Police Practices

Black Lives Matter: A Movement to Change Police Practices

02.12.15

The 2012 killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, and subsequent acquittal of the George Zimmerman, the man responsible for Martin’s death, signaled the beginning of an awakening in America that has been long overdue.

The Black Lives Matter movement was born out of the post death de-humanization of Martin. The movement, unofficially named for the hashtag “#blacklivesmatter” on social media, calls for the affirmation all black lives. It demands an end to police practices of profiling, excessive use of force, and militarization, as well as pushes for criminal justice reforms to reduce mass incarceration.

As the Black Lives Matter movement began picking up speed, the summer of 2014 marked high profile killings of black people and, ironically, the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, the 1964 campaign to register African-Americans voters in Mississippi.

In late July 2014, Eric Garner of Staten Island, New York, was choked to death by a white police officer on a city sidewalk. Garner told the police he couldn’t breathe 11 times before he died.

In early August 2014, two men were killed by police. The first, John Crawford of Beavercreek, Ohio, was shot on sight by a white police officer in a Wal-Mart store as he walked with a toy gun he picked up from a store shelf. His last words, “It’s not real.”

Next, Michael Brown, an 18-year-old from Ferguson, Missouri, was shot and killed by a white police officer in the middle of the street. Community outrage grew from the killing. Ferguson police responded to community concerns over abuse of force with military tanks and high powered weapons. For the first time the militarization of American police was in full view for the world to see.

The grand juries in the Garner, Crawford, and Brown cases did not indict the officers involved in their deaths. Particularly, the lack of indictments in the Garner and Brown cases fueled protests nationally.

Other Ohioans—all from Cleveland—have died at the hands of police. The November 2012 deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, who were shot 137 times by police officers, prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an investigation into the Cleveland Police Department’s use of force. The DOJ issued its findings in December 2014.

In November 2014, Tanisha Anderson, who was experiencing a medical crisis, was killed by Cleveland police officers who used a “takedown move” as her family watch on. The week following Anderson’s death, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot by a Cleveland police officer within seconds of approaching him as a played at a recreation center with a toy gun.

The excessive use of force by police officers not only is a national problem, but very much an Ohio problem. At this time, conversations are continuing on improving police-community relations as part of the Black Lives Matter movement.

For more information about how the ACLU of Ohio has responded to racial injustice within policing, see our latest commentary:

Racial Justice and Police Practices: Raising the Issue

Does Ohio Need a Shooting Database?

Being a Witness is Not Enough

The Ferguson Near You