So far this year, 367 people have been fatally shot by police in America. This time last year, it was 366. It is also just as true this year that black people remain disproportionately affected by police violence and that a disturbing number—one in 5—of police killings involve mental illness.
But ask anyone involved with the movement to end police violence and they will confirm: While cops in America remain deadly as ever, the momentum behind the movement has slowed. Instead, mass protests in 2017 are largely aimed at the Trump presidency, and for many of the protest-goers, it’s their first time out on the streets.
The national silence on police violence was briefly interrupted recently when Jordan Edwards, a 15 year-old Texan, was gunned down while unarmed in a Dallas suburb. Edwards, a high-achieving high school freshman with a winning smile, was leaving a house party that elicited a noise complaint from neighbors when police showed up. He was driving away in a car with his brother and some friends when Officer Roy Oliver of the Balch Springs police department shot into the vehicle with a rifle, lethally wounding Edwards with a bullet to the head.
After the fact, the Balch Springs police chief would admit that he “misspoke” when initially claiming that the vehicle was “aggressively” approaching the officers who, per the usual language, feared for their lives. But when bodycam footage clearly showed the car driving away from officers and not towards them, the chief changed his position and Oliver was fired. Oliver is now facing a civil suit brought by Edwards’s family.
The circumstances around Edwards’s death recall the 2012 shooting of another teen named Jordan in a Southern state, also gunned down while driving away unarmed in a vehicle with friends. Like Jordan Davis, the Edwards shooting prompted widespread outrage, with virtually all national media outlets reporting the story in detail. There were a number of protests, too, despite the family’s request that no marches be held. But unlike Davis, who was killed in 2012 right as a budding movement was gaining steam, organizers say that the Edwards shooting was the first so far in 2017 to garner this level of attention.
“People think that Jordan Edwards was the first shooting this year but that’s not true, they’ve been killing us at the same rate as before [the election],” says Rahel Mekdim Teka, an organizer with the Black Youth Project 100, a national group that operates as part of the larger, informal, Black Lives Matter network.
Black Lives Matter, the most prominent movement fighting to end police violence, was born in the wake of the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in 2012. Co-founders Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrice Cullors originated a hashtag which spawned a movement that grew steadily, eventually becoming impossible to ignore after mass demonstrations following the Michael Brown and Eric Garner killings in 2014.