Protests in the wake of police officer-related shootings of black people have led to violence, rioting and looting over the past several years.
Time and time again, the families of these victims have condemned, decried and shamed those who commit acts of violence in their loved one’s names. Yet, their calls often fell on deaf ears.
July 2014 — Eric Garner:
Video depicting an altercation between Eric Garner, 43, and at least five NYPD officers shows Garner in a chokehold from one of the officers and saying, “I can’t breathe!” New York Daily News reported.
The video quickly sparked protests in New York during July of 2014. Rev. Al Sharpton led thousands of demonstrators in the “We Will Not Go Back” march in Staten Island, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, and Broadway stars demonstrated by organizing a flashmob in Times Square.
Garner’s death became a subject of controversy when the medical examiner’s autopsy attributed his death as a homicide due to “compression of neck (choke hold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police.” It also noted Garner’s death was health-related, noting Garner’s asthma, obesity, and heart disease, as reported by the New York Times
When the grand jury declined to indict the officer involved in December 2014, protests once again broke out, but this time, they became violent.
Ambushed while sitting in their squad car, two NYPD officers, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, were killed by Ismaaiyl Brinsley, according to NBC News. Prior to the killing, Brinsley posted “I’m putting wings on pigs today,” on social media. “They take 1 of ours … let’s take 2 of theirs,” he continued.
Eric Garner’s mother and widow were quick to condemn the violence perpetrated against the NYPD, NBC News reported. “My husband was not a violent man,” Esaw Garner said, “We don’t want violence connected to his name.”
Garner’s Mother, Gwen Carr, said, “Anyone who’s standing with us, we want you to not use Eric Garner’s name for violence because we are not about that.” She told reporters, “I’m standing here in sorrow about losing those two police officers.”
August 2014 — Michael Brown
Michael Brown, 18, was killed by a police officer, in Ferguson, Missouri after reportedly reaching for a police officer’s firearm, according to NBC News. The incident sparked several waves of unrest, which included mass demonstrations, rioting, looting and arson.
The first round of unrest came immediately after the incident, widely called the “Ferguson Unrest;” the second came after a grand jury did not recommend charging Darren Wilson, the officer involved in the shooting, as reported by BBC News.
Ben Crump, the family’s attorney, condemned both waves of violence on the family’s behalf, The Washington Post reported. Crump said in November 2015 that they, “condemn violence and the looting last night.”
“We also condemn the violent acts that happened on Aug. 9,” he continued. Brown’s family also condemned the shooting of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos in a statement, per The Huffington Post.
November 2014 — Tamir Rice
Tamir Rice, 12, was shot and killed by a police officer when Rice reached for a weapon that, unbeknownst to the officer at the time, turned out to be a fake pistol, according to the New York Times.
In a 911 call released to Cleveland.com, the caller says “a guy with a gun” was “pointing it at people” passing by. While the caller said Rice was “probably a juvenile,” and the pistol was “probably fake,” the officer had no definitive proof these statements were true and the gun was fake.
A grand jury ultimately decided not to bring charges against the officer involved.
Rice family attorney Walter Madison responded to protests invoking Tamir’s name that turned violent by saying, “for those who have mercenary motives, we do not support you, nor do we welcome your assistance, for you are the true enemy,” at a press conference. Samaria Rice, Tamir’s mother, added, “I want to say I’m against all violence.”
April 2015 — Walter Scott
Walter Scott was killed by a police officer in North Charleston, South Carolina after being shot in the back at least five times according to The Washington Post. Police released dash-cam video footage of the shooting obtained from officer Michael Slager’s police cruiserg, New York Daily News reported. The video shows Scott fleeing his vehicle after being pulled over while Slager shouts “Taser! Taser! Taser!” Separate footage taken by a bystander via cell phone shows Slager shooting Scott.
Slager was promptly fired, charged with murder and ultimately convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison, as reported by The Washington Post.
Walter Scott’s family distanced themselves from Al Sharpton and others associated with Black Lives Matter movements. A source close to the Scott family told New York Daily News that the family doesn’t “want another Ferguson type of circus here,” in response to the Scott family keeping Walter Scott’s family closed to family and friends only.
April 2015 — Freddie Gray
Freddie Gray died in Baltimore Police Department custody in April 2015 after he was arrested and placed in the back of a police van, BBC News reported. News of his severe spinal cord injury and eventual death sent shivers through the community and sparked protests.
When the protests turned into several nights of violence and rioting, Freddie Gray’s family spoke out against the agitators and anarchists. Gray’s mother, Gloria Darden, said, “don’t tear up the whole city just for him. That’s wrong,” per NBC News. Freddie Gray’s stepfather, Richard Shipley, said, “to see that it turned into all this violence and destruction, I am really appalled,” Gray’s stepfather.
July 2016 — Alton Sterling
Alton Sterling was killed by police after officers responded to reports of a public disturbance in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, according to CNN. While selling CDs outside a local shop, a homeless man approached Sterling multiple times to ask for money. The homeless man called 911 and said Sterling flashed a gun at him, a source familiar with the investigation told CNN at the time.
A graphic cell phone video shows two officers on top of Sterling the moment he was shot. The video quickly went viral on social media and was picked up by major media outlets, leading to mass demonstrations. Protests across the nation quickly took a violent turn, specifically in Dallas and Baton Rouge.
A heavily-armed military veteran took aim at a group of police officers and opened fire during a demonstration in the wake of Sterling’s death in retribution for Sterling’s death, the New York Times reported. The sniper killed five officers and wounded nine others — two of whom were civilians — as reported by NBC DFW. Officials said the gunman set out to target and kill as many white officers as he could, per the New York Times.
Days after, NPR reported nearly 200 protesters were arrested during violent clashes with police that broke out during protests in Baton Rouge on July 10.
