The large-scale protests against police that have roiled hundreds of cities across America follow the high-profile deaths of a dozen black Americans since 2014. These fatal encounters, almost all of which were captured on video, include:
In an encounter recorded by a bystander on video, officers grabbed Garner, who was unarmed, and pulled him to the sidewalk.
Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who is white, wrapped his arm around Garner’s neck. Garner gasped, wailing “I can’t breathe” 11 times. Within minutes he was unconscious.
Garner’s death sparked massive protests in New York City. Local and federal investigations ended with no charges filed against Pantaleo or the other officers involved.
In August 2019, five years after Garner’s death, the New York City police chief fired Pantaleo after a departmental disciplinary judge recommended the officer be terminated. A medical examiner concluded that Garner had died as the result of a chokehold that had been prohibited by the police department.
“Yes, he’s fired, but the fight is not over,” Emerald Garner, one of Garner’s children, said at the time. “We will continue to fight.”
Michael Brown, 18
On Aug. 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo., Michael Brown and officer Darren Wilson encountered one another on a residential street in the St. Louis suburb. Police said Brown was a suspect in the robbery of cigars from a convenience store. Wilson shot and killed the teenager, who was unarmed.
As Brown’s body lay in the street, his friend, Dorian Johnson, recounted to reporters what he said he witnessed: “He put his hands in the air. He started to get down, but the officer still approached with his weapon drawn. And he fired several more shots. And my friend died.”
The killing of Brown set off protests that raged for months in Ferguson and helped propel a national movement for police accountability. “Hands up, don’t shoot!” became a rallying cry for protesters.
Two separate law enforcement investigations concluded that Brown did not have his hands in the air when Wilson opened fire. And, in November 2014, a grand jury decided not to indict Wilson after finding that witness reports did not match evidence. On March 4, 2015, the Obama administration’s Justice Department issued an 86-page investigative report that concluded “there is no credible evidence that Wilson willfully shot Brown as he was attempting to surrender or was otherwise not posing a threat.”
The same day, the Justice Department released the results of an investigation of the Ferguson Police Department, which found systemic exploitation and racial profiling of black residents by officers.
Johnson told The Washington Post in 2019 that he stood by what he said he saw that day and that he has faced death threats from around the world calling him a liar.
“It hurt,” Johnson said. “To come out and voice what really happened and then get that kind of response.”
Laquan McDonald, 17
On Oct. 20, 2014, police officers in Chicago encountered Laquan McDonald after responding to a report of someone trying to break into vehicles.
Police began following McDonald, who was carrying a knife and used it to slash a police car’s tire. When officer Jason Van Dyke, who is white, arrived at the scene, he got out of his car and started shooting, striking McDonald 16 times.
Police dashboard camera footage of the shooting showed that the 17-year-old was moving away from Van Dyke when he began firing.
But the video footage remained hidden by Chicago officials for more than a year. It was only released in November 2015, after the city had approved a $5 million settlement with the teenager’s family.
The day the video became public, Van Dyke was arrested and charged with murder. Demonstrators took to the streets.
During the trial, Van Dyke testified he feared for his life, and his attorneys argued that McDonald would still be alive if he had dropped the knife as ordered by police. An autopsy found that the teenager had PCP in his system when he died, but prosecutors said Van Dyke could not have known that when he started shooting.
Amid the fallout, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) forced out his police superintendent. The prosecutor who waited more than a year to charge Van Dyke lost her reelection bid the next year. The Justice Department opened a civil rights probe, which found routine constitutional violations and excessive force by Chicago police, particularly against black and Latino residents. Emanuel abandoned his bid for a third term shortly before Van Dyke’s trial began in 2018.
Tamir Rice, 12
On Nov. 22, 2014, a caller to 911 in Cleveland reported someone near a recreation center playing with a gun and scaring people. The caller said the gun was “probably fake” and noted that the person with it was probably a child.
Police responded and within seconds of arriving, officer Timothy Loehmann jumped out of his car and opened fire, striking 12-year-old Tamir Rice, killing him. The shooting was captured on surveillance video.
Rice had been playing with a pellet gun. Authorities later said the information from the call — that it was likely he was a child playing with a fake weapon — had not been passed along to the responding officers.
A grand jury declined to indict the two officers who responded.
“The death of Tamir Rice was an absolute tragedy,” Timothy J. McGinty, the prosecutor, said at the time. “But it was not, by the law that binds us, a crime.”
