These 15 Black Women Were Killed During Police Encounters. Their Lives Matter, Too

02/13/2015 07:30 am ET | Updated 3 days ago
Tom Williams via Getty Images

Three months after Tanisha Anderson lost her life in an incident with Cleveland police officers, the community is still waiting for answers.

The 37-year-old died in November after her mother called 911 while Anderson was having a “mental health episode.” Officials say 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. Her death was ruled a homicide.

In recent months, such deaths of unarmed black individuals -- and in some cases, the lack of indictments for officers involved -- have sparked protests in cities around the country, including Cleveland, where 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot and killed by police a week after Anderson's death as he carried a toy gun in a park. Rice, Eric Garner and Michael Brown have come to symbolize the Black Lives Matter movement focused on excessive force and racial disparities in policing.

But as thousands march for justice, the names of the women killed by police -- particularly women of color killed by police -- continue to be less known.

“We wanted to make sure [Anderson’s death] didn’t get swept under the rug,” Rachelle Smith told The Huffington Post. She and others protested at Cleveland's Justice Center this week over the lack of information in Anderson's case. “We hear a lot about Tamir Rice and Eric Garner … There’s no hierarchy in these tragedies, but she was unarmed, and the police were called to help her -- there’s this intersectionality of oppression there, and innocence.”

Some activists, like writer Dream Hampton, intentionally amplify the experiences of other black women. She told HuffPost she was encouraged the country was finally talking about police militarization after years of raising concerns in a “pro-policing culture,” but conversations need to be more inclusive.

“The reason why it’s important to center girls and women in this conversation is because the other narrative, and it’s not a competing narrative, but it’s just not a complete narrative, is that this only happens to black boys and men,” Hampton said. "We have always only framed this as a black male problem, and it is time to tell the entire truth about who police violence and terrorism happens to.”

The more complete narrative includes a small child shot while she was sleeping, as well as women killed while in violation of the law. While an important part of the latters' stories, it doesn’t somehow erase their deaths or mean the actions of police involved shouldn’t receive scrutiny. Below, see the stories of 15 black women and girls killed during police encounters over the last 15 years.

Tanisha Anderson

Died Nov. 13, 2014, age 37, Cleveland

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As noted above, 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 police department hasn't finished an investigation into her death, though it will likely conclude by next week, a spokesman told The Huffington Post. The case will go to a grand jury as a matter of policy.

In a wrongful death lawsuit, Anderson's family alleges CPD Officers Scott Aldridge and Bryan Myers did not provide medical attention as Anderson 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 (see below) and Timothy Russell. He is currently on desk duty.

In December, an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice concluded Cleveland police have a pattern of using excessive force, including against people who are mentally ill, and don’t use appropriate techniques to account for mental illness.

Mauvion Green, Anderson’s daughter, told the Northeast Ohio Media Group she wanted to work for conscientious treatment of those 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

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A year ago, 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 stepped through the doorway. An original statement that claimed Smith was armed was retracted by police officials.

Willis was fired, and his previous record was questioned. An evaluation from a past employer stated he needed “more development in handling explosive situations" and "utilization of common sense."

He was indicted by a grand jury for murder in June. Smith’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in August.

"A part of me is gone, you know, and I wish I could have that back, but I can't. I just want justice for her," Yvonne Williams, Smith’s twin sister, told KVUE.

Miriam Carey

Died Oct. 3, 2013, age 34, Washington, D.C.

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Miriam Carey's mother, Idella Carey, and Charles Barron protest Carey's death on the West Front of the Capitol, October 3, 2014. 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, refusing orders to stop. Officers fired multiple shots at Carey, a dental hygienist from Connecticut, hitting her five times.

Her 1-year-old daughter was in the car at the time and survived.

An autopsy found 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 July 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. "The emphasis should be what those officers did. Were their actions proper?”

Shelly Frey

Died Dec. 6, 2012, age 27, Houston

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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. The other women and two children were in the car with Frey; they continued to drive away before stopping, and paramedics called to the scene 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 has 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 of Baton Rouge, they 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 include shooting a dog while on patrol, allegedly fondling female inmates and alleged improper treatment of an inmate who died of cocaine intoxication while in custody. A lawsuit regarding the latter allegation was settled out of court.

A grand jury declined to indict Guillot.

Malissa Williams

Died Nov. 29, 2012, age 30, Cleveland

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Cleveland Police Department/AP

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 was 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 criminal records, 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, goes to trial in April. The city settled a wrongful death lawsuit for $3 million.

"This shooting is one of the worst examples of police misconduct in American history,'' attorneys for Williams' and Russell's families said in a statement last year. "This settlement sends the clearest signal yet that real reform must be achieved inside the Cleveland Police Department."

