From Eric Garner to George Floyd, 12 black lives lost in police encounters that stoked mass protests

Protest chants of "Hands up, don't shoot," and, "I can't breathe," emerged.

June 6, 2020, 5:08 AM

They are bookends in a tragic streak of encounters with U.S. law enforcement, milestone markers that claimed the lives of black people. The eerily similar last words of "I can't breathe" uttered by Eric Garner and George Floyd echo across six years of accumulating carnage in the nation's history as protesters in the burning streets of American cities keep pleading for the recurring nightmare to end.

From the police chokehold that cost Garner his life in New York City to a police officer pinning Floyd's neck under his knee in Minneapolis, demonstrators are repeating the same complaints that black people are paying the disproportionate and ultimate price of lethal actions of law enforcement.

Black lives have been lost in numerous police encounters between Garner's death in 2014 and Floyd's death on May 25. Protesters pouring into the streets of major cities have recited names such as Walter Scott, the 50-year-old South Carolina resident who was shot in the back in 2015 by a white North Charleston police officer following a routine traffic stop, and Jordan Edwards, 15, who was in a car leaving a house party in a Dallas suburb when he was shot to death by an officer who opened fire on the vehicle.

While officers have been arrested and charged in some of the cases, loved ones of most of those killed are still seeking justice.

Here are just a dozen high-profile deaths, searing episodes that have added to a cauldron of anger and pain now boiling over across the country:

Eric Garner

Garner, 43, was confronted by undercover police on July 17, 2014, on Staten Island in New York City and accused of selling untaxed cigarettes, also known as loosies. A video of the encounter showed the more than 300-pound Garner, who was unarmed, resisting and saying he was tired of being harassed as officers moved in to arrest him.

One undercover officer, Daniel Pantaleo, who is white, came up behind Garner and placed him in a chokehold that had been banned by the New York Police Department, and, with the help of other officers, they got Garner on the ground. While still in the chokehold, Garner told the officers multiple times, "I can't breathe" until his body went listless. Garner was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.

The incident was caught on video by a witness.

Eric Garner, seen in this undated Facebook photo, died while being arrested by police in Staten Island.

Numerous acts of civil disobedience erupted in New York City and across the country in the wake of Garner's death with protester using the words "I can't breathe" as a rallying cry for justice. Although the case was presented to a grand jury, none of the officers were indicted. It took five years before Pantaleo was fired in 2019 by then-NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill.

Michael Brown

Brown, 18, was shot to death on Aug. 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, during an encounter with Darren Wilson, who was then a Ferguson police officer. Wilson, who is white, was investigating a complaint of shoplifting at a convenience store and claimed Brown matched the description of one of the suspects when he saw the teenager walking down a street.

Michael Brown is seen in this photo posted to Facebook, May 19, 2013.
Courtesy Brown Family/Facebook

Wilson alleged, according to grand jury transcripts, that Brown approached the window of his patrol car and a struggle ensued over his gun before Brown attempted to run away. Wilson claimed that he was pursuing Brown when the teenager turned around and charged towards him with the "most intense aggressive face I've ever seen on a person." Wilson, according to the transcript, said he opened fire multiple times when Brown appeared to reach for something in his waistband.

But an eyewitness, Brown's friend, Dorian Johnson, claimed that Brown had his hands up and told Wilson "don't shoot" when he was killed. Brown, who was unarmed, was shot six times.

The killing was followed by days of protests in Ferguson and across the country with demonstrators chanting "Hands up, don't shoot."

While the case was presented to a grand jury, Wilson, who resigned from the police department in November 2014, was not indicted. The U.S. Department of Justice conducted an investigation and in 2015 cleared Wilson of civil rights violations.

Akai Gurley

Gurley, 28, was with his girlfriend in the stairwell of a Brooklyn, New York, public housing project on Nov. 20, 2014, after she had just braided his hair when two New York City police officers on foot patrol entered the same darkened stairwell. One of the officers, Peter Liang, who had drawn his pistol, fired a single shot. The bullet ricocheted off a wall and fatally struck Gurley, who was unarmed and deemed an innocent bystander.

The shooting set off protests from coast to coast and Liang, who was a rookie officers, was fired from the NYPD.

