These Black Women Died In Police Encounters, And May Never Get Justice

This is why we must say their names.

In all likelihood, Sandra Bland would still be alive today if she’d been a white woman.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said this himself in 2015, shortly after it was announced there would be no indictments regarding Bland’s death in a Texas jail cell that summer.


A grand jury concluded the case and found no felony crime committed on behalf of the sheriff’s office or the jailers involved. Bland was found dead in her jail cell in Waller County, Texas, on July 13 after she was arrested, ostensibly for a traffic violation. Authorities said her death was a suicide, but her family ― and black activists everywhere ― vehemently disputed the finding at the time, and many remain dubious.

“The family of Sandra Bland is confident that she was killed and did not commit suicide,” a lawyer for the family said in a statement. Since then, Bland’s family has come to acknowledge it is at least possible Bland took her own life ― though they remain adamant that even if the official version of events is true, it was still police negligence, and the officer who pulled Bland over in the first place, that really caused her death. It’s difficult to believe, after all, that Bland would have been arrested and jailed if she were white, just as it’s hard to believe that a despondent detainee could take her own life unless her jailers were paying far less attention than they should have been.

Sanders, who met with Bland’s family earlier this year, issued a statement Tuesday that spoke of the “need to reform a very broken criminal justice system” ― echoing the thoughts of a growing number of Americans who abhor the racial disparities in policing and the often violent treatment of black men and women by cops. After all, these are the same sentiments fueling the current movement to make it clear to those in power that black lives matter.

However, the non-indictment didn’t come as a shock to many of the people passionate about Bland’s case:

Bland’s story transfixed and outraged many who learned about her death, saw the video of her arrest and read about who she was -- an activist herself, on a promising journey ultimately cut short.

But Bland's case is far from singular -- it's not even the only case like it that happened that month. Two weeks after Bland’s death, Ralkina Jones, 37, was found unresponsive in her jail cell in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Jones had been arrested after her ex-husband accused her of assaulting him and trying to hit him with a car. Once in custody, she described her medical conditions and necessary medications in detail to officers, expressing concern for her well-being.

"I don't want to die in your cell,” she told them, according to Northeast Ohio Media Group.

Jones was found 15 hours later. Her death was ruled accidental and related to her medical conditions.

Her story, in turn, sounds a little like Raynette Turner’s, who died in a cell in New York the next day after complaining about health problems.

As the national conversation around race and policing gained momentum in the past year, Bland’s death brought renewed awareness to the number of black women killed in police encounters. Activists launched campaigns like Say Her Name in order to amplify the stories of black women, which rarely receive national attention.

That comparative lack of attention is still very much an issue. The non-indictment in Bland's case is reflective of more than one woman's tragic and untimely death -- it reflects the ongoing dearth of police accountability in a pattern of cases involving black women and girls.

Below, you can read the stories of 13 other black women and girls killed during police encounters in the past 12 years. Their families are all still waiting for justice.

Tanisha Anderson: Died Nov. 13, 2014, age 37, Cleveland
Family Photo
Over a year after Tanisha Anderson lost her life in an incident with Cleveland police officers, her family is still waiting for answers.

The 37-year-old died after her mother called 911 while Anderson was having a "mental health episode," as described in the family's subsequent lawsuit against city police. Officials say that when officers tried to take Anderson to a treatment facility, she struggled and then went limp. Her family says police slammed her to the ground and put a knee in her back. A medical examiner ruled Anderson’s death a homicide, the result of being "physically restrained in a prone position by Cleveland police." Her heart condition and bipolar disorder were also considered factors.

The Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department began investigating the incident in July at the request of the prosecutor’s office.

In a wrongful death lawsuit, Anderson's family alleges that CPD Officers Scott Aldridge and Bryan Myers did not provide medical attention to Anderson as she lay on the ground unconscious.

Aldridge had previously been suspended for violating the department's use-of-force policies, according to Northeast Ohio Media Group, and was disciplined in 2012 for his role in the deaths of Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell (see slide #6 in this collection). Aldridge and Myers deny that they caused Anderson’s death and have asked for the case to be dismissed.

