US Police and Prisons Rank Among the World's Top Killers of Citizens
April 6, 2015 Carimah Townes / ThinkProgress & Cassandra Fairbanks / The Free Thought Project & Amnesty International
In March alone, 111 people died during police encounters -- 36 more than the previous month. The deaths follow a national pattern: suspects were mostly people of color, mentally ill, or both. In 2014, the US ranked fourth in countries that use the death penalty to tackle real or perceived threats to state security, crime or internal instability. Globally, the number of death sentences recorded in 2014 jumped almost 500 compared to 2013, mainly because of sharp spikes in Egypt and Nigeria.
US Police Killed More Than 100 People In March Carimah Townes / ThinkProgress
(April 1, 2015) -- In March alone, 111 people died during police encounters -- 36 more than the previous month. As in the past, numerous incidents were spurred by violent threats from suspects, and two officers were shot in Ferguson during a peaceful protest. However, the deaths follow a national pattern: suspects were mostly people of color, mentally ill, or both.
Conversations about police procedurals and officer misconduct were also front and center last month, due in large part to the Department of Justice's damning report of racial discrimination and unlawful activity in Ferguson's police department.
Although the incident occurred last January, video of officers brutally beating an unarmed Floyd Dent -- and allegedly framing him for drug possession -- also circulated the internet in March -- raising questions about police corruption in Detroit.
In response to mounting criticism of police tactics and conduct, lawmakers have also considered withholding information about officers to avoid backlash and protect cops' identity. On Monday, Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ) vetoed a bill that would hide the identities of officers involved in fatal shootings for 60 days.
In light of these developments, here are five police encounters that gained national attention in March:
1. Tony Robinson; Madison, WI: Officer Matt Kenny shot and killed the unarmed 19-year-old, after someone reported a black man yelling and jumping around in the street. Robinson allegedly broke into a home and attempted to strangle someone, and Kenny later said the teen tried to assault him.
A second officer also alleges shots were fired before Kenny discharged his revolver in self-defense, although no weapon was found at the scene. Robinson later died of gunshot wounds, and protesters took to the streets shortly thereafter. A district attorney is investigating the shooting.
2. Anthony Hill; DeKalb County, GA: Officers approached Hill, a 27-year-old Air Force veteran with bipolar disorder, when a maintenance worker in his apartment complex reported a "deranged [man] knocking on doors and crawling on the ground, naked."
Witnesses shared inconsistent accounts of what happened before Hill was shot dead by Officer Robert Olsen. One contends that Hill had his hands raised, another alleges Hill's hands were at his side, and a third agrees with officers who claim Hill ran at them. One thing is certain: Hill was unarmed.
3. Naeschylus Vinzant; Aurora, CO: There are still lingering questions as to why the unarmed 37-year-old was shot. Vinzant was approached by officers after he removed a mandatory ankle monitor -- an encounter that left him dead, with gunshot wounds in his chest. Local police officers have yet to announce the reason why an officer used deadly force.
4. Terrance Moxley; Mansfield, OH: Police were called to subdue 29-year-old Moxley, who was participating in a reentry program with Volunteers of America. According to program staff, Moxley had a bad reaction and was violently punching walls. Officers also said he was incoherent upon their arrival, but handcuffing him only required minimal force.
As they carried him by his arms and legs to a police car, Moxley started to resist and tried to bite officers, who then discharged two taser cartridges. Moxley broke free before he was wrestled to the ground, after which he showed signs of "medical distress." Moxley later died at a local hospital.
5. Charly Keundeu Keunang (aka Africa); Los Angeles, CA: A 43-year-old, mentally ill, Skid Row resident was shot and killed by two officers who were responding to a reported theft.
In a cell phone video, four cops tried to subdue Africa, who refused to comply with [their] demands. The officers pinned the suspect to the ground and ordered him to drop his gun, even though he was unarmed. Within seconds, two officers fired their guns.
According to LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, a taser was unsuccessfully deployed before officers used their guns, and Africa attempted to grab a firearm from one of their holsters. Witnesses contend the shooting was unjustified. Soon after, the media narrative shifted from officer force to Africa's past criminal behavior and immigration status.
Warning: Graphic video of police shooting is posted at end of this story.
SANDPOINT, Idaho (April 5, 2015) -- Jeanetta Marie Riley, a homeless 35-year-old mother of three and stepmother of one, was brought to the hospital on July 8, 2014. Her husband was hoping to obtain assistance, as his wife had a history of mental health issues. The woman was armed with a knife and had been threatening suicide. The Guardian reports that the woman was pregnant when her life was taken.
