BLACK LIVES MATTER
"Don't Kill Me"
On May 25, 2020, a 46-year-old Black man named George Floyd was arrested in Minneapolis, Minnesota, for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes. Four officers arrived on scene, and after restraining Floyd, Officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee pressed on Floyd’s neck (a move banned by most police departments) for eight minutes and 46 seconds. During this time, Floyd was handcuffed and lying face-down on the street, repeatedly exclaiming, “I can’t breathe!" In the last two minutes and 53 seconds, Floyd lay motionless and unresponsive; among his final words were, “Don't kill me.” Less than an hour later, Floyd was pronounced dead.
"I'm Not a Racist"
On May 25, 2020, a Black writer named Christian Cooper was birdwatching in The Bramble area of Central Park, when he noticed a dog running around. He asked the dog's owner Amy Cooper (no relation) to put her dog on a leash, since it was a mandatory leash area. When Amy refused, Christian began recording with his cell phone. Amy then threatened him with calling the police, telling them "there's an African American man threatening my life," and proceeded to follow through with her threat. As she frantically begged for them to send an officer, Christian calmly stayed 10-20 feet from her, doing nothing more than continuously record. Amy later apologized, stating, "I'm not a racist."
"Disregard for the Value of Human Life"
In the early hours of March 13, 2020, authorities used a battering ram to force open the apartment of a 26-year-old Black emergency room technician named Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky. According to Ms. Taylor's relatives and lawyers, the police never knocked or announced they were police officers (the officers have claimed otherwise). The search warrant related to another suspect—already apprehended by police—with Taylor’s apartment on the warrant as a potential drug-trafficking point. Believing the officers to be intruders, Taylor’s boyfriend Kenneth Walker (licensed to carry a firearm) immediately fired at them. The LMPD officers fired more than 20 shots in return, shooting Taylor eight times and killing her. No drugs were found in the apartment.
"Stop Hitting Him"
Late at night on March 3, 2020, police in Tacoma, Washington, claimed to see a 33-year-old Black man named Manuel Ellis banging on car windows when he came up to an officer’s car asking for help and saying there were warrants out for his arrest. An officer then got out of his car, and Ellis grabbed his vest and threw him to the ground. However, a witness account described Ellis as having a friendly conversation with two of the officers before one of them knocked him to the ground with their car door. Also, cell phone video released months later showed the officers repeatedly beating Ellis and eventually telling him to “Put your hands behind your back,” while he lay motionless. Finally, official dispatch audio revealed Ellis screaming out, “I can’t breathe!” while being pinned to the ground just moments before, all calling into question the officers' version of the incident. The county medical examiner’s officer ultimately reported that Ellis died due to “hypoxia and physical restraint."
On February 23, 2020, a 25-year-old unarmed Black man named Ahmaud Arbery was jogging in the Satilla Shores neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia, when Gregory McMichael (a former police officer) and his son Travis approached Arbery with a pistol and shotgun. They proceeded to hunt down Arbery in their truck, followed by a friend, William Bryan, in another truck, who was recording the incident on his cell phone. Arbery ran away from the McMichael brothers, but they ultimately cut him off, attacked him, and shot him three times, killing Arbery. The McMichaels claimed that Arbery resembled a recent burglary suspect, but they had no evidence of this except the color of his skin. Bryan later confessed that, shortly after killing Arbery, Travis McMichael could be heard uttering the words, "F***ing n***er."
Early in the morning of October 12, 2019, a 28-year-old Black woman named Atatiana Jefferson was playing video games with her little nephew. A neighbor, noticing Jefferson's front door open at that late hour, called a non-emergency police number. Authorities arrived on scene and moved around the outside of the house. Officer Aaron Dean then spotted someone inside standing near a window and shouted, "Put your hands up! Show me your hands!" before firing a single shot, killing Jefferson—police never announced their presence. Jefferson's sister, Amber Carr, later questioned, "What kind of training is that? You don't announce yourself? You don't let a person know?" and their father called her death "senseless."
On the night of August 24, 2019, an unarmed, 23-year-old Black man named Elijah McClain had just picked up an iced tea for his brother and was walking home while listening to music in Aurora, Colorado. He was wearing an open-face ski mask because he "had anemia and would sometimes get cold," according to his sister. The Aurora Police Department later claimed that a 911 caller had reported a “suspicious person” in a ski mask, and that when officers confronted McClain he “resisted arrest.” In the 15 minutes that followed, officers tackled McClain to the ground, put him in a carotid hold (applying pressure to the side of his neck to temporarily cut off blood flow to the brain), and ultimately called first responders, who injected a now-unconscious, 140-lb McClain with enough ketamine for a 220-lb man. At one point, a sobbing McClain vomits and then apologizes, “I wasn’t trying to do that. . . . I just can’t breathe correctly.” McClain had a heart attack on the way to the hospital and died days later, after he was declared brain dead. The three officers' body cameras (footage of which was released months later) all allegedly fell off during the arrest. While McClain's autopsy listed his death as "undetermined," his family attorney stated that "if the police had not attacked Elijah McClain, he would be alive today.”