The month after Anderson was killed, an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice concluded that Cleveland police have a pattern of using excessive force, including against people who are mentally ill, and that they don’t use appropriate techniques to account for mental illness.

Mauvion Green, Anderson’s daughter, told Northeast Ohio Media Group last year that she wants to work for conscientious treatment of people with mental illnesses. "I'm fighting for my mother, but I'm fighting for everyone else, too," Green said.
Yvette Smith: Died Feb. 16, 2014, age 47, Bastrop, Texas
Family Photo
Yvette Smith was fatally shot when Bastrop County Sheriff's Deputy Daniel Willis responded to a 911 call about a fight between several men at a residence, according to KXAN. At the scene, authorities say, Willis ordered Smith to come out of the house, then shot her twice when she did so. An initial statement claiming that Smith was armed was later retracted by police officials.

Willis was fired, and his record came under scrutiny. An evaluation from a past employer said that he needed “more development in handling explosive situations" and "utilization of common sense."

Following a grand jury indictment for murder, Willis was tried in September. A mistrial was declared when the jury deadlocked 8-4 in favor of finding Willis guilty. The prosecutor on the case told KXAN the prosecution would retry the case and wouldn’t consider a lesser charge.

Smith’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in 2014.

"A part of me is gone, you know, and I wish I could have that back, but I can't," Yvonne Williams, Smith’s twin sister, told KVUE last year. "I just want justice for her."
Miriam Carey: Died Oct. 3, 2013, age 34, Washington, D.C.
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
U.S. Secret Service and Capitol Police officers fatally shot Miriam Carey in a car chase after she drove her car into a security checkpoint near the White House despite orders to stop. Officers fired multiple shots at Carey, a dental hygienist from Connecticut, hitting her five times. Her 1-year-old daughter, who was also in the car, survived.

An autopsy found that Carey was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, her family's attorney said, and no weapons were found in her car. She had previously been diagnosed with postpartum depression and psychosis.

Federal prosecutors said in 2014 that they would not file charges against the officers. Carey’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit.

The emphasis shouldn’t be on why [Miriam was in Washington, D.C.]," sister Valarie Carey told The Washington Post last year. "The emphasis should be [on] what those officers did. Were their actions proper?”
Shelly Frey: Died Dec. 6, 2012, age 27, Houston
Shelly Frey was killed after she and two other women were allegedly caught stealing from a Walmart in 2012, the Houston Chronicle reports. Louis Campbell, an off-duty sheriff’s deputy working as a security guard, tried to detain them and then shot into a car in which Frey was a passenger. She was struck twice in the neck.

Campbell reportedly told investigators that he opened fire after the driver of the car tried to run him over. Two other women and two children were in the car with Frey. When paramedics arrived, they were unable to revive her.

Frey had previously pleaded guilty to stealing shirts and meat from Walmart, according to Houston's KHOU, and was prohibited from entering the store.

Her family sued Walmart for wrongful death. Campbell has not faced any charges.
Darnisha Harris: Died Dec. 2, 2012, age 16, Breaux Bridge, Louisiana
Darnisha Harris was 16 when Breaux Bridge police Officer Travis Guillot fired two shots into the car she was driving. Guillot and two other officers were responding to a 911 call about an outdoor fight. According to The Advocate, a Louisiana newspaper, the officers saw Harris driving erratically, hitting parked cars and a bystander, before Guillot opened fire.

Harris was on probation for battery on a police officer and violating a court-ordered curfew when she died, according to The Advocate.

Guillot was previously accused of misconduct while working at three different law enforcement agencies, according to KATC of Lafayette, Louisiana. The incidents included shooting a dog while on patrol and allegedly fondling female inmates, as well as Guillot's alleged involvement in the case of an inmate who died of cocaine intoxication while in custody. A lawsuit regarding this last allegation was settled out of court.

In the summer of 2013, some eight months after Harris' death, a grand jury declined to indict Guillot.
Malissa Williams: Died Nov. 29, 2012, age 30, Cleveland
Aaron Josefczyk/Reuters
Malissa Williams was a passenger in a car driven by a man named Timothy Russell when a police officer thought he heard shots fired from the vehicle and began following them, according to the Associated Press. A 25-minute chase through Cleveland ended with 13 officers firing 137 rounds at the car, which police eventually cornered in a school parking lot. Twenty-three bullets struck Russell, and 24 hit Williams. They were both killed.

