RICHMOND, Va. – One man died a decade ago after a police officer in New York state told him to move his illegally parked car. Another, in the midst of a mental health crisis on a Virginia highway, was fatally shot by an officer in 2018.
A third man died in Oklahoma the next year after a foot chase and struggle with police. His last words echoed the ones used by Black men in similar circumstances and the chants at civil rights protests: “I can’t breathe.”
The officers involved in the deaths of Danroy “DJ” Henry Jr., 20, Marcus-David Peters, 24, and Derrick Elliot Scott, 41, all were cleared of wrongdoing. But the protests against racial injustice since George Floyd was killed during a police encounter in Minnesota have the three men's families urging authorities to reopen the investigations.
Activists elsewhere, dismayed by a Kentucky grand jury’s decision not to charge any officers in the shooting death of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, are pressing prosecutors to take a second look at other cases.
Some people with law enforcement experience think the nationwide push for police reform could lead prosecutors to acquiesce, if the pressure is great enough.
National Police Association spokesperson Betsy Brantner Smith said she worries that in the current climate, officers previously absolved of misconduct might end up facing criminal charges.
"This issue has been horrifically politicized, so I think it will greatly depend on the pressure politically in whatever particular jurisdiction we’re talking about," Smith, a retired police sergeant, said.
Others see such campaigns as uphill battles.