CHICAGO
12/15/2014 07:37 pm ET Updated Dec 15, 2014

9 Absurd Justifications For Police Killings Of Unarmed Black Males

protests

In recent weeks, protests have spread across America in response to multiple grand juries declining to indict police officers responsible for the deaths of unarmed black men. Those decisions have led to an outpouring of grief, anger and anxiety over a criminal justice system that seems to operate with little accountability, especially where the deaths of people of color are concerned.

It's not clear exactly why grand juries rarely choose to indict police officers involved in the deaths of unarmed black men. But we do hear the excuses made on their behalf.

Here are some of the explanations and justifications we've been offered:

1. Health complications.

chokehold

Eric Garner's July 17 death at the hands of NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo was captured on film and circulated on the Internet. Garner's last words, "I can't breathe," later became a rallying cry during demonstrations made in his name. Pantaleo, who placed Garner in a chokehold prohibited by the police department, was not indicted for the death. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said shortly after the grand jury's decision that Garner would have survived the fatal chokehold had he not been "obese."

2. Standing in a stairwell.

akai

Akai Gurley, 28, was fatally shot by NYPD Officer Peter Liang in the Louis Pink housing projects in Brooklyn last month. New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton defended the shooting as an "accidental discharge" in a "dark" stairwell by a cop who had been on the force less than 18 months.

3. Resembling someone's idea of a "thug."

michael brown

In August, 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot in Ferguson, Missouri, by Officer Darren Wilson following a daytime altercation in the street. During a recent segment on NewsMaxTV, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee insisted that Brown would still be alive "if he behaved like something other than a thug," an apparent reference to disputed witness testimony that Brown was reaching for Wilson's gun before he was shot. (Most of the witnesses who testified before the grand jury said that Brown had his hands raised when he was killed.)

4. Wearing a sweatshirt.

trayvon martin day

Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Florida teen whose death in February 2012 led to protests across America, was blamed for his own death for wearing a hooded sweatshirt. Trayvon, 17, was gunned down by George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watch volunteer. Shortly after Trayvon was killed, Fox News host Geraldo Rivera said, "I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was." (Zimmerman, it should be noted, was a civilian neighborhood watch officer, not a policeman.)

5. Being the child of someone with a troubled past.

tamir rice

Tamir Rice, 12, was gunned down by Cleveland police while holding a toy gun at a public park last month. The Northeast Ohio Media Group then ran a story about Tamir's father, Leonard Warner, and Warner's history of domestic violence -- because, author Brandon Blackwell explained, "people from across the region have been asking whether Rice grew up around violence."

Warner was not present when Tamir was killed. Blackwell's story on Warner offered no background information on Officer Timothy Loehmann, who was deemed unfit for policing two years before he shot Tamir.

6. Taking your medication.

rumain brisbon

A Phoenix police officer fatally shot 34-year-old Rumain Brisbon earlier this month after mistaking a pill bottle in Brisbon's pocket for the handle of a gun.

7. Asking for help after being in a car accident.

jonathan ferrell

Jonathan Ferrell, 24, was shot in Charlotte, North Carolina, in September after surviving a car accident. Ferrell crawled through a window of his car and began banging on the door of a nearby home to get attention. When officers arrived at the scene in response to the homeowner's report of an attempted break-in, they shot Ferrell 10 times as he approached them with empty hands.

8. (Possibly) dressing up as a character from a TV series.

Darrien Hunt, 22, was fatally shot in September when Utah officers responded to a call of someone walking around with a "samurai-type sword." Cops said that Hunt lunged at them with the toy sword, but witnesses claimed to have seen him running from the officers, and an independent autopsy showed that Hunt was shot in the back.

9. Complying with a police officer's command, immediately.

Levar Edward Jones was shot by South Carolina trooper Sean Groubert in September. As Jones stood next to the open door of his vehicle, Groubert asked him to retrieve his wallet. Jones reached into his car to do so. Groubert then demanded that Jones get out of the car, and opened fire as Jones complied. Jones asked: "Sir, why was I shot? All I did was reach for my license." Groubert responded: "Well, you dove headfirst back into your car."

Unlike the other black men and boys on this list, Jones survived his encounter with the police -- which was lucky, because more often than not, cops shoot to kill.

