John Crawford & Michael Brown Were Both Killed One Year Ago, So Let's Not Just Focus On Ferguson
Sunday marked a grim anniversary. On Aug. 8, 2014, black teen Michael Brown was fatally shot by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, setting off months of protest nationwide, militarized police tactics, and the explosion of the Black Lives Matter movement into the public consciousness. It's a date that carries infamous weight, and countless activists and supporters of the cause took the day to pay their respects and remembrances to the slain teen. But it wasn't the only such tragic anniversary this past week: Like Michael Brown, John Crawford III was killed one year ago, fatally shot in a Beavercreek, Ohio, Walmart store for carrying a plastic air rifle.
Crawford definitely deserves the same attention and remembrance, right alongside Brown's death on Ferguson's Canfield Drive just three days later. Crawford was killed on Aug. 5, 2014 — we already passed the one-year mark on Wednesday. The anniversary of Crawford's death was marked by protests at the Walmart where he was killed, including the laser display captured below. The company ended up closing the store for hours while hundreds of protesters demonstrated in the parking lot and re-opened later that night.
Crawford's story is heartbreaking in the extreme and is steeped in many of the same issues that arose in Ferguson, as well as in the fatal police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland months later. This isn't an attempt to compare Crawford's story to Brown's, or weigh one person's death over another, but as the country remembers Ferguson, it should also take the time to memorialize countless other cases that have taken place across the country.
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the story or might need a refresher, here's what happened: Crawford, a 22-year-old father of two, was walking through the aisles at the Beavercreek Walmart when he saw an air rifle sitting on one of the shelves. According to The Washington Post, the BB-firing plastic gun was sitting out of its package when Crawford grabbed it.
It was then another customer at the Walmart, a white man named Ronald Ritchie, called 911. He told the dispatcher that Crawford had "pointed it at, like, two children," according to The Guardian, a description that obviously spurred a rapid police response. Two officers from the Beavercreek Police Department arrived on the scene with their weapons drawn, and upon making contact with Crawford, they fatally shot him. In later comments to The Guardian, Ritchie denied Crawford had ever actually pointed the gun at anyone like he'd said, but insisted he'd been "waving it around." It's also worth noting Ohio is an open-carry state, meaning that carrying a loaded rifle around in public is actually not a crime in and of itself, a fact which has also been highlighted by the shooting of Tamir Rice.
The entire horrifying scene was captured by Walmart's security cameras. If you have any trepidation about watching it, don't. It might go without saying, but it's extremely upsetting to watch somebody die, and that's exactly what the footage shows.
More than a month after Crawford was killed, an Ohio grand jury declined to indict Officer Sean Williams, the cop who killed Crawford, and the U.S. Department of Justice announced they'd begun an investigation of the incident to determine whether Crawford's civil rights were violated. This is the same process that played out in the aftermath of Ferguson, when a grand jury failed to indict Officer Darren Wilson on any criminal charges for killing Brown. Soon after, the Justice Department produced a detailed and exhaustive record of racism within Ferguson Police Department, and that has largely helped bring about change for the small Missouri city.
Here's the thing, though: The Justice Department review into Crawford's death still isn't finished — more than 10 months after it was announced. By way of comparison, the much higher-profile investigation into Brown's shooting death took just six months to be compiled and released. In a statement to the AP, the Crawford family's attorney Michael Wright reflected on how little progress has been made.
It does not appear that anything has changed for the better in this past year — that we're still having a lot of police-involved shootings of young black men.
The only legal question remaining in Crawford's case is whether the DOJ investigation will bear fruit in changing how police officers interact with the black community, similar to the kind of wide-open exposure the Ferguson Police Department suffered. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office told the AP a "review of the facts" is still underway, but offered no timetable for when the job would be done. Hopefully some solid indications will come out soon — as Wright told The Cincinnati Enquirer on Wednesday, it's been a long time for Crawford's family to wait.
I would hope that they have not made this family wait for an entire year to tell them they are not going to do anything.