Jeanetta's husband, Shane Riley, went inside the hospital, desperate for help to deescalate the situation and told staff that his wife was outside with a knife threatening to harm anyone who approached her.
The couple had reportedly been fighting most of the day, and his wife had drunk half a bottle of vodka and was armed with a 3.5[-inch] paring knife. The hospital was immediately put on lockdown, and the police were called to the scene.
Riley, who was described as a "chronic" domestic violence victim with substance abuse issues, was reportedly posing no threat to anyone when the three officers arrived. The distraught woman was sitting in a vehicle calmly speaking to her husband until she was approached by the police with their weapons fixed on her. The police then escalated the situation in a way that only men armed with loaded AR-15 rifles can.
"Walk over here," Ziegler ordered. "Show me your hands."
"F*ck you," Jeanetta replied. "No."
Only 15 seconds after the police arrived on the scene, Riley was shot by both Officer Ziegler, 29, and Officer Valenzuela, 27, after she refused commands to drop the knife. The petite woman was nowhere near the officers as she was shot at five times.
At five feet tall and less than 100 pounds, it is a scary world when police officers who are supposedly trained to protect the public, cannot non-fatally disarm a person of that stature.
At one point in the very brief encounter, Ziegler had switched to his taser, but opted to holster it and go back to his handgun.
Jeanetta Riley was hit by three of the bullets. Two entered her torso while a third pierced her heart. Her body was handcuffed as she laid face down in the street, bleeding her life away.
The officers "caused a lethal confrontation that any reasonable person could have avoided and they should have been trained to avoid," according to the two million dollar lawsuit against the city and the hospital that was filed by Riley's husband on January 2.
A lawsuit has also been filed by Riley's ex-husband for one million dollars on behalf of their daughter.
Both officers were cleared of any wrong-doing, and no apology has been issued for her death.
The department does provide officers with crisis intervention training, which is designed to teach police how to handle mental illness and properly defuse tense situations. Of course, neither of the officers involved in her shooting had taken the course.
A study released last year by the American Psychiatric Association found that CIT-trained officers "had sizable and persisting improvements in knowledge, diverse attitudes about mental illnesses and their treatments, self-efficacy for interacting with someone with psychosis or suicidality, social distance stigma, de-escalation skills and referral decisions."
Much like the case of Yanira Serrano*, the under-trained police have killed another person who just needed some help and compassion. There is no excuse for CIT training not being mandatory for every officer in every state.
* On September 10, 2014, a federal civil lawsuit was filed in California against San Mateo county and a deputy, on behalf of the family of mentally ill 18-year-old Yanira Serrano who was fatally shot by a County Sheriff's deputy outside the family home on June 3, 2014. Read more here.
(March 31, 2015) -- An alarming number of countries used the death penalty to tackle real or perceived threats to state security linked to terrorism, crime or internal instability in 2014, Amnesty International found in its annual review of the death penalty worldwide.
The number of death sentences recorded in 2014 jumped by almost 500 compared to 2013, mainly because of sharp spikes in Egypt and Nigeria, including mass sentencing in both countries in the context of internal conflict and political instability.
The USA continued to be the only country to put people to death in the region, although executions dropped from 39 in 2013 to 35 in 2014 -- reflecting a steady decline in the use of the death penalty in the country over the past years.
Only seven states executed in 2014 (down from nine in 2013) with four -- Texas, Missouri, Florida and Oklahoma -- responsible for 89 per cent of all executions. The state of Washington imposed a moratorium on executions in February. The overall number of death sentences decreased from 95 in 2013 to 77 in 2014.
But there was also good news to be found in 2014 -- fewer executions were recorded compared to the year before and several countries took positive steps towards abolition of the death penalty.
China again carried out more executions than the rest of the world put together. Amnesty International believes thousands are executed and sentenced to death there every year, but with numbers kept a state secret the true figure is impossible to determine.
The other countries making up the world's top five executioners in 2014 were Iran (289 officially announced and at least 454 more that were not acknowledged by the authorities), Saudi Arabia (at least 90), Iraq (at least 61) and the USA (35).
Excluding China, at least 607 executions were known to have been carried out in 2014, compared to 778 in 2013, a drop of more than 20 per cent.
Executions were recorded in 22 countries in 2014, the same number as the year before. This is a significant decrease from 20 years ago in 1995, when Amnesty International recorded executions in 42 countries, highlighting the clear global trend of states moving away from the death penalty.