Alton Sterling’s mother, Quinyetta McMillon, condemned the Dallas shooting in a statement issued by her attorneys, according to The Boston Globe. ”Responding to violence with violence is not the answer.”
”We wholeheartedly reject the reprehensible acts of violence that were perpetrated against members of the Dallas Police Department,” the statement goes on to say. “Our hearts break for the families of the officers who were lost as they protected protesters and residents alike during a rally.”
When all was said and done, the two officers involved did not face criminal charges, according to BBC News. However, one was dismissed and the other was suspended from the Baton Rouge police force.
July 2016 — Philando Castile
Philando Castile’s shooting was live streamed by his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds. He was shot five times while reaching for his driver’s license after informing a police officer that he had a registered firearm in the car during a traffic stop in St. Paul, Minnesota, according to a transcript of the stop.
The officer involved was charged and tried for murder, but was later cleared.
Protests devolved into riots in the immediate aftermath. This spurred Valerie Castile, Philando Castile’s mother, to release a statement that urged “all people to remain peaceful in all demonstrations throughout our community and our nation,” Twin Cities Pioneer Press reported.
“When demonstrations become violent, it disrespects my son and his memory,” she said. “Philando was a man of peace and dignity. Please, I ask you to at all times remain peaceful in your expressions of concern regarding his death at the hands of the police. I promise that we will not rest until justice prevails.”
Valerie Castile also condemned the shooting of police officers in Dallas. Philando “believed that all lives matter,” she said in an interview according to the Independent.
March 2020 — Breonna Taylor
A message from Breonna Taylor’s family urging protestors to be peaceful, go home and keep fighting for truth. pic.twitter.com/if5MH5UcCW
— Mayor Greg Fischer (@louisvillemayor) May 29, 2020
Breonna Taylor was killed in the crossfire of a firefight between her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, and police officers in Louisville, Kentucky. Officers were executing a no-knock search warrant in relation to a narcotics investigation.
Calls for justice for Breonna Taylor were renewed after the death of George Floyd, but Taylor’s family quickly condemned rioting and looting that plagued several of America’s major cities during the protests.
Juniyah Palmer released a video statement, saying, “Louisville, thank you so much for saying Breonna’s name tonight. We are not going to stop until we get justice. But, we should stop tonight before people get hurt. Please go home, be safe, and be ready to keep fighting” for justice.”.
Breonna Taylor’s aunt, Bianca Austin, wrote, “We are so grateful for everyone giving Bre a voice tonight, for saying her name, for demanding truth, for demanding justice and for demanding accountability,” in a statement released by WLKY.
Palmer then shifted her focus to the rioting and looting that plagued several of America’s major cities in the social media post, writing, “please keep it peaceful. Do not succumb to the levels that we see out of police. Speak. Protest. But do not resort to violence. We demand change. We demand reform. But we do not need for our community to get hurt, we need for our community to get justice.”
May 2020 — George Floyd
George Floyd died after being arrested for allegedly attempting to pass a counterfeit $20 bill in Minneapolis in May, the New York Times reported. A viral video taken by a bystander shows Floyd being held down by a police officer who had his knee on Floyd’s neck, with three officers surrounding them, according to the New York Times.
The video sparked massive protests and demonstrations from coast to coast. However, it wasn’t long until the protests gave way to rioting and looting in Minneapolis, Chicago, New York, Washington, DC, Portland, Los Angeles and many other major urban areas.
George Floyd’s brother, Terrence Floyd, urged protesters to remain peaceful at a vigil held for his brother in late May. “Do this [protest] peacefully, please! My brother moved here from Houston, and I used to talk to him on the phone, he loved it here. I know he would not want y’all to be doin this,” he said before leading the crowd in a chant that said “peace on the left, justice on the right.”
“Sometimes I get angry.” Terrance Floyd said in an interview with ABC 13 Eyewitness News, “I want to go crazy. My brother wasn’t about that. My brother was about peace. You’ll hear a lot of people saying, ‘He was a gentle giant.’”
“Don’t tear up your town,” he continued, “all of this is not necessary because if his own family and blood is not doing it, then why are you?”
George Floyd’s children also condemned the violence. Connie Mason Floyd, Floyd’s eldest daughter, said, “The violence is not the right way to do it,” according to WGN 9. “Now, this is beautiful, but the violence, it won’t solve nothing.”
Quincy Mason Floyd, George Floyd’s son, said, “Tearing up things, it’s not going to solve anything. My dad is in peace and we have to be the ones to deal with all this stress. It’s going to be tough to get over this day by day.”
All four officers involved have been fired, per USA Today. Derek Chauvin, the officer seen kneeling on the neck of George Floyd for more than 8 minutes in witness video, has since been charged with murder. The other three officers have been charged with aiding and abetting murder.
August 2020 — Jacob Blake
Jacob Blake was shot by police in the back at least 7 times Sunday in Kenosha, Wisconsin and is now paralyzed from the waist down, according to NPR.
Video of the altercation shows Blake attempting to enter his vehicle when officers shot Blake at point-blank range while his kids sat in the backseat and went viral on social media, according to Business Insider.
The video sparked three consecutive days and nights of protests and riots in Kenosha. The riots turned deadly as two people were shot and killed Tuesday night, per a statement posted by the Kenosha police department on Twitter.
Jacob Blake’s mother, Julia Jackson, addressed the public and members of the media in a Tuesday press conference, and condemned violence, rioting, and looting taking place throughout the city. “It doesn’t reflect my son or my family,” she said. “If Jacob knew what was going on, as far as that goes, the violence and the destruction, he would be very unpleased.” (RELATED: Julia Jackson, Mother Of Jacob Blake, Says She Is ‘Praying’ For Police Officers, Condemns Rioting And Looting In Son’s Name)