Loehmann was later fired after an investigation found he had lied when applying to work as an officer.
Walter Scott, 50
On April 4, 2015, Michael Slager, a white police officer in South Carolina, pulled over Walter Scott’s vehicle for a routine traffic stop in North Charleston. Scott ran and Slager chased him into a nearby lot.
At one point, a bystander began recording the encounter on a cellphone. The video captured Slager firing his gun at Scott as he fled, striking him five times.
The day the cellphone video was made public, Slager was charged with murder. He was later also charged with a federal civil rights violation.
During his trial, Slager testified that he had tried to subdue Scott and said he feared for his life because Scott had grabbed his Taser during the struggle.
The jury deadlocked in December 2016. Prosecutors said they would retry him, but Slager pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights charge as part of a deal to resolve both cases. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Samuel DuBose, 43
On July 19, 2015, a University of Cincinnati police officer pulled over a car driven by Samuel DuBose near the school’s campus for failing to display a front license plate. Officer Ray Tensing approached the car and soon opened fire, killing DuBose.
Tensing, who is white, told investigators he was forced to shoot because he was being dragged by the car.
In a video recorded by Tensing’s body camera, the officer could be heard telling DuBose to take off his seat belt. DuBose then started the car and Tensing yelled for DuBose to stop. The officer pushed his gun through the open car window and shot DuBose in the head. The car rolled forward before coming to a stop down the street.
Prosecutors charged Tensing with murder. Joe Deters, the Hamilton County prosecutor, said at the time that his office had looked at more than 100 police shootings. DuBose’s death was the first, he said, where they concluded, “This is without question a murder.”
Deters decided against a third attempt, announcing his decision almost exactly two years after DuBose’s death. He said jurors had told prosecutors they would never win a conviction in the case.
“I don’t like it,” Deters said then. “My opinion of this case has not changed from two years ago tomorrow and it’s not going to change.”
Freddie Gray, 25
On April 12, 2015, Freddie Gray was arrested by Baltimore Police officers who said he had a switchblade. Video shot by a bystander showed officers dragging Gray, moaning in pain, toward a police wagon and helping him into the vehicle.
By the time they had arrived at the police station, Gray was not breathing.
Gray died a week later, after suffering severe spinal injuries that a medical examiner said were sustained as he was being transported to the police station. During the ride, the driver, Caesar R. Goodson Jr., stopped to put Gray in leg restraints, but Gray was not secured with a seat belt or offered medical attention despite his requests, police officials said.
Days later, the six officers involved — Goodson, William Porter, Garrett Miller, Edward Nero, Brian Rice and Alicia White — were suspended without pay because of his death.
Gray’s death spurred weeks of protests against police brutality. The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, and Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby announced charges against the six police officers.
A judge declared a mistrial for Porter, after a jury deadlocked on the charges. Prosecutors eventually dropped charges against Porter, Miller and White.
Rice was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office. Goodson was found not guilty of second-degree depraved heart murder, three counts of manslaughter, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment. Nero was acquitted of misdemeanor charges of second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office.
All six were allowed to return to work.
Alton Sterling, 37
On July 5, 2016, police officers in Baton Rouge shot and killed Alton Sterling in an encounter recorded by a bystander on a cellphone.
Officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II had responded to a call about a man threatening someone with a gun near a convenience store.
Video showed the officers telling Sterling to put his hands on the hood of a car. When he did not, a struggle ensued. One of the officers yelled that Sterling was going for a gun. Prosecutors would later say the officers were trying to make a legal arrest and assumed he was armed and resisting.
Another video recording, captured by Salamoni’s body camera and released later by authorities, recorded the officer yelling profanities at Sterling and threatening to shoot him in the head.
After the shooting, Lake found a loaded .38-caliber handgun in Sterling’s right pocket, officials said.
The Louisiana attorney general and the Justice Department declined to bring charges against the officers involved. Salamoni was fired by his department in 2018 for violating police policies during the shooting.
Philando Castile, 32
On July 6, 2016, police officer Jeronimo Yanez pulled over Philando Castile, a school cafeteria manager, in the suburbs near Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Yanez, who said he thought Castile fit the description of a suspect in a recent robbery, approached the car window and asked Castile for his license and proof of insurance.