The disturbing trend of states using the death penalty to combat threats against state security was visible around the world, with China, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq all executing people accused of "terrorism."
Pakistan resumed executions in the wake of the horrific Taliban attack on a Peshawar school. Seven people were executed in December, and the government has said it will put hundreds more convicted on "terrorism"-related charges to death. Executions continued at a high rate in 2015.
In China authorities made use of the death penalty as a punitive tool in the "Strike Hard" campaign against unrest in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Authorities executed at least 21 people during the year related to separate attacks, while three people were condemned to death in a mass sentencing rally conducted in a stadium in front of thousands of spectators.
In countries including North Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia, governments continued to use the death penalty as a tool to suppress political dissent.
Other states made use of executions in similarly flawed attempts to tackle crimes rates. Jordan ended an eight-year moratorium in December, putting eleven murder convicts to death, with the government saying it was a move to end a surge in violent crime. In Indonesia, the government announced plans to execute mainly drug traffickers to tackle a public safety "national emergency" -- promises it made good on in 2015.
Spike in Death Sentences
There was a dramatic rise in the number of death sentences recorded in 2014 compared to the previous year -- at least 2,466 compared to 1,925 -- a jump of more than a quarter. This was largely due to developments in Nigeria and Egypt, where hundreds of people were sentenced to death.
In Nigeria, 659 death sentences were recorded in 2014, a jump of more than 500 compared with the 2013 figure of 141. Military courts handed down mass death sentences against some 70 soldiers during the year in separate trials. They were convicted of mutiny in the context of the armed conflict with Boko Haram.
In Egypt, courts handed down at least 509 death sentences during 2014, 400 more than recorded during the previous year. This included mass death sentences against 37 people in April and 183 people in June following unfair mass trials.
Methods and Crimes
Methods of executions in 2014 included beheading, hanging, lethal injection and shooting. Public executions were carried out in Iran and Saudi Arabia.
People faced the death penalty for a range of non-lethal crimes including robbery, drug-related crimes and economic offences. People were even sentenced to death for acts such as "adultery", "blasphemy" or "sorcery", which should not be considered crimes at all. Many countries used vaguely worded political "crimes" to put real or perceived dissidents to death.
The Asia Pacific region saw a mixed bag of death penalty developments in 2014. Executions were recorded in nine countries, one fewer than the year before. Pakistan lifted a moratorium on execution of civilians.
Thirty-two executions were recorded in the region, although these numbers do not include China or North Korea, where it was impossible to confirm numbers. Indonesia announced plans to resume executions mainly of drug traffickers in 2015.
The Pacific continued to be the world's only virtually death penalty free zone, although the governments of both Papua New Guinea and Kiribati took steps to resume executions or introduce the death penalty.
Sub-Saharan Africa saw particular progress in 2014. Forty-six executions were recorded in three countries compared to 64 executions in five countries in 2013 -- a drop of 28 per cent. Only three countries -- Equatorial Guinea, Somalia and Sudan -- were known to have carried out executions.
Madagascar took a progressive step towards abolition when the country's National Assembly adopted a bill abolishing the death penalty on December 10, although the bill has to be signed by the country's president before becoming law.
EUROPE AND CENTRAL ASIA
Belarus -- the only country in the region that executes -- put at least three people to death during the year, ending a 24-month hiatus on executions. The executions were marked by secrecy, with family members and lawyers only being informed after the fact.
MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA
The widespread use of the death penalty in the Middle East and North Africa continued to be extremely troubling. Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia accounted for 90 per cent of all recorded executions in the region, and 72 per cent of all recorded executions globally (excluding China).
In 2014 executions were recorded in eight countries, two more than in 2013. Sixteen countries imposed death sentences -- a large majority of countries in the region.
The overall number of executions recorded in the MENA region dropped from 638 in 2013 to 491 last year. These figures do not include hundreds of executions that are known to have occurred in Iran but which were not officially announced.
In 2014, the Iranian authorities acknowledged 289 executions, however reliable sources reported another 454 executions -- bringing the total to 743.
• States used the death penalty in a flawed attempt to tackle crime, terrorism and internal instability
• Sharp spike in death sentences largely due to Egypt and Nigeria -- at least 2,466 imposed globally, up 28% on 2013
• 607 executions recorded, down almost 22% on 2013 (excluding those carried out in China, which executed more than the rest of the world put together)
• 22 countries known to have executed, the same number as 2013.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.