Times, police arrived at the scene after someone reported that a man selling CDs outside the store had threatened them. In a video taken by a bystander, police can be heard yelling “Get on the ground!” before two officers forcibly subdue Sterling. The video cuts away as multiple shots are heard. The incident led to protests in Baton Rouge Tuesday night and the video has since been shared widely on social media with the hashtag #AltonSterling.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards announced Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Justice would lead a civil rights investigation into the shooting.
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