Castile told the officer he had a firearm on him. Yanez told him not to pull out the gun. Castile and Diamond Reynolds, who was sitting in the passenger seat, both said he was not reaching for the gun.
Yanez screamed again at Castile not to pull his gun out, drew his own weapon and fired seven shots at him, police dashboard camera footage showed. The officer later told investigators he believed Castile was not listening to him and moving his hand. Yanez also told them he feared for his life and the lives of the car’s other passengers.
Reynolds, whose 4-year-old daughter was sitting in the back seat, took her phone and began live-streaming the encounter on Facebook, footage that spread around the world.
Yanez, an officer with the St. Anthony, Minn., police department was charged with manslaughter and endangering the lives of Reynolds and her daughter. One of Yanez’s bullets went through the driver’s seat and hit the seat behind him.
At trial in 2017, Yanez was acquitted on all charges. The police department said he would not return to the force and that it would offer him “a voluntary separation agreement,” which city officials said was reached not long after the trial.
Ahmaud Arbery, 25
On Feb. 23, Ahmaud Arbery was jogging near his home in Glynn County, Ga., when Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis, began following Arbery in a truck. William “Roddie” Bryan Jr. followed Arbery and the McMichaels in his own vehicle.
Gregory McMichael, a white retired police detective, later told police that he believed Arbery looked like a person suspected in local break-ins and that he yelled at Arbery to stop so that they could talk.
In a video shot by Bryan, Arbery can be seen running around McMichael’s truck and then a shot is fired. Travis McMichael, who is seen outside of the truck holding a shotgun, then appears to struggle with Arbery before two more shots are fired. Arbery then staggers away, crumpling to the ground, dying at the scene.
Bryan, who is also white, told a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent that Travis McMichael had called Arbery a racial epithet after shooting him, according to the agent’s testimony during a June preliminary hearing.
Initially, the three men faced no charges.
A prosecutor, who later recused himself from the case, wrote that the McMichaels could be justified in holding Arbery under the state’s citizen’s arrest law, and that Travis McMichael shot Arbery in self-defense.
But more than two months after Arbery’s death, Bryan’s video of the encounter was made public and went viral, prompting outrage and condemnation of the shooting.
Within days, Gregory and Travis McMichael were charged with murder and aggravated assault. Weeks later, Bryan was also charged with felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
Lawmakers are now trying to change the citizen’s arrest law.
Breonna Taylor, 26
Shortly after midnight on March 13, three police officers used a battering ram to enter the Louisville home of Breonna Taylor, a black emergency room technician, as part of a narcotics investigation. Police said her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, shot at the officers, striking one in the leg.
Police fired more than 20 shots, according to a lawsuit filed by Taylor’s family, striking Taylor at least eight times, killing her.
No drugs were recovered from the home. Walker, who is black, was charged with the attempted murder of a police officer and first-degree assault, but the charges were later dropped. Walker said he suspected the police were intruders.
Nightly protests have roiled Louisville and other cities as the three white officers involved — Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison and Myles Cosgrove — were placed on administrative duty, pending an internal investigation.
Taylor’s mother has called for the officers to be fired, and others have pushed for them to be charged.
On June 4, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) tweeted: “The officers who murdered Breonna Taylor nearly three months ago still have not been charged. We can’t forget about Black women in our quest for justice.”
George Floyd, 46
On May 25, George Floyd was sitting in a car outside the Cup Foods corner store in Minneapolis when police confronted Floyd over accusations that he used a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli.
In an encounter captured on video, a white officer, Derek Chauvin, pinned the handcuffed Floyd to the pavement and knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes as the black man pleaded for air.
“Please, please, please, I can’t breathe. Please, man,” Floyd said.
During the arrest, three other officers helped restrain Floyd. By the time paramedics arrived he was nonresponsive and later pronounced dead.
Floyd’s death quickly sparked nationwide protests against police.
Chauvin, 44, was fired and charged with third-degree murder, which was later upgraded to second-degree. The other officers, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng, who were fired along with Chauvin, face charges of felony aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The charges carry maximum sentences of as many as 40 years for all four officers, according to the criminal complaints.
During his nearly two decades with the department, Chauvin had been the subject of at least 17 complaints, according to records released by the Minneapolis Police Department.
“There’s nobody that can do what these officers did to George Floyd and get away with it,” Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison told The Washington Post in an interview on June 4.