"Scared to Death"
On the night of September 6, 2018, a 26-year-old Black accountant named Botham Jean was eating ice cream in his Dallas, Texas, living room when off-duty police officer Amber Guyger stepped into his apartment. Guyger's lawyers later said she was in uniform and had just finished a 13-hour workday when she mistakenly opened Jean's door thinking it was her own; however, prosecutors showed that, in addition to being on a different floor, Jean's bright red door mat was the only one like it in the complex and stuck out "literally, like a red thumb." According to Guyger, she had put her key in the door and realized it was unlocked. Thinking someone had broken in, she drew her gun and entered the apartment. Guyger said she ordered Jean, "Let me see your hands," and that he instead started to move toward her. (Prosecutors countered that nobody in the apartment complex heard her instruct Jean to raise his hands.) Within seconds of opening the door, Guyger fired two shots at Jean, killing him. Prosecutors ultimately revealed several racist texts from Guyger preceding the incident. Guyger told the jury that she was afraid "whoever was inside my apartment was going to kill me. . . . I was scared to death."
"They Killed My Boyfriend"
On the evening of July 6, 2016, a Black man named Philando Castile was pulled over in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, by Officer Jeronimo Yanez for having two brake lights out. After handing Yanez his license and proof of insurance, Castile calmly explained, "Sir, I have to tell you I do have a firearm on me." Yanez responded, "OK, don't reach for it then. Don't pull it out. Don't pull it out!" while Castile made clear, "I'm not . . ." Yanez fired seven shots at Castile. Castile's girlfriend live-streamed the aftermath from the passenger seat. Their little girl was in the car with them when the shots were fired but made it out in the end. Castile did not.
"I Will Light You Up"
On July 10, 2015, a Black woman named Sandra Bland was pulled over in Prairie View, Texas, for failing to signal a lane change. When Bland refused to extinguish a cigarette, State Trooper Brian Encinia became agitated and ordered her out of her car. Cell phone video recorded by Bland and publicly released four years later shows Encinia attempting to yank her out himself and threatening her with his Taser, shouting, "Get out of the car! I will light you up. Get out!" Bland then wonders aloud why a failure to signal would yield such a harsh response. After Encinia demands she get off her phone, she responds, "I'm not on the phone. I have a right to record." She then puts down her phone and is ultimately arrested. During a follow-up investigation into the incident, Encinia told Department of Public Safety officials that he feared for his safety, saying it was "in jeopardy at more than one time." The clip from her perspective appears to contradict this statement. Bland was found dead three days after her arrest, hanging in her jail cell outside Houston. Her death was ruled a suicide.
"Like a Piece of Origami"
On the morning of April 12, 2015, a 26-year-old Black man named Freddie Gray fled police officers in his neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland, unprovoked. Police briefly chased after Gray, apprehending him and searching his person. They located a "switch blade" clipped under his front right pants pocket, and arrested him on the spot "without force or incident." But Baltimore chief prosecutor Marilyn J. Mosby disputed these claims, stating Gray had a regular, legal knife, making the arrest itself illegal in the first place. She also stated Gray had been "flailing his legs" and was placed in a restraining technique known as a "leg lace." One witness said, "They had him folded up like he was a crab or a piece of origami." At one point, Gray told the officers he had asthma and needed his inhaler, but no medical help was requested for him. Officers eventually put leg shackles on Gray, "flexi cuffs" around his hands, and placed him face-down, head-first into a police van. (BPD policy is to buckle prisoners into the van's seat.) What resulted was a long ride across the west side of Baltimore, with Gray crying out in pain and witnesses hearing him from outside. Police officials never said when Gray suffered the spine injury that killed him, but prosecutor Mosby said the injuries happened in the van after Gray's transport from Baker Street.
"I Can't Breathe"
On July 17, 2014, a 43-year-old Black man named Eric Garner was approached on suspicion of illegally selling loose cigarettes in Staten Island, New York. After telling police that he was tired of being harassed, the officers attempted to arrest Garner. When Garner pulled his arms away, Officer Daniel Pantaleo put him in a choke hold (a move banned by the New York Police Department) and wrestled him to the ground. With multiple officers restraining him, Garner repeated the words “I can’t breathe!” over and over while lying face down on the sidewalk. A friend of Garner's captured the entire encounter on video. Garner was pronounced dead at an area hospital shortly afterwards.
