Texas police shooting shows again how black males are seen as threats

Odell Edwards wipes away tears as he sits with his wife, Charmaine Edwards, listening to their attorney Lee Merritt talking about the death of their son, Jordan Edwards, in a police shooting Saturday in Balch Springs, Texas, in Merritt's law office in Dallas, Monday, May 1, 2017. A suburban Dallas police chief said Monday that his department wrongly described why an officer fired into a moving vehicle and killed Jordan Edwards, after an attorney for the boy's family said officers were trying to "justify the unjustifiable."

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Odell Edwards wipes away tears as he sits with his wife, Charmaine Edwards, listening to their attorney Lee Merritt talking about the death of their son, Jordan Edwards, in a police shooting Saturday in Balch Springs, Texas, in Merritt's law office in Dallas, Monday, May 1, 2017. A suburban Dallas police chief said Monday that his department wrongly described why an officer fired into a moving vehicle and killed Jordan Edwards, after an attorney for the boy's family said officers were trying to "justify the unjustifiable."

The car drove away from the high school house party, down a street in a Dallas suburb, when the police officer raised his rifle and fired.

A bullet tore through the front passenger window, killing Jordan Edwards, an unarmed 15-year-old.

As the death reignited a national conversation about race and the police, it's also elevated what's viewed as a well-understood fact in many African American communities: When you're black — even if you're a child — you can be viewed as a threat to police.

"These are trained professionals, who are supposed to make rational decisions, but they're not," said Benjamin Crump, a civil rights attorney and former president of the National Bar Association, a network of black lawyers and judges. "And yet again our children — I repeat, children — are paying the ultimate price."

Crump spoke Saturday, the day a funeral was held for Jordan.

Hours before the funeral, former Balch Springs police officer Roy Oliver walked out of jail after posting a $300,000 bond. Oliver was arrested Friday and charged with murder. He was fired from the Balch Springs Police Department for what Chief Jonathan Haber called "violations" in protocol.

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This photo provided by the Parker County Sheriff's Office shows Roy Oliver. Oliver, a Texas police officer, faces a murder charge in the shooting of a teenager after being fired earlier in the week over the incident, authorities said Friday, May 5, 2017. Oliver fired a rifle at a car full of teenagers leaving a party April 29, killing 15-year-old Jordan Edwards.

Credit: Parker County Sheriff's Office

This photo provided by the Parker County Sheriff's Office shows Roy Oliver. Oliver, a Texas police officer, faces a murder charge in the shooting of a teenager after being fired earlier in the week over the incident, authorities said Friday, May 5, 2017. Oliver fired a rifle at a car full of teenagers leaving a party April 29, killing 15-year-old Jordan Edwards.

Credit: Parker County Sheriff's Office

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This photo provided by the Parker County Sheriff's Office shows Roy Oliver. Oliver, a Texas police officer, faces a murder charge in the shooting of a teenager after being fired earlier in the week over the incident, authorities said Friday, May 5, 2017. Oliver fired a rifle at a car full of teenagers leaving a party April 29, killing 15-year-old Jordan Edwards.

Credit: Parker County Sheriff's Office

Credit: Parker County Sheriff's Office

The death of Tamir Rice

Jordan's death echoes other police shootings involving black boys.

In November 2014, Cleveland police got a 911 call about someone brandishing a pistol near a park. The weapon, the caller said, was "probably fake." Still, soon after — in an incident captured on camera — a police cruiser pulled into the park.

Officer Timothy Loehmann jumped out and opened fire and, within seconds, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was dead.

Even before Tamir's death the Department of Justice had been investigating the Cleveland Police Department. A month after his shooting, it released a report saying Cleveland police displayed a pattern of using unnecessary force.

