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June 23, 2017

Why do so few trials of police shootings end in convictions?


  • In July 2016, a young black male named Philando Castile was fatally shot by police officer Jeronimo Yanez outside of St. Paul, Minnesota during a traffic stop due to a broken tail light. After jurors watched dash-cam footage of the shooting, they acquitted Yanez. After he was acquitted, Yanez was fired.
  • Since 2005, 82 United States law enforcement officials have been charged with murder or manslaughter for on-duty shootings, according to a Bowling Green State University criminologist. However, only 29 have been convicted, and just 5 for murder.
  • In addition, Milwaukee courts found police officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown not guilty for reckless homicide for shooting a young black male, Sylville Smith. Body-camera footage of the incident shows Heaggan-Brown’s first shot coming as Smith appeared to throw a gun over a fence. Heaggan-Brown shot Smith a second time in the chest. The shooting led to two nights of riots.
  • Brittany Packnett, the co-founder of Campaign Zero, which is calling for police reform, said that the reason so few police trials end in convictions is representative of a systemic problem. She said that 1,155 people were killed by police in 2016 and only 13 were brought charges. She noted that black Americans are killed at three times the rate of others.

Key Terms

acquit: to free someone from a criminal charge through a verdict of “not guilty”

  1. Essential question: What is the status of relations across races in the United States?
  2. What other young black men have been killed by police officers the last few years? What has been the public reaction, and why?
  3. Why do you think so many police officers are acquitted of their charges? What might be some possible solutions to this widespread problem?
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