Police killed at least 102 unarmed African-Americans in 2015, about two each week — and the actual number is likely higher due to underreporting, according to data from a police watchdog group.
About 37 percent of unarmed people killed by police in 2015 were black, despite African-Americans making up just 13 percent of the U.S. population, the Mapping Police Violence organization reports.
Unarmed black people were killed at five times the rate of unarmed whites last year and, according to the website mappingpoliceviolence.org, just 10 of the 102 cases in 2015 where an unarmed black person was killed by police resulted in an officer being charged with a crime, and only two of these deaths resulted in convictions of officers involved.
The numbers tell still more of the somber details that have incited protests and some rioting in American cities and towns such as Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore and, most recently, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Charlotte, North Carolina.
Just one of two officers were convicted for their involvement in the death of Savannah, Georgia, resident Matthew Ojibade, whose girlfriend had called 911 to ask police to take him to the hospital because he was having a manic episode stemming from his diagnosed bipolar disorder.
Instead, officers arrested Ojibade and took him to the county detention center, where sheriffs claimed that he fought officers. Authorities put him in a restraining chair, where he later died.
One officer, Jason Kenny, was convicted of cruelty to an inmate and sentenced to one month in jail and allowed to serve his time on weekends. Kenny and two others were acquitted of more serious involuntary manslaughter charges.
Earlier this month, Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler filed manslaughter charges against Officer Betty Shelby in the shooting death of unarmed African-American Terence Crutcher. That incident preceded the death of Keith Scott, another African-American male who appeared to be unarmed and was fatally shot by police.
President Barack Obama reflected on the two high-profile incidents at a White House reception ahead of Saturday’s opening of the Smithsonian National African American Museum of History and Culture, reminded attendees that each night throughout his presidency, he has read 10 letters selected by staff.
He said Thursday night’s batch of letters all touched on the recent violence sparked by police-involved shootings of African-Americans.
“Last night, as I was reading through my letters, I’d say about half of them said, ‘Mr. President, why are you always against police and why aren’t you doing enough to deal with these rioters and the violence,” he said, according to ABC News. “And then the other half were, with some black folks said, ‘Mr. President, why aren’t you doing something about the police, and when are we actually gonna get justice?’
“And I understand the nature of that argument because this is a dialogue we’ve been having for 400 years,” he continued. “And the fact of the matter is that one of the challenges we have in generating a constructive discussion about how to solve these problems is because what people see on television and what they hear on the radio is bereft of context and ignores history, and so people are just responding as if none of what’s represented in this museum ever happened. And that’s true for all of us, not just some of us.”
Obama, who has privately visited the museum twice in recent days, called it “a breathtaking new building” on the National Mall, located just to the east of the Washington Monument.
Its opening drew national attention as the police shootings in Tulsa and Charlotte continued to spur protests and violence throughout the country.
“The timing of this is fascinating,” Obama said of the museum’s grand opening, according to ABC News. “Because in so many ways, it is the best of times. But in many ways these are also troubled times. History doesn’t always move in a straight line, and without vigilance, we can go backwards as well as forward.”
Growing visibly emotional, the president said when he walked through the museum, he imagined children — white, black, Latino, Asian, Native American — “wandering through that museum and sitting at that lunch counter and imagining what it would be like to stand on that auction block, and then also looking at Shaq’s shoes, and Chuck Berry’s red Cadillac.”
“My hope is, is that this complicated, difficult, sometimes harrowing, but I believe ultimately triumphant story, will help us talk to each other and more important, listen to each other — and even more important, see each other, and recognize the common humanity that makes America what it is,” he said.
The president’s remarks were full of emotion, drawing attention to the fact that the White House was like its own living history museum, as it was built using some slave labor.
Obama called the opening of the new museum a mark of “progress’ in the pursuit of racial equality.
“We’re here just to acknowledge what an extraordinary achievement has been accomplished,” he said. “Part of the reason I’m so happy the museum is opening this weekend is because it allows all of us as Americans to put our current circumstances in a historical context.
“My hope is that as people are seeing what’s happened in Tulsa or Charlotte on television, and perhaps are less familiar with not only the history of the African-American experience but also how recent some of these challenges have been,” Obama said. “My hope is that white folks watching those same images on television and then seeing the history represented at this museum can say to themselves, ‘The struggles we’re going through today are connected to the past,’ and yet all that progress we’ve made can sink into space, because if we join hands and we do things right and we maintain our dignity and we continue to appeal to the better angels of this nation, progress will be made.”