Eric Garner

Eric GarnerOn July 17, 2014, Eric Garner died in Staten Island, New York City, after a New York City Police Department (NYPD) officer put him in what has been described as a chokehold for about 15 to 19 seconds while arresting him. The New York City Medical Examiner’s Office attributed Garner’s death to a combination of a chokehold, compression of his chest, and poor health. NYPD policy prohibits the use of chokeholds.

NYPD officers approached Garner on suspicion of selling “loosies” (single cigarettes) from packs without tax stamps. After Garner told the police that he was tired of being harassed and that he was not selling cigarettes, the officers went to arrest Garner. When officer Daniel Pantaleo took Garner’s wrist behind his back, Garner swatted his arms away. Pantaleo then put his arm around Garner’s neck and pulled him backwards and down onto the ground. After Pantaleo removed his arm from Garner’s neck, he pushed Garner’s face into the ground while four officers moved to restrain Garner, who repeated “I can’t breathe” eleven times while lying facedown on the sidewalk. After Garner lost consciousness, officers turned him onto his side to ease his breathing. Garner remained lying on the sidewalk for seven minutes while the officers waited for an ambulance to arrive. The officers and EMTs did not perform CPR on Garner at the scene; according to a spokesman for the PBA, this was because they believed that Garner was breathing and that it would be improper to perform CPR on someone who was still breathing. He was pronounced dead at the hospital approximately one hour later.

The medical examiner concluded that Garner was killed by “compression of neck (choke hold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police.” No damage to Garner’s windpipe or neck bones was found. The medical examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide. According to the medical examiner’s definition, a homicide is a death caused by the intentional actions of another person or persons, which is not necessarily an intentional death or a criminal death.

On December 3, 2014, the Richmond County grand jury decided not to indict Pantaleo. On that day, the United States Department of Justice announced it would conduct an independent investigation. The event stirred public protests and rallies, with charges of police brutality made by protesters. By December 28, 2014, at least 50 demonstrations had been held nationwide specifically for Garner while hundreds of demonstrations against general police brutality counted Garner as a focal point. On July 13, 2015, an out-of-court settlement was announced in which the City of New York would pay the Garner family $5.9 million.

Freddie Carlos Gray, Jr.

Freddie Carlos Gray Jr.On April 12, 2015, Freddie Carlos Gray, Jr., a 25-year-old man, was arrested by the Baltimore Police Department for possessing what the police alleged was an illegal switchblade.[2] While being transported in a police van, Gray fell into a coma and was taken to a trauma center.[3][4] Gray died on April 19, 2015; his death was ascribed to injuries to his spinal cord.[4] On April 21, 2015, pending an investigation of the incident, six Baltimore police officers were suspended with pay.[3]

The circumstances of the injuries were initially unclear; eyewitness accounts suggested that the officers involved used unnecessary force against Gray during the arrest—a claim denied by at least one officer involved.[3][4][5] Commissioner Anthony W. Batts reported that, contrary to department policy,[6] the officers did not secure him inside the van while driving to the police station; this policy had been put into effect six days prior to Gray’s arrest, following review of other transport-related injuries sustained during police custody in the city, and elsewhere in the country during the preceding years.[7] The medical investigation found that Gray had sustained the injuries while in transport.[8][9] On May 1, 2015, the Baltimore City State’s Attorney, Marilyn Mosby, announced her office had filed charges against six police officers after the medical examiner’s report ruled Gray’s death a homicide,[10] on the grounds that Gray had died as a result of a ‘rough ride’—a form of police brutality in which a victim is helplessly thrown around the interior of a police vehicle by deliberately abrupt police driving, while unable to protect themselves due to handcuffs or other restraints. (Rough rides were already implicated in deaths, paralysis, and severe spinal injuries in several other cases.)

The prosecutors stated that they had probable cause to file criminal charges against the six police officers who were believed to be involved in his death.[10] The officer driving the van was charged with second-degree “depraved-heart” murder for his indifference to the considerable risk that Gray might be killed, and others were charged with crimes ranging from manslaughter to illegal arrest.[10]In a later rebuttal to allegations that the knife was illegal, prosecutors argued that Gray was illegally arrested well before the officers knew that he possessed a knife, and without probable cause.[11] On May 21, a grand jury indicted the officers on most of the original charges filed by Mosby with the exception of the charges of illegal imprisonment and false arrest, and added charges of reckless endangerment to all the officers involved.[12]