Williams and Russell, who both had criminalrecords, were unarmed.

Six officers were indicted in the car chase. Officer Michael Brelo was charged with manslaughter, and five supervisors were charged with dereliction of duty. Brelo -- who allegedly fired 49 shots at the vehicle, 15 of them from atop the hood of the car itself -- was tried earlier this year and found not guilty on all charges, including two counts of voluntary manslaughter, attempted voluntary manslaughter and felonious assault.

"They did not deserve to die for fleeing and eluding," Michelle Russell, Timothy's sister, told Northeast Ohio Media Group.

Five police supervisors are awaiting trial on charges of dereliction of duty. The city settled a wrongful death lawsuit with the victims' families for $3 million in 2014.

"This shooting is one of the worst examples of police misconduct in American history,'' attorneys for Williams' and Russell's families said at the time. "This settlement sends the clearest signal yet that real reform must be achieved inside the Cleveland Police Department."
Shantel Davis: Died June 14, 2012, age 23, New York City
Shantel Davis was fatally shot while driving a car that police claim was stolen. Plainclothes NYPD officers approached her after she allegedly ran multiple red lights and the vehicle crashed. Police say that Davis tried to escape, and that Phil Atkins, a narcotics officer, allegedly tried to shift her car into park as it was moving. His gun fired once, striking Davis in the chest.

Davis' family and several groups advocating for police reform have disputed the NYPD's version of events, saying it's not clear whether the car was stolen and, if it was, whether Davis was aware of that. They also claim Davis was trapped behind her airbag when she was shot, not trying to flee the vehicle.

Davis had been arrested eight times previously, but she was never convicted of any crimes. She was due in court the day after her death for kidnapping and attempted murder charges, according to The New York Times. She was unarmed when she was shot.

Atkins had been sued seven times over the previous decade for various allegations, including undue use of force, according to DNAinfo.

"It’s been almost four years since Shantel’s murder and I still have no answers," Natasha Duncan, Davis' sister, told The Huffington Post in May 2016. "This whole time my family has heard nothing about either the criminal or departmental investigation. My sister’s case has been sitting on District Attorney [Ken] Thompson’s desk since he took office. He ran on a promise of being tough on police brutality, but he’s done absolutely nothing to move my sister’s case forward."

Thompson's office says an investigation into Davis' case is underway and her family should receive the findings soon.

“We are conducting a fair and thorough review of this case to ensure that all investigative avenues and evidence has been explored," a spokeswoman for Thompson's office told HuffPost. "We expect the investigation to be concluded soon and will inform the family of our findings at that time."

This article has been updated to reflect statements from Davis' sister, Thompson's office and a representative of Davis' family, and to clarify that the NYPD's version of events is disputed.
Rekia Boyd: Died March 22, 2012, age 22, Chicago
Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images
Rekia Boyd was unarmed when she was shot in the back of the head by Dante Servin, a Chicago police detective who was off-duty at the time.

Servin was driving near his home late at night when he saw a group of four people walking. He had a brief conversation with them from his car, then turned the wrong way down a one-way street. According to the Chicago Tribune, he said he then looked over his shoulder and thought he saw a man from the group pull a gun from his pants and point it at him.

Servin fired five rounds over his left shoulder through his car window, striking the man in the hand and Boyd in the back of the head. The man whom Servin believed to have a gun was actually holding a cell phone.

Boyd was taken to a hospital and died the next day.

In 2013, Servin was indicted on charges of involuntary manslaughter, reckless discharge of a firearm and reckless conduct. His trial began in April 2015, but was quickly dismissed by the judge.

In November, the police department began the process of firing Servin, which requires a hearing before the Chicago Police Board. As of December, the board has not yet reached a decision.

The city awarded Boyd’s family $4.5 million as part of a wrongful death settlement.