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  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A police officer reacts as he pushes protestors away from an arrest during a march against a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner, Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Demonstrators participate in a rally against a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in New York. A grand jury cleared a white New York City police officer Wednesday in the videotaped chokehold death of Garner, an unarmed black man, who had been stopped on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Police make arrests after protesters rallying against a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner attempted to block traffic at the intersection of 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue near Times Square, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Protestor Rayyan Ali cries as she protests in Herald Square Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in New York, in response to a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner. A grand jury cleared a white New York City police officer Wednesday in the videotaped chokehold death of Garner, an unarmed black man, who had been stopped on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Protestors march against a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Demonstrators participate in a rally against a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in New York. A grand jury cleared a white New York City police officer Wednesday in the videotaped chokehold death of Garner, an unarmed black man, who had been stopped on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A protester sits in the road while rallying against a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner encountering a line of police as they make their way west on 42nd Street near Times Square, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A protestor is arrested during a march against a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner, Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Protesters rallying against a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner chant as they pass police while marching through Midtown in the early morning hours of Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Protestor Michael Alvarez is arrested during a march against a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner, Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in New York. A grand jury cleared a white New York City police officer Wednesday in the videotaped chokehold death of Garner, an unarmed black man, who had been stopped on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes, a lawyer for the victim's family said. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Police make an arrest as protesters rallying against a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner march through Midtown in the early morning hours of Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A protestor is arrested during a march against a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in New York. A grand jury cleared a white New York City police officer Wednesday in the videotaped chokehold death of Garner, an unarmed black man, who had been stopped on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes, a lawyer for the victim's family said. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Police make arrests as protesters rallying against a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner march near Times Square, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Protestors march against a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in New York. A grand jury cleared a white New York City police officer Wednesday in the videotaped chokehold death of Garner, an unarmed black man, who had been stopped on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes, a lawyer for the victim's family said. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Protestors march against a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in New York. A grand jury cleared a white New York City police officer Wednesday in the videotaped chokehold death of Garner, an unarmed black man, who had been stopped on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes, a lawyer for the victim's family said. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Fellow protesters cheer those in police custody in a correction bus at the Manhattan side of the Manhattan Bridge Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in New York, after several protesters were arrested as they tried to block the bridge entrance protesting against a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner. A grand jury cleared a white New York City police officer Wednesday in the videotaped chokehold death of Garner, an unarmed black man, who had been stopped on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes, a lawyer for the victim's family said. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    NYPD police officers surround a Department of Corrections bus at the Manhattan side of the Manhattan Bridge Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in New York, after several protesters were arrested as they tried to block the bridge entrance protesting against a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner. A grand jury cleared a white New York City police officer Wednesday in the videotaped chokehold death of Garner, an unarmed black man, who had been stopped on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes, a lawyer for the victim's family said. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Police arrest a protestor rallying against a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner near Times Square, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in New York. A grand jury cleared a white New York City police officer Wednesday in the videotaped chokehold death of Garner, an unarmed black man, who had been stopped on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Police make arrests after protesters rallying against a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner attempted to block traffic at the intersection of 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue near Times Square, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Protesters rallying against a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner sing as they carry a collection of mock coffins bearing the names of victims of fatal police encounters at the intersection of Flatbush Avenue and Atlantic Avenue near the Barclays Center, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. A grand jury cleared a white New York City police officer Wednesday in the videotaped chokehold death of Garner, an unarmed black man, who had been stopped on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Protestors occupy Herald Square during march Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in New York, against a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner. A grand jury cleared a white New York City police officer Wednesday in the videotaped chokehold death of Garner, an unarmed black man, who had been stopped on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes, a lawyer for the victim's family said. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A person is taken into custody at the Manhattan side of the Manhattan Bridge Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in New York, after several protesters were arrested as they tried to block the bridge entrance protesting against a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner. A grand jury cleared a white New York City police officer Wednesday in the videotaped chokehold death of Garner, an unarmed black man, who had been stopped on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes, a lawyer for the victim's family said. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Protesters rallying against a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner hold hands as they make their way up Ninth Avenue in the early morning hours of Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A police helicopter shines a light on protesters rallying against a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner as they cross the eastbound traffic lanes of the Brooklyn Bridge, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in New York. A grand jury cleared a white New York City police officer Wednesday in the videotaped chokehold death of Garner, an unarmed black man, who had been stopped on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Protesters react as police make arrests after protesters rallying against a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner attempted to block traffic at the intersection of 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue near Times Square, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Protesters rallying against a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner confront police as they attempt to block traffic at the intersection of 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue near Times Square, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Protesters rallying against a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner confront police as they attempt to block traffic at the intersection of 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue near Times Square, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Police make arrests after protesters rallying against a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner attempted to block traffic at the intersection of 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue near Times Square, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A woman weeps and cries out as police make arrests after protesters rallying against a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner attempted to block traffic at the intersection of 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue near Times Square, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Protesters rallying against a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner hold their hands up symbolically as they observe a moment of silence at the intersection of Flatbush Avenue and Atlantic Avenue near the Barclays Center, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. A grand jury cleared a white New York City police officer Wednesday in the videotaped chokehold death of Garner, an unarmed black man, who had been stopped on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

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