Shooting. Police Brutality. Gun Violence.
The news sites are saturated with these words and African-Americans find themselves, more often than not, at the center of the stories. This world is rampant with hatred, prejudice, and misunderstanding, and innocent lives pay the ultimate price for it. I can forgive police officers. They do not have an easy job.
Police officers are placed on a pedestal that alienates them from the rest of us. Despite their role as enforcers of the law, they're still human. Sometimes they make mistakes.
What I cannot forgive, however, is choosing to immediately judge and label someone based on their appearance or an unfair bias. There is no justification for that and the fact that America has chosen to disregard this crime in many cases disgusts and scares me.
Shirin Barghi, a journalist and filmmaker based in New York, created a photo series called #lastwords in 2014 based on the last words of victims of police brutality. She began her project after the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and it went viral soon after. Inherently, the photo series is an attempt to restore the humanity stripped of these victims on their undeserving day.
1. "I can't breathe."
Eric was allegedly selling cigarettes illegally in Staten Island when NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo tackled and used a department-banned choke hold to restrain him. Eric's breathing was restricted and he died. There is no mistake that this form of aggression, used by a police officer against an unarmed person no less, was intentional.
2. "I don't have a gun. Stop shooting."
One of the most disturbing details about these reports is how the officers attempt to justify themselves. Michael's shooter, Officer Wilson, stated that the 18-year-old charged at him "grunting, like aggravated sound" (The New York Times). The only detail that truly matters in this case is that Michael was unarmed, but Wilson was not.
3. "It's not real."
John was reported by a customer in Walmart to be pointing a BB/pellet gun at customers, but surveillance footage shows otherwise. Officer Sean Williams shot him where he stood in the store in Beavercreek, Ohio and the Justice Department came to the conclusions that the actions of Williams were justified.
4. "You shot me. You shot me!"
On the 9th of January, 2009, a fight broke out on a subway car in Oakland, California. Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old man whom witnesses claim was not involved in the fight, was restrained by police officers and then fatally shot in the back by Joe Mehserle. Many reports claim that Mehserle mistook his gun for a taser, as it is hard to fathom that he would perform such a cold-blooded execution in front of a crowd. Either way, it was a mistake in shooting an unarmed and non-threatening man, a mistake that will follow Mehserle for the rest of his life.
5. "Officers, why do you have your guns out?"
Kenneth was shot by police officers who forced their way into his apartment after he didn't respond to his medical alert system. The audio system installed by the medical alert system revealed that Kenneth had endured racial taunts from the officers. Officer Carelli claims to have shot Kenneth when he charged at another officer with a knife. Kenneth previously battled a cocaine addiction and lived in a derelict corner of New York's White Plains suburbs in a decaying housing project. "This represents a pattern of how African-American communities have been policed in our society," Nada Khader said, executive director of a nonprofit group in White Plains advocates social justice. "They have been over-policed and aggressively policed and policed in discriminatory and abusive ways, which would not be tolerated in white communities."
6. "I love you, too!"
On the night of his bachelor party, Sean Bell was exiting Club Kalua in Queens, NYC, when he was shot and killed by unarmed undercover cops. His entire group of friends was unarmed, despite contradictory claims made by the cops. Sean's friends Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman survived their wounds, living to recount the horrific events. Joseph recalled his last moment with Sean, thinking they were both going to die. "I love you, S," Joseph said. "I love you, too," Sean whispered back.
7. "Mom, I'm going to college."
Mistaken for a serial rapist, Amadou was shot with nineteen bullets outside of his Bronx apartment. His mother, whom his last words were spoken to earlier on the phone, was enraged with how the media portrayed him. Amadou's dream was to go to college to become a computer programmer and he had saved significant funds prior to his death. Instead of portraying him as the bright, hopeful student he was, most stories focused on what he did to make his dream a reality and cast him as an African street vendor.
8. "Why did you shoot me?"
Kendrec was fatally shot by police officers in Pasadena, California after fitting the report of an armed robbery. He was shot seven times in multiple regions, was unarmed and left bleeding on the sidewalk while waiting for the paramedics. Dale Galipo, the attorney for Kendrec's mother, noted that while the officers originally said Kendrec walked toward them before they shot, the officers changed the description to "charged" during the depositions.
9. "Shoot me now. Kill me now."
St. Louis officers shot and killed Kajieme when he advanced on them with a knife in hand. They responded to callers who reported him stealing food from a local store. In a video taken by a witness, it is clear Kajieme has some sort of mental illness, acting erratically but not quite threatening. Many viewers would agree that there are alternate options the police could have turned to, such as getting back into their car. When it comes to human life, sometimes acting on instinct is the wrong thing to do.
10. "Please don't let me die."
Witnesses claim Kimani was not armed when he was fatally shot four times in the front and three in the back by NYPD police officers. The officers claim otherwise, but the shots in the 16-year-old's back indicate that he was running away rather than approaching. They even handcuffed Kimani as he lay dying on the streets, sparking even more criticism and outrage from the community.
"The dash cam video clearly shows an unarmed African American young male approaching the police officers, not running away from them, hands out, he's posing no threat to them whatsoever and you hear Officer Kerrick shoot him." —Chris Chestnut, attorney (Huffington Post)
12. "I don't wanna die too younggggg."
On August 7, 2015, Christian Taylor was reported by security at a car dealership for breaking and entering. He was unarmed, but reports of his autopsy said he had marijuana in his system when the cops shot him. The marijuana was likely the cause for Christian's erratic behavior that threatened the police just before his death, but it is not even a small excuse for shooting an unarmed person.
13. "I didn't even do nothing."
Officer Raymond Tensing of the University of Cincinnati Police Department shot Sam after he made an attempt to drive away during a traffic stop. Tensing pulled Sam over for a missing front license plate and fired on Sam after he put the car into drive. While the officer claims he shot the unarmed man because the car was dragging him away, security footage shows the car had barely, if at all, moved, when Tensing fired.
14. "I can't breathe. I need a pump."
Freddie was arrested by the police in Baltimore, Maryland for carrying an illegal blade. He fell into a coma during transport and was taken to a trauma center. When he died one week later, further investigation concluded that injuries in his spinal cord were the leading cause and speculation points to unnecessary force used by the police officers involved in his arrest.
15. "What are you following me for?"
Trayvon was walking home after purchasing Skittles and iced tea from a local store. His final words are recounted by friend Rachel Jeantel, who he was on the phone with as he was stalked by police shooter George Zimmerman. Despite Zimmerman's claims that Trayvon physically attacked him as justification for shooting, Zimmerman instigated the event. Trayvon was unarmed and devoid of any threat. The only possible explanation is racial profiling.