"Stand Your Ground"
On a rainy February 26, 2012, a 17-year-old Black high-schooler named Trayvon Benjamin Martin was walking home in his hooded sweatshirt from a convenience store in Sanford, Florida. Martin was soon spotted by a neighborhood-watch volunteer named George Zimmerman. Zimmerman contacted the Sanford Police Department, stating there had been burglaries in the neighborhood, and informed the dispatcher of Martin, who he claimed to be "a real suspicious guy . . . up to no good, or he's on drugs or something." The dispatcher told Zimmerman he did not need to follow Martin, but Zimmerman left his vehicle anyway. A violent confrontation unfolded, and Zimmerman shot Martin (who was unarmed) at close range, killing him. Zimmerman was ultimately found "not guilty," following heated debates over the state's "stand your ground" law permitting the use of deadly force to defend oneself against a perceived threat. A few weeks following the shooting, a dismayed President Barack Obama stated, "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," and even opened up about his own experiences with racial profiling.
"Black Male, Maybe 20"
On November 22, 2014, a Black boy named Tamir Rice was playing by himself at the Cudell Commons park. He had traded his mom's cell phone (taken from her bedroom drawer) for his friend's pellet gun and was pointing it in multiple directions, pretending to shoot different objects. After sitting on a gazebo picnic table for a few minutes, he got up and walked to the edge, as a police squad car barreled across the lawn to a stop. Two officers emerged, and within a couple of seconds one of them, Timothy Loehmann, shot Rice, killing him. The officer radioed in, "Black male, maybe 20, black revolver . . . Send E.M.S. this way . . ." Tamir was 12 years old.
• In 1971, the Nixon administration launched the war on drugs, resulting in increased arrests and harsher prison sentences largely aimed at Black people. Former Nixon domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman later confirmed this, stating that the effort was designed to hurt Black families.
• As of 2015, about 4 million Black people and 17 million whites reported having used an illicit drug within the last month.
• Black and white people use drugs at similar rates, but the imprisonment rate for drug charges against Black people is nearly 6 times that of whites.
• Over the past forty years, the number of people incarcerated has more than quadrupled, with Black people comprising more than 34% of all inmates, despite being only 13% of the U.S. population.
• Black people are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than whites.
There are far too many disheartening stories of systemic racism and injustice in our country to list here. While I may have compiled them together, most of what I've typed was pulled directly from the tenacious, trusted sources at the bottom of each story. (If I've misstated any accounts or blurred any facts, feel free to let me know, and I'll be more than happy to correct myself.) Please take a few moments to learn more about these important events and others like them—I know I'm trying to—so we can speed up our progress as a nation and better ourselves for the future.
Ways We Can Help/Donate
Descriptions are taken from their respective sites
Black Lives Matter - a global organization in the US, UK, and Canada (founded in 2013 in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer), whose mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities
Black Voters Matter - a 501(c)(4) non-profit dedicated to expanding Black voter engagement, increasing progressive power in our communities
Color of Change - a national, online racial justice organization, driven by 1.7 million members, helping move decision-makers in corporations and government to create a more human and less hostile world for Black people in America
Campaign Zero - an American police-reform campaign, launched by We The Protesters, aimed at reducing police violence
NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) - the largest and most preeminent civil rights organization in the nation, founded in 1909 in response to the ongoing violence against Black people around the country
Black Nonbelievers - a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, headquartered in the Atlanta area, connecting with other Blacks (and allies) who are living free of religion and other beliefs, and might otherwise be shunned by family and friends. BN welcomes all, regardless of sex, sexuality, gender identity, age, national origin or race.
National Action Network - one of the leading civil rights organizations in the nation, founded in 1991 by Reverend Al Sharpton, promoting a modern civil rights agenda that includes the fight for one standard of justice, decency, and equal opportunities for all people
National Black Justice Coalition - America’s leading national Black LGBTQ/SGL civil rights organization focused on federal public policy. NBJC’s mission is to end racism, homophobia, and LGBTQ/SGL bias and stigma.
Black Visions Collective - an organization dedicated to Black and collective liberation, healing and transformative justice principles, and helping develop Minnesota’s emerging Black leadership to lead powerful campaigns
National Bail Out - a Black-led and Black-centered collective of abolitionist organizers, lawyers, and activists building a community-based movement to end systems of pretrial detention and ultimately mass incarceration
The Civil Rights Movement in Florida - a historical look at the former slave state of Florida, a battleground in the fight to end legally enforced segregation and discrimination