Introduction to the recently released Stolen Lives book

By Karen Saari

In the fall of 1996, a friend who was organizing for the first National
Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality asked me to help out. In the
course of attending meetings, I met some of the relatives of victims of
police killings. When I heard their stories of how their loved ones
were killed, I was horrified. Like most people, I had believed the
news accounts of these killings which usually describe the victims as
criminals posing an immediate threat to the community. After meeting
with many relatives and eyewitnesses over the course of the past three
years, I now know that this widely promoted notion is very far from the

Continuing to attend meetings, I would hear about police killings
occurring weekly and decided to keep track of these deaths. I began my
own newspaper research and compiled the results. When I could, I
contacted family members for their version of events. I have yet to
come across an eyewitness account which corroborates the police version
of events.

At the same time, three organizations, the Anthony Baez Foundation,
named for a Puerto Rican young man killed by an illegal, police
chokehold, the National Lawyers Guild, and the October 22 Coalition to
Stop Police Brutality initiated the Stolen Lives Project. In 1997, they
publicized the first edition of Stolen Lives which listed 500 cases of
people killed and brutalized by police and border patrol agents since

I soon joined up with the Stolen Lives Project. With a grant from the
San Francisco Foundation and a gift of fiscal administration from the
Sonoma County Center for Peace & Justice, I collaborated with Project
Censored at Sonoma State University and began a search of Lexis-Nexis
and other national newspaper databases for cases of police brutality for
the year of 1997. That search produced approximately half of the cases
listed in this edition.

Simultaneously, public service announcements filmed by artists and
families of victims aired on MTV. Organizations such as Physicians for
Social Responsibility contributed funds to air the announcements on
Black Entertainment Television (BET). These announcements called on
people to send any information they had about someone who'd been killed
by police to the Stolen Lives Project. Many individuals and
organizations, among them the Center for Constitutional Rights, spread
the word about Stolen Lives. Victims' families and friends, lawyers who
handle police brutality cases, and local civil rights groups sent in
stories. These are some of the many ways we uncovered these cases.

Why this research is needed

1. The government is not informing the public on the true extent of
police killings. The 1994 Crime Bill mandated that the U.S. Department
of Justice (DOJ) gather and disseminate statistics on the number of
people killed by law enforcement. Stating that funding has never been
provided, the DOJ has done nothing. In its annual reports for the past
few years, the DOJ has reported a fairly consistent finding of 350 cases
of justifiable homicides by police. No names, no places, no description
of the "justifiable homicides" are provided. How are we to know what
really happened? How do we know anything about the lives and dreams and
loved ones left behind of these anonymous, faceless victims?

2. Epidemic numbers of people are being killed and no one is held
accountable. Stolen Lives mission is to assemble a national list of
people killed by law enforcement agents from 1990 to the present. We
have learned that far too many people are losing their lives as a result
of interactions with law enforcement. People are shot and killed with
little or no provocation. They die from chokeholds, hog-tying,
pepper-spray, beatings and high speed car chases. They die on the
streets, in their own homes, on the border and in jails and prisons.
Under the guise of protecting society from crime (at a time when the
official crime rate is the lowest in decades), many people, particularly
young men of color, are being harassed, brutalized, and, as this book
shows, killed.

The officers involved are almost never indicted, prosecuted, or punished
in any way. When the families try to bring lawsuits, it can be
difficult for them to find an attorney. These cases are often long and
drawn out and expensive to properly investigate and try. Even some
lawyers eager to handle these cases are unable to for this reason.
Families filing lawsuits are often intimidated by the same law
enforcement agencies that killed their loved one. Many families
fortunate enough to find attorneys have their cases thrown out in the
early stages. Families who win lawsuits receive only monetary
compensation; there is no real justice (accountability on the part of
police) for their loved one. We know of only a handful of cases where
the officers involved were indicted, convicted and sentenced to prison

3. The general public remains unaware of the enormity of the problem
partly because the media is underplaying its significance. With the
exception of high profile cases such Amadou Diallo and Tyisha Miller, a
police killing will typically occupy a two-inch column in the back
pages of the newspaper. The headlines in most cases are small . It may
be a 60-second story on the local television and radio news. And we
never hear about it again. This leaves the public with the mistaken
impression that police killings are a few isolated incidents. But when

we gather the stories together in a book like this, we can clearly see
that police killings are a nationwide epidemic.

When media report on cases of police brutality, they generally rely
almost exclusively on police reports. Police generally say they had "no
choice but to shoot." Many family members say that their loved ones
were killed twice: first by the police and then by the press. Often
the media does not seek out eyewitnesses or family members for their
side of the story. When the media reports only what the police have to
say and fails to do a thorough investigation, this helps prevent the
public from learning the true extent of police brutality. When I
testified about police brutality before the hearings of the U.S. Commission
on Civil Rights held in Sonoma County, I expressed my belief that the
failure of the media to act as a strong watchdog amounts to complicity
in covering up police brutality.

