On June 16, 1944, 14-year-old South Carolina resident George Stinney Jr. was executed, via electric chair, for the murder of two white girls. Stinney was interrogated by police without his parents or legal representation present. He was moved to a jail outside of Columbia, S.C. right before a mob of white people attempted to lynch him. A trial found him guilty and he was sent to death. He’s still the youngest person ever executed.
Seventy years later, his conviction was exonerated.
Rayshard Brooks’ death started with a 911 call about a man passed out in his own car. George Floyd’s death started with a 911 call about allegedly using counterfeit money. Breonna Taylor’s death started with a warrant that wasn’t meant for her. Some people would think these kinds of interactions shouldn’t result in deaths.
But they did.
The little things can make life dangerous for Black people in the United States. It’s the reason why protests have spread across the nation with cries of “Stop killing us.”
But the killing doesn’t seem to stop.
Brooks was allegedly found intoxicated and passed out in his car in the drive-thru of a Wendy’s in Atlanta. An officer’s body cam showed Brooks getting into a scuffle with police and managing to take an officer’s taser. While running away from the police Brooks was shot in the back. Protesters destroyed said Wendy’s as revenge for one of its employees making the eventually fatal call.
The officer who fired the fatal shot, Garrett Rolfe, was fired. The other officer involved in the confrontation, Devin Brosnan, was placed on administrative duty, and Atlanta’s Police Chief Erika Shields resigned.
According to The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, these actions are just the beginning.
“For too long, Black and Brown communities have demanded non-police responses to situations that should be handled by trained professionals other than law enforcement,” stated Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Had someone other than police shown up to help Mr. Brooks, he may be alive today. It is time to shrink the footprint of the criminal legal system, including police, and enact a vision for justice that prioritizes investments in community-led solutions that center dignity and respect for everyone.”
Black people and activists look at Black death at the hands of police as straws placed on an already broken back.
While they didn’t respond to requests for comment, Georgia’s NAACP took to social media to address their concerns. On Twitter, they called for lawyer S. Lee Merritt, Esq. to work with grassroots organizers and leaders to figure out the best approach to address the fight for civil rights.
“Georgians have been dying at the hands of law enforcement and racist vigilantes for far too long and we saw that again most recently with the murder of #AhmaudArbery and #Rayshard Brooks,” read their tweet. “Our goal is common—justice for Ahmaud and the hundreds of others who go unnamed. We must work together to achieve this end.”
Some Georgia politicians are listening. While some say it doesn’t go far enough, Republican Georgia Representative Jeff Jones introduced a bill that would scale back the power of a “Citizen’s Arrest.”
In clarifying what the bill would mean, Jones said, “If a private citizen sees a flash of flames through the windows of a neighbor’s house and the citizen sees a person whom they do not recognize run out the front door with a gas can, the citizen would probably be justified.”
“Such detention would be allowed until the circumstances could be figured out and until law enforcement could be summoned and arrive on scene to take charge,” stated Jones. The representative wants to clarify the difference between arrest and detainment.
“A private person may arrest an offender if the offense is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge,” continued Jones. “If the offense is a felony and the offender is escaping or attempting to escape, a private person may arrest him upon reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion.”
The current law states that a private person may arrest an offender if the offense is committed in their presence or “within his immediate knowledge.” If the offense happens to be a felony and the offender attempts to escape, a private person can arrest him on grounds of suspicion.
While that may sound good to some, extrajudicial attacks by the public-at-large aren’t new to Black people. In some instances, said attacks could become fatal.
Within days of each other Robert Fuller and Malcolm Harsch were found dead hanging from a tree. The former across from City Hall in Palmdale, Calif. The latter outside a library in Victorville, Calif. The families of both victims are afraid that authorities will rule their deaths as suicides.
With Harsch, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s office, a sheriff’s dispatch received a 911 call from a woman saying her boyfriend had hanged himself. Currently, the authorities believe there wasn’t any foul play, but people are still waiting on a toxicology report from the local forensic pathologist.
A statement by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department also ruled Fuller’s death a suicide. But Fuller’s sister, Diamond Alexander, isn’t buying it.
In a statement, the City of Palmade referenced the global pandemic to explain away the alleged suicide. “Sadly, it is not the first such incident since the COVID-19 pandemic began,” read the statement. “The city remains committed to addressing mental health issues during these difficult times.”
Alexander responded in kind during a rally calling for justice for Fuller’s death.
“Everything that they’ve been telling us has not been right,” said Alexander. “We’ve been hearing one thing. Then we hear another.
“And we just want to know the truth,” Alexander concluded.