Akai Gurley is seen in this undated photo that was posted to public Facebook page created in his memory.
Akai Gurley/Facebook

He was charged with second-degree manslaughter and convicted by a jury in February 2016. At Liang's sentencing hearing, a judge reduced his manslaughter conviction to criminally negligent homicide.

Liang was sentenced to five years of probation and 800 hours of community service.

Tamir Rice

Rice, 12, was alone at the Cudell Recreation Center in Cleveland on Nov. 22, 2014, playing with a replica toy Airsoft gun when a 911 dispatcher received word from a caller that a male was in the park randomly pointing a gun at people.

Tamir RIce is seen in this undated photo provided by his family.
Courtesy Rice Family

While the 911 caller told the dispatcher the gun was "probably fake," the detail was never relayed to the two police officers who responded to the call and spotted Rice at a gazebo holding what they say they thought was a real gun. Within two seconds after arriving on the scene, one of the officers, Timothy Loehmann, opened fire twice, hitting the boy once in the torso. He died a day later in a hospital.

The episode was captured on surveillance video.

The case against Loehmann and his partner, Frank Garmback, was presented to a grand jury. On Sept. 28, 2015, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty announced that the grand jury decided not to indict the officers.

In May 2017, Loehmann was terminated from the Cleveland Police Department for submitting inaccurate details on his job application and other administrative policy violations,

Freddie Gray

Gray, 25, was taken into police custody in Baltimore on April 12, 2015, for possessing a knife. He was handcuffed and placed in a police van and while being transported to a stationhouse, he sustained a spinal injury and went into a coma. Gray died in a hospital about a week after his arrest, prompting riots in Baltimore and protests across the country. His death was ruled a homicide.

Freddie Gray, 25, is seen in this undated photo.
Courtesy Murphy, Falcon & Murphy

Six Baltimore police officers faced criminal charges in Gray's death, ranging from manslaughter, second-degree assault, misconduct in office and false imprisonment. All of them were cleared of the charges.

Philando Castile

Castile, 32, was with his girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter when he was pulled over on July 6, 2016, in St. Anthony, Minnesota, a suburb of Saint Paul. St. Anthony police Officer Jeronimo Yanez asked for Castile's license and registration. Yanez, a Hispanic-American, also inquired if Castile had any firearms.

Castile told Yanez that he did have a registered gun in the car, prompting Yanez to say, "Don't reach for it then." Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, claimed Castile was reaching for his driver's license and told the officer he wasn't pulling out the gun.

Philando Castile, 32, was shot and killed by police in Minnesota during a traffic stop, July 6, 2016.

But Yanez opened fire on Castile, shooting him five times at point-blank range. In the aftermath of the shooting, while still inside the car with her child, Reynolds began recording on her cellphone and posted it to Facebook Live.

Yanez was charged with second-degree manslaughter and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm. A jury acquitted him of the charges in June 2017, but he was fired from his job by the City of St. Anthony. The city also reached a $3.8 million settlement with Castile's family and Reynolds after they filed a wrongful death lawsuit.

Stephon Clark

Clark, 22, was shot multiple times in Sacramento, California, on March 18, 2018, setting off days of protests in the state capital and across the country.

The fatal shooting occurred after officers responded to a 911 call reporting someone breaking car windows. Authorities said a police helicopter spotted Clark in the area and followed him, eventually spotting him jumping a fence into the backyard of what turned out to be his grandmother's house.

An undated family photograph of Stephon Clark who was holding his cellphone when he was fatally shot Sunday night by two Sacramento police officers who fired at him 20 times, the department said Tuesday.

Officers Terrence Mercadal, and Jared Robinet responded to the home and told investigators they thought Clark had a gun, only to later discover he was holding a cellphone. The officers fired 20 shots at Clark. An autopsy by the County of Sacramento coroner's office determined Clark was hit seven times.

The shooting was partly captured on police body-camera video.

In March 2019, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert announced that Mercadal and Robinet would not face charges. Federal prosecutors later declined to file civil rights violation charges against the officers and they were returned to full active duty.

Botham Jean

Jean, 27, an accountant at the international auditing firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers, was in his apartment eating ice cream on Sept. 6, 2018, when Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger entered his home after mistaking it for her own and fatally shot Jean believing he was an intruder.

