For many, the heartbreak was compounded by the fact that, despite mounting national attention and pressure, the outcome was, simply put, unsurprising. It had crushed cautious hopes that this case could have spurred change, particularly for Black women.
“Sometimes you wish, even outside of the knowledge that you have, that lightning strikes and something different will happen,” said Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor at U.C.L.A. and Columbia Law School and founder of the Say Her Name campaign. “You can attach that hope to some of the factual distinctions of this case: The police can’t even claim she was doing anything. But realism tells you that the likelihood of something different was pretty slim.”
Few police officers who cause deaths are charged or convicted. Since 2013, law enforcement officers across the country have killed about 1,000 people a year and Black people are about three times more likely to be killed by the police than white people, according to the crowdsourced database Mapping Police Violence.
Yet, since 2005, only 121 officers in total have been arrested on charges of murder or manslaughter in on-duty killings, according to data compiled by Philip M. Stinson, a former police officer himself and a criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Of the 95 officers whose cases have concluded, 44 were convicted, but often of a lesser charge, like assault, he said.
While fewer women than men are killed by the police overall, the conviction rate is low in those cases, too, particularly for Black women. Since 2015, nearly 250 women in total have been killed by police officers, of which 48 — about a fifth — were Black, according to a Washington Post database.
Since the beginning of 2005, there have been eight cases in which officers were actually charged with manslaughter or murder of a Black woman. In the past five years, there has been just one, Professor Stinson said. Almost all of the officers in those cases were acquitted.
And the numbers in Professor Stinson’s database, as well as in others, are most likely an underrepresentation, relying on news media reports and alerts, he explained, “because the government does a lousy job of collecting this sort of data.”