Alesia Thomas

Died July 22, 2012, age 35, Los Angeles

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Damian Dovarganes/AP

Alesia Thomas was arrested at her home on suspicion of child endangerment after she left her children at a police station because she couldn't care for them. A struggle with Los Angeles Police Officer Mary O'Callaghan and several other officers ensued; while putting a handcuffed Thomas in a squad car, prosecutors said O'Callaghan threatened to kick Thomas in the genitals and then did so seven times, hitting her in the groin, abdomen and thigh.

Thomas died shortly after at a hospital. An autopsy found that she had cocaine in her system. The cause of death was listed as undetermined.

O'Callaghan pleaded not guilty to an assault charge in Thomas' death in 2013. The trial is still pending.

Shantel Davis

Died June 14, 2012, age 23, New York City

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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, with allegations including undue use of force, according to DNAinfo.

This post has been updated to reflect statements from 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

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Rekia Boyd was unarmed when she was shot in the back of the head by Chicago Police Detective Dante Servin, 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 outside. He had a brief conversation with them through his window, then turned the wrong way on 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 who Servin believed had 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. He has been stripped of his police powers, and 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.

Shereese Francis

Died March 15, 2012, age 29, New York City

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Shereese Francis was killed after family members called authorities seeking help because Francis, who had schizophrenia, had not been taking her medication and seemed like she needed medical attention. She refused to go to a hospital voluntarily.

The family’s wrongful death lawsuit alleges Francis, who was unarmed, was not aware arriving NYPD officers were police because of her mental illness. When she tried to leave the room against their orders, they allegedly pursued her, grabbed her and “tackled” her onto 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 Francis 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 has failed to provide training.

The city settled with Francis’ family for $1.1 million.

Aiyana Stanley-Jones

Died May 16, 2010, age 7, Detroit

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Charles Jones, the father of 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, holds a photo of his daughter in attorney Geoffrey Fieger's office in Southfield, Mich., Tuesday, May 18, 2010. Carlos Osorio/AP

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 testified the grandmother struck his weapon and caused him to fire, but she denies being 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 a misdemeanor charge, but the case was dismissed after two mistrials.

Tarika Wilson

Died Jan. 4, 2008, age 26, Lima, Ohio

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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 saw a shadow and heard gun shots nearby, when they actually came 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.

Kathryn Johnston

Died Nov. 21, 2006, age 92, Atlanta

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Kathryn Johnston was 92 when she was killed in a botched "no knock" drug raid by Atlanta police that was revealed to be based on false information. Officers broke down her security gate and without warning entered her home.

As the door opened, Johnston fired the pistol she kept for self-defense, hitting no one. Officers fired back 39 times. Five or six bullets hit Johnston, and several others hit fellow police.

Officers later admitted to falsely claiming cocaine submitted into evidence had come from a drug deal at her house, and to planting marijuana at her house after the raid.

Officers Jason Smith, Greg Junnier and Arthur Tesler pleaded guilty to charges related to her death and the subsequent coverup. All three received prison time.

The city of Atlanta agreed to pay Johnston’s family $4.8 million as part of a settlement.

Alberta Spruill

Died May 16, 2003, age 57, New York City

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Neighbors and friends of Alberta Spruill gather for a vigil. 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 were 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.

This case for them is not about money. It’s about changing procedure,” Johnnie Cochran, 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

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Ten years after Kendra James was killed by a Portland police officer, Huey P. Martin Jr. holds a booklet from her funeral during a rally for police accountability, May 5, 2013. Alex Milan Tracy/Corbis

Portland Police Officer Scott McCollister fatally shot Kendra James during a traffic stop. When McCollister pulled over James and driver Terry Jackson, he took 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 clambering partially into the car and pulling her hair and using pepper spray and a Taser. James put the car into drive and McCollister shot her, claiming he was stuck in the doorway and feared for his life.

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

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

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Four of the above women were killed during police raids.

Three women had young children with them when they were killed.

Two were children when they were killed.

Two women with mental illnesses were killed after their family members called authorities for help.

Seven of the incidents resulted in charges. Only only one woman’s death has led to conviction. Several cases are still open.

There are many more women of color who have died in incidents involving police -- including all-too-frequent encounters with the mentally ill, like Michelle Cusseaux, Aura Rosser, or Margaret Mitchell. These women were armed and considered dangerous according to police, but their deaths point to failings in how police work with with mentally ill individuals.

"That's why it's necessary for this to be out there," George Francis told the Village Voice about the police’s role in his daughter Shereese’s death. "So that they put a new system in place to prevent this from happening to other people. They will be more careful when they know that they will be brought to account."

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