Botham Jean is seen Feb. 27, 2014.
Jeff Montgomery/Harding University/AP, FILE

Guyger was fired from her job, arrested and charged with Jean's killing.

In October 2019, a Dallas County jury convicted her of murder after deliberating for less than two days. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Atatiana Jefferson

Jefferson, 28, was in her home playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew at 2:30 a.m. on Oct. 12, 2019, when she heard a disturbance in the backyard of her family's Fort Worth, Texas, home. She grabbed a registered pistol from her purse, went to a bedroom window to investigate and was fatally shot by a police officer, who went to the house after a neighbor called 911 and asked for a welfare check because he noticed the front door was open.

A mourner pays respects before the start of the funeral service for Atatiana Jefferson on Oct. 24, 2019, at Concord Church in Dallas.
Stewart F. House/Getty Images, FILE

An investigation determined that Aaron Dean, the officer who shot Jefferson, and his partner never knocked on the door or identified themselves as police. The officers entered the backyard of the home and Dean allegedly opened fire almost as soon as he saw Jefferson standing at the bedroom window peering out.

After being shot, Jefferson "yelled out in pain, and fell to the ground," according to the affidavit.

Dean resigned from the police force within days of the shooting and was charged with murder.

Breonna Taylor

Taylor, 26, a licensed EMT, was shot to death in her own apartment in Louisville, Kentucky, when three white police officers executed a no-knock warrant on March 13.

The three plainclothes police officers rammed down the door and were alleged to have "blindly" opened fire into Taylor's apartment, according to a wrongful death lawsuit filed in April by Taylor's mother, Tamika Palmer. Taylor was shot at least eight times and died.

Taylor was accused of accepting USPS packages for an ex-boyfriend who police were investigating as an alleged drug trafficker and used her address, according to the warrant.

The police said they knocked several times before using a ram to open the door and were allegedly met with gunfire from Taylor's new boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, authorities said. Walker said he called 911 before firing one shot from his licensed firearm, striking one of the officers in the leg.

The three officers involved in the episode were placed on administrative reassignment pending an investigation and are named as defendants in the lawsuit filed by Taylor's mother.

The FBI announced on May 22 that it has opened an investigation into the police-involved shooting death.

Ahmaud Arbery

Arbery, 25, was out for a Sunday jog on Feb. 23 in Satilla Shores, Georgia, near his home in the city of Brunswick, when he was allegedly accosted by white retired police officer Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son, Travis McMichael, 34, who claimed Arbery matched the description of a burglar who had been targeting homes in their neighborhood.

Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot and killed in Brunswick, Ga., on Feb. 23, 2020, is seen in an undated photo provided by Marcus Arbery.
Handout via Reuters

Armed with a shotgun and a .357 magnum handgun, the McMichaels allegedly chased Arbery down in a pickup truck and attempted to make a citizens arrest, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. After Travis McMichael confronted Arbery with a shotgun, a struggle ensued and Arbery was shot to death.

The McMichaels were arrested on May 7 and charged with murder and aggravated assault.

The shooting was captured on a cellphone video taken by William "Roddie" Bryan Jr., 50, who has denied any involvement in the slaying. But on May 22, Bryan was arrested and charged with felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment stemming from Arbery's death.

George Floyd

Floyd, 47, was confronted on May 25 by police called to a convenience store in Minneapolis to investigate a complaint that he used a counterfeit $20 bill.

During the encounter that was caught on video, officers removed Floyd from his car, handcuffed him and escorted him to the sidewalk where they ordered him to sit down. At some point, Floyd, who did not appear to resist, was walked to a nearby squad car, where an altercation occurred.

The video, taken by one of Floyd's friends, shows him face-first on the ground next to the squad car and Officer Derek Chauvin with his knee digging into the back Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes. Floyd is heard repeatedly pleading "I can't breathe," begging for his life and calling for his mother as his body went listless. He was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Chauvin was fired from the police force within days of the incident. Chauvin was arrested on May 29 and initially charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. The third-degree murder charge was later upgraded to second-degree murder.

Three other police officers involved in the encounter with Floyd -- Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng -- were also fired from the Minneapolis Police Department and on June 4 were arrested and charged with second-degree aiding and abetting felony murder and second-degree aiding and abetting manslaughter.

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