Goals of the Stolen Lives Project

Stolen Lives attempts to expose the true circumstances and put a human
face on this horrifying situation. The victims of police violence were
part of our society. But rarely are their lives or names publicized, nor
are the real circumstances surrounding their deaths investigated and
made known. Stolen Lives aims to restore some dignity to the lives that
have been lost. Though their lives have been stolen from us, we will
not allow them to be forgotten.

Who are the victims?

The main targets of police brutality are Black and Latino people.
Yet, many of the newspaper articles we researched failed to report the
race or ethnicity of people killed by police. For the people listed in
this book whose nationalities we do know, over 3/4 are people of color.

Many victims are young.

Most are males.

While it strikes young men of color most, police brutality is
increasingly experienced where we would not expect it: in white
communities, by women, by the mentally ill and psychologically
distraught, the disabled, and even sometimes the elderly, including
people in their 80s.

Most cases we list concern people who were unarmed and/or either
committed no crime or were involved in a situation that should have been
settled without the use of deadly force.

Many police killings result from 911 calls for help. Many families of
victims never expected police brutality to touch their lives. A mother
or father in a family crisis had no expectation when they dialed 911
that their overwrought or suicidal child would be killed by the very
agency they had called for help.

Many victims had no idea they were being confronted by law enforcement
agents when plainclothes or undercover police stormed into their homes
or communities.

There appear to be a growing number of cases where the deaf or
non-English speaking people are killed for failing to obey police

Given current trends in law enforcement, we can expect that these
abuses will continue, or worse yet, increase. It is our purpose to
sound an alarm that will compel people from all walks of life to speak
out and act to put a stop to this epidemic of police brutality.

Other alarming trends

When police arrive on the scene, they often escalate the situation
rather than diffusing it. There is an increase in the use of
paramilitary units (e.g., SWAT teams, Emergency Response Teams) in
responding to domestic violence incidents and other types of
disturbances. These sieges by domestic police units often involve over
100 SWAT officers, the use of helicopters and other hi-tech military
equipment and the evacuation of entire residential neighborhoods for
many hours.

Police, not social workers or psychologists, are called to deal with
the mentally ill and psychologically distraught. These incidents are
treated as crimes, not as sensitive situations requiring reasoned
intervention. In too many cases, the incident rapidly escalates and the
person is killed.

Many police killings occur within minutes or even seconds of when
police arrive on the scene

Policy on cases included in this edition

In many cases of killings by law enforcement, the facts are in dispute.
The police claim, and the media report, that the person killed posed a
serious danger to the public or a police officer, while the victim's
relatives, friends, and/or witnesses dispute this claim. Then there are
cases in which the police claim justifiable homicide and no one has, to
our knowledge, contested this. In some of these cases, the media may
have simply not bothered to report what the family had to say. In other
cases, families may have been intimidated into silence by the
authorities. In the end, the small group of cases in which the facts
seem less ambiguous is used to justify the whole climate of police
brutality and, by extension, the vast majority of clearly unjustified
murders by law enforcement. This edition includes all 3 types of cases.

When they are available, we have included reports from families of
victims, eyewitnesses and opponents of police brutality. We thank those
families, and witnesses and activists who are speaking out and telling
the truth about how the police have killed. For we believe that they do
so at no small risk to their own lives.

Where possible we have reported conflicting accounts from police and
families or witnesses. Most entries indicate the source of the account,
whether from a newspaper or otherwise.

Our efforts to verify the information we receive continues. We urge
anyone who has additional information about the cases presented here to
contact us so that we may correct or change the account to more
accurately portray what happened.

We also continue to seek information about cases that we do not yet know
about. We urge those who know about people killed by law enforcement
agents to contact us so that we can add their names to the Stolen Lives
Project. As we go to press, we are grateful to exchange research on
cases of police brutality with the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). We encourage individuals and
organizations to compile and share information about cases of police
brutality so that the full extent of this nationwide epidemic can be
brought to light. Scholars, students and researchers with access to
libraries, computers and university facilities are especially encouraged
to take this up.

So many people around the country have made this 2nd edition of "Stolen
Lives: Killed by Law Enforcement" possible. We thank them all for their
invaluable efforts.

Karen Saari
on behalf of the Stolen Lives Project


Law enforcement is defined as police, sheriffs, jail and prison guards,
security guards acting in the role of law enforcement agents,
undercover agents, and agents of the ever-growing and innumerable police
agencies of the federal, state and local governments. Retired, former
and off-duty officers and guards are included in our definition of law
enforcement agents.

