A Very Brief History of Police Killings in the U.S.

After Michael Brown: Metta Sáma

August 11, 2015  By Metta Sáma

Fists v Guns v Knives v Guns v Mouthy Mouths v Guns v Cellphones v Guns v Keys v Guns: A Very Brief History of Police Killings in the U.S., beginning with Bloody Christmas & ending with The Counted


[Daniel] Rodela, a 23-year-old, 114-pound meter reader for the [Los Angeles] Gas Co. “resisted arrest,” so the officers beat him mercilessly in front of his family, then handcuffed and dragged him by his hair into the police car. From his home, they drove to Elysian Park, where they savagely beat him with a “flexible instrument,” fracturing facial bones and throwing his nose out of place.

Rodela later testified that—while feigning unconsciousness—he heard one officer say to another, “You’d better make your report good . . . that he resisted arrest and assaulted you with a flower pot or something.” (re “Bloody Christmas, 1951”)    –Cecilia Rasmussen

* * * *

In 1977, Joe Campos Torres had been arrested at a Houston bar for disorderly conduct. Police officers took Torres to a spot called “The Hole” next to Buffalo Bayou and beat him. His body was found days later.   –Houston Chronicle

* * * *

Two plastic surgeons testifying as expert witnesses said yesterday that a 66-year-old Bronx woman could have continued to slash at police officers who were trying to subdue her, even after a shotgun blast had torn away part of her hand that held a knife. The doctors testified on behalf of Stephen Sullivan, 43, a police officer on trial for manslaughter in the death of Eleanor Bumpurs. She was shot in the right hand and chest by Officer Sullivan during an eviction proceeding on Oct. 29, 1984.   –Frank J. Prial

* * * *

. . . the 25th anniversary of a massive police operation in [1985 in] Philadelphia that culminated in the helicopter bombing of the headquarters of a radical group known as MOVE. The fire from the attack killed six adults and five children and destroyed 65 homes, an entire neighborhood. Despite the two grand jury investigations and a commission finding that top officials were grossly negligent, no one from city government was criminally charged.   –Juan Gonzalez

* * * *

You have to understand our lives are threatened everyday.   –Cop

I guess that makes us brothers.   –Dwayne Wayne

* * * *

A 27-year-old Cincinnati police officer spots the suspect as he runs into a dark alley. As a police car approaches, its camera rolling, the officer runs towards the alley and almost immediately a shot rings out. A single bullet fired from the officer’s gun pierces the suspect’s heart. He’s pronounced dead at 3:02 am [on April 7, 2001]. The officer later tells investigators he thought the suspect was reaching for a gun—but no gun was ever found. By dawn, the identity of the suspect comes to light. The man was 19-years-old, a young father with an infant son. The man’s name was Timothy Thomas.   –John Larson

* * * *

A woman who lost her premature baby a day after she was thrown in jail is suing the police department and two arresting officers who repeatedly ignored her pleas for medical help.

A police videotape released Tuesday shows Sofia Salva telling officers numerous times last Feb. 5 [2007] that she was pregnant, bleeding and needed to go to a hospital.

After the ninth request, the tape shows, a female officer asked: “How is that my problem?”   –AP

* * * *

On 16 May 2010, [7-year old] Aiyana [Stanley-Jones] was shot dead by [officer Joseph] Weekley in the middle of the night, as she slept on a sofa inside her home on the east side of Detroit. Her grandmother, Mertilla Jones, was close by.

The home was the target of a midnight Swat-style operation designed to arrest her uncle—who was living in the apartment upstairs and was the main suspect in the murder of a teenager a couple days before. Weekley was the first officer to enter the home, seconds after a flashbang grenade—a war device created by the British SAS in the 1960s to disorient with a blinding flash and a temporarily deafening noise—was lobbed into it.

Outside, a reality television crew filmed the events for A&E.    –Rose Hackman

* * * *

A man fatally shot by a Seattle police officer after being ordered to drop a knife often had difficulty hearing and understanding what was said to him, say people who knew him.

John T. Williams, 50, was killed by Officer Ian Birk Monday afternoon [September 1, 2010]. Birk saw Williams with a knife and repeatedly ordered him to drop it just before the shooting, police said.   –Lynda M. Vapes

* * * *

“How can you justify seven shots, several in the back of an unarmed woman in a car?” Patricia Cook’s brother John Weigler said outside of court.

* * * *

And on the night of Dec. 21 [2013], a misunderstanding with his girlfriend spun Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket into a destructive fit, smashing windows and doors and knocking over the family’s Christmas tree. Melissa and Wilbur Goodblanket feared he would hurt himself, so they called 911.

The law enforcement response that followed would leave their son lifeless on the floor of their Clinton home, riddled with gunshots.   –Jennifer Palmer

* * * *

Video released by Cleveland police on Wednesday shows that officers shot a 12-year-old boy [Tamir Rice] in a park on Saturday [November 22, 2014] “one-and-a-half to two seconds” after police drove into the park and confronted the child, deputy chief Edward Tomba said.    –Tom McCarthy

* * * *

Twenty-four states have passed at least 40 measures addressing such things as officer-worn cameras, training about racial bias, independent investigations when police use force and new limits on the flow of surplus military equipment to local law enforcement agencies, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.

Far more proposals have stalled or failed, the review found. And few states have done anything to change their laws on when police are justified to use deadly force.   –David A. Lieb (2015)

* * * *

In fact, in this country we raise all of our children on one form of violence or another. And so my question is not, “Why did you walk into that violence?”

My question is, “Where does my love come from that I walk through male violence to find it?”   –Lidia Yuknavitch

* * * *

On 4 August 2015, police had already killed 9 citizens. See “The Counted” for more information.


Request: Permission to Occupy Your Body, Roger Reeves


From Within the Dark-Blood Depths, Rachel Eliza Griffiths


Other Outrages, Other Deaths, Rion Amilcar Scott


A Brief History of the Present, Morgan Parker


Rachel. Trayvon. Michael. Dying. Laughing. A. Fiction., Kiese Laymon


How Do You Write From a Country That Doesn’t Exist, Danielle Evans


To not write another word about who the cops keep killing, Khadijah Queen


Am I a Reliable Witness to My Own Life?, Sarah Labrie


Keyword Search: “Ferguson” and “Mike Brown”, Angela Flournoy


Slow Dance, With Bullet, Hope Wabuke


Breath of Fresh Air, Yahdon Israel


Metta Sáma
Metta Sáma
Metta Sáma is author of After "Sleeping to Dream"/After After (Nous-Zot), Nocturne Trio (YesYes Books) and the forthcoming le animal & other strange creatures (Miel). She is Director of Center for Women Writers and Assistant Professor and Director of Creative Writing at Salem College.

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