Times Staff Writers
April 4, 2017
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In the past three years, police shootings have sparked an unprecedented series of protests across the country.
Groups led by Black Lives Matter said the shootings were part of a larger pattern of racial discrimination.
Law enforcement officials said they weren’t.
So we examined every Florida police shooting from 2009 to 2014, using police reports, news articles, lawsuits and autopsies to break down each one to its most basic traits.
Each dot represents one person who was shot.
Most of the people were either black or white.
More black people were shot, even though whites in Florida outnumber blacks 3 to 1.
Take away the least debatable cases, where people were involved in violent crimes or threatened police with weapons.
Here’s what’s left.
Now the numbers skew even more black.
Then think about what raises the most questions when a police officer shoots someone.
Shot while unarmed?
Blacks outnumbered whites 2 to 1.
Blacks were twice as likely to be shot after being pulled over for a traffic violation.
Or while reaching for something that officers thought was a weapon — but wasn’t.
They were three times as likely to be shot while police were chasing them on foot.
Or while suspected of a minor crime, like smoking pot or shoplifting, or without committing any crime at all.
And four times as likely to be shot in the back.
Now look at the cases where these patterns intersect.
Alens Charles, 21, was locked out of his house in Lantana late at night. A neighbor saw Charles walking around his backyard and reported a possible burglary.
Charles, unarmed and parked in the driveway, fell asleep in his car.
When he awoke, officers investigating the call saw him sit up in the car and immediately shot him.
A total of eight unarmed people were shot while suspected of at most a minor crime.
Five of them were black.
Two officers stopped Rodney Mitchell, 23, in Sarasota for not wearing a seatbelt.
Officers ordered Mitchell to put his car in park, and he reached down, toward the gearshift.
Both officers, worried he was reaching for a weapon or about to drive at them, shot and killed him. Mitchell was unarmed.
Mitchell was one of six people shot during a traffic stop because officers thought they were reaching for a weapon — but they were unarmed.
Five of them were black.
A police officer stopped Dontrell Stephens, 20, in West Palm Beach for riding his bicycle on the wrong side of the street.
Within four seconds, the officer started to shoot. Stephens tried to run and was shot in the back.
The officer thought Stephens was reaching for a weapon. He was unarmed, holding only his cell phone. The shooting paralyzed Stephens from the waist down.
Including Stephens, four unarmed people were shot in the back during a foot chase.
All four were black.
Police shootings that later sparked protests around the country shared many of these characteristics.
In 2014, Michael Brown was unarmed and had been stopped on suspicion of a minor crime when he struggled with an officer and was killed in Ferguson, Mo.
In 2016, Philando Castile was shot to death during a traffic stop in St. Anthony, Minn. He told officers he had a legal firearm. Then he told them he was reaching for his license, and they shot him.
In 2015, Walter Scott was shot in the back as he ran away from police unarmed in North Charleston, S.C.
Stop for a minute and tally this up.
That’s 14 cases that share details from the most controversial police shootings.
And a total of 72 black people shot in questionable circumstances in a six-year span, compared to 31 whites.
That’s one for every month.
And that’s just in Florida.