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FILE - In this Dec. 1, 2014 file photo, Tomiko Shine holds up a poster of Tamir Rice during a protest in Washington. The 12-year-old black boy was fatally shot by a white Cleveland police officer near a gazebo in a recreational area in November 2014. Officers were responding to a report of a man waving a gun. The boy had a pellet gun tucked in his waistband and was shot right after their cruiser skidded to a stop, just feet away. A grand jury in December 2015 declined to indict patrolman Timothy Loehmann, who fired the fatal shot, and training officer Frank Garmback. The city settled his family's lawsuit for $6 million. The officers still could be disciplined or fired by the department.

Credit: Jose Luis Magana

FILE - In this Dec. 1, 2014 file photo, Tomiko Shine holds up a poster of Tamir Rice during a protest in Washington. The 12-year-old black boy was fatally shot by a white Cleveland police officer near a gazebo in a recreational area in November 2014. Officers were responding to a report of a man waving a gun. The boy had a pellet gun tucked in his waistband and was shot right after their cruiser skidded to a stop, just feet away. A grand jury in December 2015 declined to indict patrolman Timothy Loehmann, who fired the fatal shot, and training officer Frank Garmback. The city settled his family's lawsuit for $6 million. The officers still could be disciplined or fired by the department.

Credit: Jose Luis Magana

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FILE - In this Dec. 1, 2014 file photo, Tomiko Shine holds up a poster of Tamir Rice during a protest in Washington. The 12-year-old black boy was fatally shot by a white Cleveland police officer near a gazebo in a recreational area in November 2014. Officers were responding to a report of a man waving a gun. The boy had a pellet gun tucked in his waistband and was shot right after their cruiser skidded to a stop, just feet away. A grand jury in December 2015 declined to indict patrolman Timothy Loehmann, who fired the fatal shot, and training officer Frank Garmback. The city settled his family's lawsuit for $6 million. The officers still could be disciplined or fired by the department.

Credit: Jose Luis Magana

Credit: Jose Luis Magana

A year later, a grand jury decided not to indict Loehmann in Tamir's death, saying he had reason to fear for his life.

‘Straight to lethal force’

Last year, in Columbus, Ohio, police shot and killed Tyre King, 13, who was carrying a BB gun while running from police. The case is set to go before a grand jury that will consider criminal charges.

Chanda Brown, a Columbus-based attorney who represents the King family, said Saturday that the lives of young black males are not being valued.

"These are not violent events, yet we're seeing police go straight to lethal force," Brown said. "Just being black can be threatening to police and others."

Study: Black kids mostly affected

A 2014 study released by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that black children are more likely to be the subjects of dehumanization by police officers, in turn making them subject to higher rates of police violence.

"Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection. Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent," Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff, one of the study's authors, told the American Psychological Association at the time.

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In this undated family photo, Trayvon Martin poses for a family photo. The family of the black teenager fatally shot by a white neighborhood watch volunteer arrived at Sanford City Hall Friday evening March 16, 2012 to listen to recordings of 911 calls police previously refused to release. Police agreed to release the recordings earlier that afternoon. Officials are allowing the family of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin to hear the recordings before making them public. Martin's parents previously sued to have the recordings released. A hearing for the case was scheduled for Monday. Martin was fatally shot last month as he returned to a Sanford home during a visit from Miami. His parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, accused Sanford police of botching the investigation and criticized them for not arresting 28-year-old George Zimmerman, who says he shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense. Martin was not armed. They say the police department hasn't arrested Zimmerman because he is white and their son was black.

Credit: Photo courtesy of the Trayvon Martin Family via AP

In this undated family photo, Trayvon Martin poses for a family photo. The family of the black teenager fatally shot by a white neighborhood watch volunteer arrived at Sanford City Hall Friday evening March 16, 2012 to listen to recordings of 911 calls police previously refused to release. Police agreed to release the recordings earlier that afternoon. Officials are allowing the family of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin to hear the recordings before making them public. Martin's parents previously sued to have the recordings released. A hearing for the case was scheduled for Monday. Martin was fatally shot last month as he returned to a Sanford home during a visit from Miami. His parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, accused Sanford police of botching the investigation and criticized them for not arresting 28-year-old George Zimmerman, who says he shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense. Martin was not armed. They say the police department hasn't arrested Zimmerman because he is white and their son was black.