Gray’s hospitalization and subsequent death resulted in an ongoing series of protests.[13][14] On April 25, 2015, a major protest in downtown Baltimore turned violent, resulting in 34 arrests and injuries to 15 police officers.[15] After Gray’s funeral on April 27, civil disorder intensified with lootingand burning of local businesses and a CVS drug store, culminating with a state of emergencydeclaration by Governor Larry Hogan, Maryland National Guard deployment to Baltimore, and the establishment of a curfew. On May 3, the National Guard started withdrawing from Baltimore,[16]and the night curfew on the city was lifted.[17]

Michael Brown

Michael BrownThe shooting of Michael Brown occurred on August 9, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri, a northern suburb of St. Louis. Brown, an 18-year-old black male, was fatally shot by Darren Wilson, 28, a white Ferguson police officer. The disputed circumstances of the shooting of the unarmed 18-year-old sparked existing tensions in the predominantly black city, where protests and civil unresterupted. The events received considerable attention in the U.S. and elsewhere, attracted protesters from outside the region, and generated a vigorous debate about the relationship between law enforcement and African Americans as well as created a national dialogue about police use of forcedoctrine in Missouri and nationwide.

Shortly before the shooting, Brown stole several packages of cigarillos from a nearby convenience store and shoved the store clerk who tried to stop him. Brown was accompanied by his friend Dorian Johnson.[2] Then Officer Wilson had been notified by police dispatch of the robbery and descriptions of the two suspects. He encountered Brown and Johnson as they were walking down the middle of the street. Wilson said that he realized that the two men matched the robbery suspects’ descriptions.[3][4] Wilson backed up his cruiser and blocked them. An altercation ensued with Brown and Wilson struggling through the window of the police vehicle for control of Wilson’s gun until it was fired.[5] Brown and Johnson then fled, with Wilson in pursuit of Brown. Brown stopped and turned to face the officer, then Brown moved toward him.[6] Wilson fired at Brown several times in total, all shots striking him in the front, with the possible exception of the two bullets fired into Brown’s right arm.[7] In the entire altercation, Wilson fired a total of twelve bullets;[8] the last was probably the fatal shot.[9][10][11] Brown was unarmed and moving toward Wilson when the final shots were fired. Witness reports differed as to what Brown was doing with his hands when he was shot, but none of the witnesses who said that Brown had his hands up in surrender were later found to be credible.[12]

The shooting sparked unrest in Ferguson. The “hands up” account was widely circulated within the black community immediately after the shooting and it contributed to the strong protests and outrage about the killing of the unarmed man. It was not proved inaccurate until months later.[13] Believing accounts that Brown had his hands up in surrender when he was shot, protesters chanted, “Hands up, don’t shoot.” Protests, both peaceful and violent, along with vandalism and looting, continued for more than a week in Ferguson; police established a nightly curfew. The response of area police agencies in dealing with the protests was strongly criticized by the media and politicians. There were concerns over insensitivity, tactics, and a militarized response. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon ordered local police organizations to cede much of their authority to the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

A grand jury was called and given extensive evidence from Robert McCulloch, the St. Louis County Prosecutor, in a highly unusual process. On November 24, 2014, McCulloch announced that the St. Louis County grand jury had decided not to indict Wilson.[14] On March 4, 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice reported the conclusion of its own investigation and cleared Wilson of civil rights violations in the shooting. It found that witnesses who corroborated the officer’s account were credible, and it was also supported by forensic evidence. Witnesses who had incriminated him were not credible, including some who admitted they had not directly seen the events.[15][13] According to the evidence, Wilson shot Brown in self-defense.[16][17]

Trayvon Martin

Trayvon MartinOn the night of February 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida, United States, George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American high school student. Zimmerman, a 28-year-old mixed race Hispanic man[Note 1] was the neighborhood watch coordinator for the gated community where Martin was temporarily living and where the shooting took place.[4][5][6]

Zimmerman shot Martin, who was unarmed, during an altercation between the two. Responding to an earlier call from Zimmerman, police arrived on the scene within two minutes of the shooting. Zimmerman was taken into custody, treated for head injuries, then questioned for five hours. The police chief said that Zimmerman was released because there was no evidence to refute Zimmerman’s claim of having acted in self-defense, and that under Florida’s Stand Your Groundstatute, the police were prohibited by law from making an arrest.[7] The police chief also said that Zimmerman had a right to defend himself with lethal force.[8]

As news of the case spread, thousands of protesters across the country called for Zimmerman’s arrest and a full investigation.[9] Six weeks after the shooting, amid widespread, intense, and in some cases misleading media coverage,[10][11] Zimmerman was charged with murder by a special prosecutor appointed by Governor Rick Scott.[12][13] Zimmerman’s trial began on June 10, 2013 in Sanford. On July 13, 2013, a jury acquitted him.[14] On 24 February 2015, the Justice Department announced that “there was not enough evidence for a federal hate crime prosecution.”[15]

