The Year Just Started and Cops Have Already Killed At Least 7 Unarmed People
The year is brand new, and civilian killings by police officers continue unabated. In 2022, police killed at least 1,192 people, the highest number ever recorded, according to the Mapping Police Violence database. A hundred of those people were unarmed. Black people were three times more likely than white people to be killed, although they were 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed.
As the first month of 2023 draws to a close, the nation is once again confronting the tragedy of a killing at the hands of men who pledged to protect and serve their community. On Jan. 7, five Memphis Police officers severely beat 29-year-old Tyre Nichols during a traffic stop in Memphis, Tennessee. He died three days later of his injuries. The officers responsible have been fired and charged with his murder. Police body camera footage showed Nichols repeatedly calling out for his mom as officers beat him with batons and kicked him so hard they almost fell over. When the footage was released last Friday, protests sprang up in cities across the nation with activists demanding police reform. After Nichols’ death, President Biden called for better policing practices, saying in a statement, “To deliver real change, we must have accountability when law enforcement officers violate their oaths, and we need to build lasting trust between law enforcement … and the communities they are sworn to serve and protect.”
For years, before the murder of George Floyd in 2020, before the killing of Michael Brown in 2014, activists have said our method of policing is failing. Margaret Huang, President and CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center, tells Rolling Stone the system is “irreparably broken” and needs to be overhauled. “None of us are free while this system endures,” Huang says. “And it is not enough to condemn the brutality; the killing must stop. The deep and violent legacy of policing has claimed too many lives. Public officials must urgently reimagine public safety, dismantle the foundations of white supremacy and racism, and lift up the needs and values of communities served.”
Already in 2023, law enforcement officers have killed at least seven unarmed, identified civilians, according to data compiled by the Washington Post and other sources. At least three of the victims were Black, and some, like Nichols, were killed in manners besides shooting. One death was a traffic accident, and two died after being tased by law enforcement officers. Some of these killings never caught the kind of attention Nichols’ did. Here’s a look at six other unarmed victims of fatal interactions with police officers since 2023 began.
Keenan Anderson, 31
Los Angeles, California
Anderson, a high school teacher, first interacted with the police because he flagged down an officer for help after he’d been in a traffic accident. Police said he was “exhibiting erratic behavior,” and body camera footage of the incident showed him pacing back and forth and telling the officer, “Somebody’s trying to kill me,” and repeatedly asking the officer to help him. The officer asked him to stay on the sidewalk, after which he attempted to run away from the scene. Multiple Los Angeles Police Department officers pursued him, tackled him, and began struggling with him to put him in handcuffs. As officers held him down, one used a taser on him. Anderson, a Black man, called out, “They’re trying to George Floyd me!” Anderson died hours later in the hospital from a reported heart attack. His killing renewed calls for police reform in Los Angeles. LAPD’s Force Investigation Division is investigating the incident, and attorneys for Anderson’s five-year-old son have filed a $50 million lawsuit against the city. The LAPD said the taser was only activated one time, followed by a series of less intense “dry stuns,” and that the department has reduced the use of tasers by 20 percent over the past five years.
Christopher Lee Mercurio, 50
Mercurio, identified by the coroner’s office as “a transient,” was fatally shot outside a Macy’s department store by a Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s deputy. Police arrived at the Valencia Mall after a security guard reported a trespasser who would not leave the property. Mercurio, whose race was not specified by authorities, then “assaulted” a deputy, according to a sheriff’s department statement, and an officer shot him. Both Mercurio and the deputy involved in the altercation were transported to the hospital. Mercurio was pronounced dead, and the deputy was treated for injuries to his face. The Justice Department is investigating the incident.
Darryl Tyree Williams, 32
Raleigh, North Carolina
Six Raleigh police officers were placed on administrative leave after the death of Williams, who died hours after officers tased him during an arrest for drug possession. Police allege Williams, who was Black, resisted being handcuffed, then fled, after which they deployed a taser twice in “drive stun mode,” a less intense usage where the Taser is held against a person’s body rather than deploying projectiles. Williams told officers, “I have heart problems,” according to an internal police department report based on unreleased body camera footage. While waiting for EMS, Williams became unresponsive without a pulse. Officers said they initiated CPR, but he did not respond to lifesaving attempts by police or medical responders. The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation and the Raleigh Police Internal Affairs Unit are investigating. Following his death, organizers protested at a city council meeting, calling for justice for Williams.
Jackson Lieber, 21
Liberty Hill, Texas
Police officers fatally shot Lieber, a white man whose family lawyer described as the valedictorian of his high school class, after a witness reported him trespassing on someone’s property in the middle of the afternoon. Lieber had reportedly driven off the road and crashed his car in somebody’s front yard, then “wandered onto that property,” according to authorities, where he allegedly got into a physical fight with multiple members of the household. He was shot after an altercation with the responding officer, police have stated. Lieber’s family is demanding transparency from police and answers about what went wrong, and the Texas Rangers are investigating the incident.
Jaahnavi Kandula, 23
Kandula, a graduate student from India studying at Northeastern University, was struck by a police car around 8 p.m. while she was crossing the street. The Seattle Police Department said Kandula was in the crosswalk and that the officer, driving a marked patrol car, was responding to a reported medical emergency at the time. Kandula’s uncle, who lives in Houston, flew to Washington to return her body to her mother in India in the wake of the accident. He told the Seattle Times he was “in shock” when he heard the news and that Kandula had traveled to the United States with the ultimate goal “to help her family.” After Kandula’s death, activists gathered at the intersection to protest police violence. The incident is under investigation by the Seattle Police Department’s Traffic Collision Investigation Squad, not as a use of force incident. A SPT spokesperson told the Seattle Times, “At this point in the investigation, we have no reason to believe the officer intended to hit that woman.” The officer driving the car has not been placed on leave. Police have said they performed CPR at the scene while waiting for the fire department, which took over lifesaving measures when they arrived. Kandula was taken to the hospital in critical condition but died soon thereafter. The police department extended condolence to Kandula’s family and friends, saying in a statement, “This incident is a terrible tragedy for everyone involved.”
Billy DeWayne Couch, 51
Gordon County, Georgia
Couch was shot and killed during a traffic stop. Around 1 a.m., authorities said deputies tried to pull Couch’s truck over, but he sped away and drove behind a house, where the deputies blocked him in. They said Couch, who was white, ignored commands to show his hands as he got out of his truck and the sheriff’s office reportedly said he ran off after getting out of the vehicle. At some point, a deputy shot him. Authorities have not released more specific details, but the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is probing the incident.
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