Credit: Photo courtesy of the Trayvon Martin Family via AP

Combined ShapeCaption
In this undated family photo, Trayvon Martin poses for a family photo. The family of the black teenager fatally shot by a white neighborhood watch volunteer arrived at Sanford City Hall Friday evening March 16, 2012 to listen to recordings of 911 calls police previously refused to release. Police agreed to release the recordings earlier that afternoon. Officials are allowing the family of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin to hear the recordings before making them public. Martin's parents previously sued to have the recordings released. A hearing for the case was scheduled for Monday. Martin was fatally shot last month as he returned to a Sanford home during a visit from Miami. His parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, accused Sanford police of botching the investigation and criticized them for not arresting 28-year-old George Zimmerman, who says he shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense. Martin was not armed. They say the police department hasn't arrested Zimmerman because he is white and their son was black.

Credit: Photo courtesy of the Trayvon Martin Family via AP

Credit: Photo courtesy of the Trayvon Martin Family via AP

The Trayvon Martin case

Parallels from the study could be seen in the case of Trayvon Martin, 17, whose death triggered protests around the country. He was not shot by a police officer, but George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who killed him, viewed the teen as a threat.

In 2012, as Martin walked home from a convenience store in Sanford, Fla., Zimmerman called 911 to report that the teenager appeared to be "up to no good." Martin wore a hoodie and carried a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea. The two got into a physical altercation, during which Zimmerman fatally shot the unarmed Martin.

"More and more we have to prepare our children for what's ahead and how society will view them," said Crump, who helped represent Martin's family in legal proceedings.

A call for diversity training

Reggie Miller, chairman of the National Black Police Association, which seeks, among other things, to forge better relationships between police and minority communities, said diversity training could help.

"It's not a crime to be young and black," he said. "But some officers see a do-rag or dreads and feel threatened. More understanding is needed."

Cheryl Dorsey, a retired Los Angeles Police Department sergeant, said that more must be done by police to prevent such shootings.

"Do a lot of police feel that their lives are threatened? It's doubtful," Dorsey said. "I think it's what's put forward to justify shootings."

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Mourners hold the commemorative program as they emerge from the funeral service for 15-year-old, Jordan Edwards, at Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church in Mesquite, Texas, Saturday, May 6, 2017. Roy Oliver, who has been fired from the Balch Springs Police Department, is free on bond after being arrested Friday in the April 29 shooting death of Edwards.

Credit: Louis DeLuca

Mourners hold the commemorative program as they emerge from the funeral service for 15-year-old, Jordan Edwards, at Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church in Mesquite, Texas, Saturday, May 6, 2017. Roy Oliver, who has been fired from the Balch Springs Police Department, is free on bond after being arrested Friday in the April 29 shooting death of Edwards.

Credit: Louis DeLuca

Combined ShapeCaption
Mourners hold the commemorative program as they emerge from the funeral service for 15-year-old, Jordan Edwards, at Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church in Mesquite, Texas, Saturday, May 6, 2017. Roy Oliver, who has been fired from the Balch Springs Police Department, is free on bond after being arrested Friday in the April 29 shooting death of Edwards.

Credit: Louis DeLuca

Credit: Louis DeLuca

A fateful night for 15-year-old

The events leading to Jordan's death played out the night of April 29, after police responded to complaints about a loud house party in Balch Springs. Oliver initially told investigators the car Jordan was riding in backed up aggressively toward officers. But Haber, the police chief, said body-camera video showed that the car was pulling away from officers. Oliver was fired the following Tuesday.

The charges against the officer came the same week there were developments in two other cases involving police and adult black males, adults in these cases.

A white former South Carolina police officer, Michael T. Slager, pleaded guilty to violating the civil rights of Walter Scott when he shot and killed the unarmed man two years ago. Meanwhile, the Justice Department declined to bring charges against white police officers involved in the shooting death of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La. After a 10-month investigation, authorities said there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the officers.