Darryl Hunt

History of the case

Darryl HuntDarryl Hunt was charged with murder due to inconsistencies occurring during the early phases of the case. The 19-year-old Hunt was charged with the rape of a local copy editor, Deborah Sykes. No physical evidence linked Hunt to the crime, but there were claims (later proven to be false) made by a hotel employee who saw Hunt enter the hotel bathroom later that morning and exit leaving bloody hand towels, as well as other witnesses who placed Hunt near the scene. He was convicted by an all-white jury,[5] and sentenced to life imprisonment. In 1994, DNA testing cleared Hunt of any sexual assault, and because sexual assault was at the heart of the murder case, the murder charges were then in question. In December 2003, Willard E. Brown confessed to the 1984 rape and stabbing death of Deborah Sykes after DNA testing linked him to the crime.[1][6] His confession ultimately led to the release of Darryl Hunt, who had served about 19 years of a life sentence for a crime he always denied committing.

On February 6, 2004, Superior Court Judge Anderson Cromer vacated Hunt’s murder conviction in the case.[1] Cromer dismissed the case against Hunt “with prejudice”, meaning he can never be tried in the murder again.[1]

Although Sykes’ mother took the stand at his release hearing and stated that she still thought he had killed her daughter, Hunt offered Deborah Sykes’s mother his condolences for her loss, and forgave everyone for the years he spent in prison.

Darryl Hunt was the founder of The Darryl Hunt Project for Freedom and Justice and The Darryl Hunt Freedom Fighters. He was an award winning speaker, mentor, community activist and author. Hunt has spoken to hundreds of conferences, schools, film festivals and religious groups, in an effort to spread his message of reform and compassion. He played a pivotal role in North Carolina’s statewide effort to pass a Death Penalty Moratorium Bill and has appeared before a US Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the death penalty appeals process.


In December 2005, an independent documentary film titled The Trials of Darryl Hunt, was named a Sundance Film Festival selection, and premiered in early 2006. The film documents, in its own words, “the story [of the brutal rape and murder] in North Carolina, and offers a deeply personal story of a wrongfully convicted man.” The documentary illustrates the humility of both Darryl and his wife, the drive and determination of his supporters, and depicts the ongoing battle with the racism that underlies this case.


In April 2007, the book Long Time Coming was published, recounting Hunt’s sixth grade teacher’s (Jo Anne North Goetz) steadfast belief in Darryl’s innocence. The book was written by author Leigh Somerville McMillan, who also writes for the Winston-Salem Journal.

In November 2011, the book “Making Justice Our Business: The Wrongful Conviction of Darryl Hunt and the Work of Faith” by Stephen B. Boyd (978-1-60899-966-8) was released from Wipf and Stock with an endorsement from Maya Angelou: “I recommend this book as an important read for every American citizen.” The book chronicles the story of Hunt—his conviction, time in prison, exoneration, and the community that never lost faith in his innocence—as well as arguing for the importance of justice in a life of faith.


On February 19, 2007, the city of Winston-Salem settled with Hunt in his lawsuit against the city. Hunt was awarded a settlement of $1,650,000.[7] He died on March 13, 2016.[8]

Sandra Bland

Sandra BlandSandra Bland was a 28-year-old black woman who was found hanged in a jail cell in Waller County, Texas, on July 13, 2015. Her death was classified as a suicide by the county coroner and was followed by protests against her arrest disputing the cause of death and alleging racial violence against her.[1]

Bland had been pulled over for a minor traffic violation on July 10 by state trooper Brian Encinia. He arrested her following an escalating conflict during which he alleged that she had assaulted him and which was recorded by his dashcam and by a bystander’s cellphone. After authorities reviewed the dashcam footage, Encinia was placed on administrative duty for failing to follow proper traffic stop procedures.[2]

On July 16, Texas authorities and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Houston Division announced that they had begun a joint investigation into Bland’s death.[2] A motion-activated camera outside her cell recorded no movement in the hallway for 90 minutes before jailers found her dead. An autopsy conducted by the Harris County medical examiner ruled Bland’s death a suicide and said it found no evidence of a violent struggle. The results from a second independent autopsy requested by her family have not been released.[3]

In December 2015, a grand jury declined to issue an indictment in connection to Bland’s death. A wrongful death lawsuit is pending. In January 2016, the grand jury indicted Encinia for perjury. The Texas Department of Public Safety dismissed Encinia as a result of his indictment.