When Will the Violence End

Dean A. Felecia Epps - UNT Dallas College of Law

When will the violence end?

In fall 2015 I planned to spend my time researching and writing about a major criminal trial that had just concluded in Arkansas.

Then it happened – I saw the video recording of Mr. Walter Scott being shot in the back by a police officer in North Charleston, South Carolina. The video recording, made on a cell phone by a young man who just happened to be passing by, showed Officer Michael Slager shooting Mr. Scott in the back as he ran in the other direction after Officer Slager pulled him over for a traffic violation.

After shooting Mr. Scott, Officer Slager dropped a Taser next to Mr. Scott’s motionless body in an attempt to build the all too common narrative “I thought I was in danger so I had to shoot.” 

As I watched the video I wept for Mr. Scott’s family – especially his mother. The news and the video were impossible to escape.  I asked myself how I would feel watching my child being shot in the back. How would I respond? Shouldn’t I respond to Mr. Scott’s murder just as I would respond to the murder of my own child?

I decided that instead of writing about the criminal trial of the West Memphis Three, I would write something about the police shootings of unarmed or non-violent black people that seemed to be happening more and more often. That article, in which I compare police shootings to lynching, remains a work in progress. Unfortunately, the topic has only become more relevant in the time that has passed since Mr. Scott’s murder.

As I researched in 2015 I developed this partial list of un-armed or non-violent black people who died at the hands of police:

  • Samuel DuBose, was shot in the head by a University of Cincinnati police officer after being stopped for failing to have a front license plate on his car. This officer claimed he felt threatened by an alleged attempt by Mr. DuBose to drag the officer along with DuBoses car.
  • Freddie Grey, ran in the opposite direction after making eye contact with two Baltimore police officers. The officers chased him, stopped him, searched him and arrested him for possession of a knife. Not properly secured in a police van, Mr. Grey died because of injuries he suffered during the ride to the jail.
  • Oscar Grant was shot in 2009 shot by BART officer who grabbed his handgun instead of a Taser.
  • Timir Rice, age 12 was shot by Cleveland police in 2014 while playing with a toy gun.
  • Eric Garner died as result of chokehold administered by NYPD officer in 2014.
  • Michael Brown, age 18, was shot in 2014 by Ferguson, Missouri police officer.
  • Christian Taylor was shot in 2015 by police in a Texas car dealership.
  • Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell were shot in 2012 by Officer Michael Brelo who jumped on top of a police car and shot directly into the windshield of a car holding them. This occurred after a high speed chase that began as a routine traffic stop. A total of 137 rounds were fired at the unarmed couple by 13 officers. 
  • LaQuan McDonald was shot by Chicago police officer in 2014. Officer VanDyke shot LaQuan, age 17, 13 times within seconds of arriving on the scene of alleged car break-ins. The dashcam video shows LaQuan walking away from the officer who proceeded to shoot LaQuan even after LaQuan fell to the ground in a fetal position.

Unfortunately this list is not complete and it continues to grow. I can now add the names of Philando Castile, George Floyd Jr., and Breonna Taylor to name only a few.

Lynching in the way it was traditionally thought of – the kind Billy Holiday sang about in her classic song Strange Fruit - has stopped. Arguably, it has evolved into police shooting of unarmed or non-violent persons. 

Now is the time for everyone to respond to this question: how do we as a nation prevent another mother from watching helplessly as her child is shot down by police?  I watch in sadness as the violence continues. Some alleged protestors have engaged in looting and burning. Those taking to the streets in peaceful protest are sometimes met with a violent response by police and sometimes by counter protesters. Recently, a 17 year old white teenager shot and killed two protestors in Kenosha. Violence seems to only lead to more violence – it is not the answer.