My mother holds a lot inside but she’s hurting, especially when she hears about police violence," Martinez Sutton, Boyd’s brother, told The Chicago Citizen newspaper.
Shereese Francis: Died March 15, 2012, age 29, New York City
Shereese Francis was killed after family members called authorities seeking help because Francis, who had schizophrenia, had not been taking her medication and appeared to need medical attention. She'd refused to go to a hospital voluntarily.

When NYPD officers arrived, the family’s wrongful death lawsuit alleges, Francis did not realize they were police, due to her mental illness. When Francis, who was unarmed, tried to leave the room against police orders, they allegedly pursued her, grabbed her and “tackled” her on a bed. The suit claims four officers put their weight onto Francis’ back while trying to cuff her, and her sister believes she saw them hitting and using a Taser on Francis until she stopped moving.

Francis was pronounced dead at a hospital shortly after the incident. Her cause of death was "compression of trunk during agitated violent behavior (schizophrenia) while prone on bed and attempted restraint by police officers,” according to The Village Voice.

The lawsuit said the officers overwhelmingly violated NYPD policies on mental illness, in part because the department had failed to provide training on the subject.

The city settled with Francis’ family for $1.1 million.
Aiyana Stanley-Jones: Died May 16, 2010, age 7, Detroit
Aiyana Stanley-Jones was sleeping on her couch with her grandmother when police conducted a "no knock" raid of their home. Officer Joseph Weekley was first through the door, and after a flash-bang grenade went off, he fired his gun, killing Aiyana. Weekley later testified that the grandmother struck his weapon and caused him to fire, but she denies having been near the gun.

Police said the raid was in search of a murder suspect who lived in the second-floor unit of the home.

Weekley was charged with involuntary manslaughter and careless discharge of a firearm causing death, but his case was dismissed after two mistrials. He returned to duty as a Detroit police officer in April.
Tarika Wilson: Died Jan. 4, 2008, age 26, Lima, Ohio
Family Photo
Tarika Wilson was killed when a Lima police SWAT team raided her rental home to arrest her boyfriend on drug charges, according to The New York Times. She had her youngest son, Sincere, in her arms when she was shot by Sgt. Joseph Chavalia. Sincere, who was 14 months old, was shot in the shoulder and hand but survived.

Chavalia was acquitted of the misdemeanor charges of negligent homicide and negligent assault. He testified that he felt his life was in danger when he shot Wilson, thinking he'd seen a shadow and heard gunshots nearby. The shots had actually come from officers downstairs, according to the Associated Press.

The city settled a wrongful death suit with Wilson’s family for $2.5 million in 2011.
Alberta Spruill: Died May 16, 2003, age 57, New York City
Andrew Savulich/NY Daily News via Getty Images
Alberta Spruill also died after police conducted a "no knock" raid at her home in error. Officers broke through her door and threw a concussion grenade while Spruill, a city employee, was getting ready for work. She was briefly handcuffed but released when officers realized they were in the wrong place and that the information they'd been given -- that guns and drugs were being stored in the apartment -- was incorrect. Spruill died of a heart attack at a nearby hospital less than two hours later.

The city of New York agreed to pay a $1.6 million settlement to Spruill’s family.

“This case for them is not about money. It’s about changing procedure,” Johnnie Cochran, the lawyer for Spruill’s sisters, said in 2003. “It’s about the fact that their sister should not have died in vain.”
Kendra James: Died May 5, 2003, age 21, Portland, Oregon
Alex Milan Tracy/Corbis
Portland police Officer Scott McCollister fatally shot Kendra James during a traffic stop. When McCollister pulled over the car in which James was a passenger, he took the driver, Terry Jackson, into custody after seeing he had an outstanding warrant. James moved behind the wheel of the car and tried to drive away, and McCollister tried to stop her by climbing partway into the car and pulling her hair and using pepper spray and a Taser. James put the car into drive and McCollister shot her. He later claimed he'd gotten stuck in the car's doorway and that he'd feared for his life.

A grand jury declined to prosecute. McCollister was initially suspended, but the disciplinary action was overturned by an arbitrator.

“It’s been 10 years later, justice has still not [been] served,” James’ mother, Shirley Isadore, said at a 2013 rally marking the anniversary of her daughter’s death.