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A Year After Ferguson, There's Still No Peace

The police shooting of two young men of color this week shows that even as more Americans consider race to be the biggest issue facing the country and citizens are increasingly attuned to how cops target minorities, little has changed at the local...

by Allie Conti
Aug 10 2015, 10:30pm

Protesters gathered outside of the Ferguson Police Department on November 29, days after a grand jury chose not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown. Photo via Flickr user Mike Tigas

At around 1 AM on Friday, 19-year-old Christian Taylor pulled his Jeep up to a Buick GMC dealership in Arlington, Texas. Dressed in athletic shorts, a T-shirt, and sneakers, Taylor looked like he'd just walked off the football field at Angelo State University, the school he played for in town. In fact, he was about to start his sophomore training there this week.

Though details are scarce, security footage shows that Taylor, the youngest of three brothers, sprinted through the parking lot and jumped on top of a car and stomped on it methodically, as if he were marching or hopping through tires. Then he apparently drove his Jeep through a glass display, the Guardian reported, and things took a turn for the worse.

Not long after two police officers showed up and Taylor—who had expressed concern about losing his life prematurely on Twitter—allegedly took flight, he was shot dead. The cop responsible, a 49-year-old trainee named Brad Miller, has been placed on leave and the FBI is investigating, the New York Times reported.

It would be an isolated tragedy if there was such a thing anymore. The teenager's death came just two days before the one-year anniversary of the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. When the 18-year-old was shot last August, it set off a wave of national protests that quickly became known as the Black Lives Matter movement. But Taylor's death shows that even as more people now consider race to be the biggest issue facing our country and young people are increasingly aware of how police target minorities, precious little in the way of reform has registered at the local level.

Or, put more simply: Black people keep being killed by the police.

Since Brown's death (and Eric Garner's a month earlier on Staten Island), there have been headlines and hashtags about Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Walter Scott in South Carolina, Sandra Bland in Texas, and Samuel Dubose in Cincinnati, among others. So far this year, 585 people have been shot and killed by police, according to the Washington Post, and as VICE News reported, nearly 1,100 people have been killed by cops since Brown's death last August. On top of that, several people of color—Bland among them—died in American jail cells during the month of July alone.

Obviously, the problem extends beyond black teens, and beyond race in general—although unarmed black men are seven times as likely to be killed as whites, the Post noted.

By now, all police killings are presumed to be political grenades until proven otherwise, and for many the official police account is always in doubt. On Sunday night after the protest in Ferguson, 18-year-old Tyrone Harris, Jr. was shot by cops after allegedly firing at them. His father told the New York Post he was in the "wrong place at the wrong time," while cops allege he tried to kill them. Meanwhile, as the Post reported, "NAACP board member John Gaskin III said members of the community are not willing to automatically accept the police version of events, noting 'there's still a tremendous level of distrust between law enforcement and the community.'"

On Monday afternoon, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger declared a state of emergency, and DeRay Mckesson and Johnetta Elzie—two unofficial leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement—were arrested.

The dialogue about race and law enforcement has evolved a great deal over this past year. We have a whole new vocabulary for these incidents now, a bevy of databases documenting all the awful things cops do, and the federal Department of Justice seems to be taking the problem seriously. But local cops in cities across the country continue to gun down or otherwise ensnare people of color—some of them criminals, some of them seemingly victims of circumstance. How many more incidents and protests and angry op-eds it will take for a real culture change in American policing remains to be seen.

Follow Allie Conti on Twitter.

Correction 8/11: An earlier version of this story stated that Tyrone Harris, Jr., had been shot and killed, but he remains alive, albeit in critical condition.