By Vanguard Staff
LOS ANGELES, CA – A research group that tracks lethal force cases said this month “nearly one third of people killed by U.S. police since 2015 were running away, driving off or attempting to flee when the officer fatally shot or used lethal force against them,” according to a story in The Guardian.
“In many cases, the encounters started as traffic stops or there were no allegations of violence or serious crimes,” according the story. Statistics, said Mapping Police Violence, show only about two percent of those shot faced criminal charges.
MPV has charged that law enforcement in the U.S. have killed more than 2,500 people in the past seven years, including those not attacking police, but fleeing—and the numbers are increasing so that about one person a day is killed running or trying to escape.
“In many cases, the encounters started as traffic stops, or there were no allegations of violence or serious crimes prompting police contact. Some people were shot in the back while running and others were passengers in fleeing cars,” according to the Guardian piece.
MPV cited a couple of very recent cases—in Ohio, in late June, officers fired dozens of rounds at Jayland Walker, who was unarmed and running when he was killed.
And, in San Bernardino, California in late July, police in an unmarked vehicle immediately fired at Robert Adams as he was running away.
MPV data suggest that officers are not being held accountable despite street protests, reformers and promises. Only nine officers were convicted, representing 0.35 percent of cases.
The data, advocates and experts say, “highlights how the US legal system allows officers to kill with impunity and how reform efforts have not addressed fundamental flaws in police departments,” said the Guardian.
Samuel Sinyangwe, a data scientist and policy analyst who founded Mapping Police Violence, said, “In 2014 and 2015, at the beginning of this national conversation about racism in policing, the idea was, ‘There are bad apples in police departments, and if we just charged or fired those particularly bad officers, we could save lives and stop police violence…this data shows that this is much bigger than any individual officer.”
Sinyangwe’s data support claims that U.S. law enforcement kill more people in days than many countries do in years—about 1,100 fatalities a year since 2013.
“The numbers haven’t changed since the start of the Black Lives Matter movement, and they haven’t budged since George Floyd’s murder inspired international protests in 2020,” said the Guardian in its analysis.
In a key case, the U.S. Supreme Court, in 1985, provided immunity for officers, ruling police can use lethal force against a fleeing person only if they “reasonably” believed that person was an imminent threat.
Police violence critics have pointed out the court went further, ruling that if the officer, even wrongly, believed the shooting was warranted, the officer was protected.
MPV data shows that in 2022 through mid-July, officers killed 633 people, including 202 who were fleeing. In 2021, 368 victims were fleeing (32 percent of all killings); in 2020, 380 were fleeing (33 percent); and in 2019, 325 were fleeing (30 percent.
MPV said its data is compiled from news media reports of people “who were trying to escape when they were killed, and it is considered incomplete. In roughly 10 percent to 20 percent of all cases each year, the circumstances surrounding the shootings are unclear,” said the Guardian.
Often, Adante Pointer, a civil rights lawyer, noted: “The only person left to tell the story is the cop.”
MPV said Black Americans are disproportionately affected, making up 32 percent of individuals killed by police while fleeing, despite accounting for just 13 percent of the US population. Black victims were even more overrepresented in cases involving people fleeing on foot, making up 35 percent to 54 percent of those fatalities.
The Guardian notes police killings in Vallejo, CA.
“If a person is running away, there is no reason to chase them, hunt them down like an animal and shoot and kill them,” said Paula McGowan, whose son, Ronell Foster, was killed while fleeing in Vallejo in February 2018.
The Guardian wrote that the officer, Ryan McMahon, “said he was trying to stop Foster, a 33-year-old father of two, because he was riding his bike without a light. Within roughly one minute of trying to stop him, the officer engaged in a struggle and shot Foster in the back of the head.”
“These officers are too amped up and ready to shoot,” said McGowan. The officer went on to shoot another Black man, Willie McCoy, one year later, one of six officers who fatally shot the 20-year-old who had been sleeping in his car.
“The officer was terminated in 2020—not for killing McCoy or Foster, but because the department said he put other officers in danger during the shooting of McCoy,” the Guardian reported.
“Not only do these officers get away with it, they get to move on to bigger and better jobs while we’re left shattered and are still trying to pick up the pieces,” said Miguel Minjares, whose niece, 16-year-old Elena “Ebbie” Mondragon, was killed by Fremont, CA, police.
The Guardian wrote, in March 2017, “undercover officers fired at a car that was fleeing, striking Mondragon, who was a passenger and pregnant at the time. The officers faced no criminal consequences. One sergeant went on to work as a sniper for the department, though he has since retired, and another involved in the operation continued working as a training officer, records show.”
“You shoot into a moving car, which you shouldn’t have done, and you weren’t even close to hitting the person you were trying to target. And now you’re a sniper?” said Minjares. “When I hear sniper, I think of precision. It boggles my mind. It shows the entitlement of officers and the police department—they just put people where they want them, it doesn’t matter what they did. It’s confusing and it’s heart wrenching.”
California laws changed in 2019, designed to restrict use of deadly force to cases when it was “necessary” to defend human life, not just “reasonable.” The law requires an officer can kill a fleeing person only if they believe that person is going to imminently harm someone.
But Adrienna Wong, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of southern California, which backed the bill, said police departments refused to update their policies.
“I think we’re going to start to see prosecutors consider all the elements of the new law, but I’m frankly not holding my breath based on the track record of prosecutors in the state. We never thought this law was going to be a full solution,” Wong said to the Guardian.