Scope of the project

Stolen Lives aims to collect the names of people killed by law
enforcement agents since 1990. We have, however, included stories of
people killed prior to 1990 if they were when sent to us.

There are many ways that police kill. The following kinds of deaths are
included in this edition:

Shootings. This is by far the largest category.

Use of excessive force. This category includes the use of chokeholds,
hog-tying, and other forms of asphyxia, pepper spray, beatings, taser
guns, and attacks by police dogs or a combination of these "restraint"
tactics. We also include cases where people have died because police
chased them off a building or bridge where they fell to their death or
where they were chased into a body of water and drowned. We also list
cases where police used various incendiary devices, or non-incendiary
devices such as tear gas canisters, and the victims were killed in the
resulting fires and/or explosions.

Incarceration / in custody deaths. Places of custody and
incarceration include squad cars, police stations, jails, prisons and
group homes for juvenile offenders. Many inmates, such as those in
California state prisons, have been shot down by guards who deliberately
provoked what they call "gladiator fights" and then opened fire,
supposedly to break up the fight. We include deaths in jails and
prisons caused by denial of necessary medical treatment. Jail and
prison suicides are not included unless a) someone (the victim's family,
a local civil rights group, etc.) contests the official finding of
suicide or b) when the official report is so ludicrous as to be
discounted, as in the case of the Oklahoma man who supposedly shot
himself in the back of the head while handcuffed. People who were
reported to have died of natural causes in prison were also not included
unless a) someone (family, local civil rights group, etc.) contests this
finding and charges foul play or medical neglect by jail or prison
authorities or b) when someone dies so soon after being taken into
custody that it is unlikely that natural causes totally unrelated to
their interaction with the police are to blame.

Deaths reported by police as "suicide by cop." We have included cases
where authorities claim that a suicidal victim deliberately provoked the
police into killing him. If this is true, as the police contend, what
kind of society are we living in when a distraught person contemplating
ending their life can count on the police to carry it out? In some of
these cases, the families are adamant that the victim was not suicidal.
But they are stonewalled in their attempts to unearth the true

Domestic violence in which law enforcement agents kill their current
or former spouses and lovers and their children. Other off-duty
killings are also included. These cases help to disclose the pervasive
use of violence by police, including against people they are supposed to

Deaths as a result of high-speed police car chases. Most of these
deaths reported here do not involve the police car itself, but rather
someone fleeing from police, often from stops for minor equipment
violations. Approximately one-third of the people killed in such cases
are innocent bystanders. We included these cases because they show a
wanton recklessness and blatant disregard for the safety of the
community, both the people in the car being chased as well as other
motorists and pedestrians. When cops chase someone at 100 mph through a
crowded residential neighborhood, it is not surprising when a bystander
is killed as result. Police involved in chases where bystanders or
passengers are killed are not prosecuted for homicide, but the people
they are pursuing often face murder or manslaughter charges.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Every year since 1997, the names from Stolen Lives have been read at
events taking place on Oct. 22, a national day of Protest to Stop Police
Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation. Also,
ceremonies to add victim's names to Stolen Lives have taken place in
Riverside, CA, Greenville, South Carolina and New York City. It is
important that the victims be remembered and honored as we demand that
police brutality stop. In the 2 years since the Stolen Lives Project
was initiated, a movement to stop police brutality has gained momentum.
We hope that the Stolen Lives Project will serve to broaden and
strengthen this movement, and compel people from all walks of life to
act to stop police brutality.

People killed by brutal police cannot speak for themselves. But we can
and will.

The following pages present the circumstances of over 2,000 cases of
killings by law enforcement since 1990. Our research is far from
complete. We know that there are many cases of which we are not yet
aware. What follows is just the tip of the iceberg.

Stolen Lives is a project of:

Anthony Baez Foundation
6 Cameron Place
Bronx, NY 10453
718-653-1681 (fax)

National Lawyers Guild
8124 West 3rd Street
Suite 201
Los Angeles, CA 90048
323-653-3245 (fax)

Oct. 22 Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression & the
Criminalization of a Generation
PO Box 2627
New York, N.Y. 10009
212-477-8015 (fax)
email: <>

Contributions to this project are encouraged. CHECKS OR MONEY ORDERS
BE MADE OUT TO: Stolen Lives/IFCO/OCT 22
PO BOX 2627
NY NY 10009

The Stolen Lives Project publishes its findings on the internet at :
The National Office of the October 22nd Coalition to
Stop Police Brutality, Repression, and the
Criminalization of a Generation

(888)NO BRUTALITY or 212-477-8062 Fax: 212-477-8015 <>

PO BOX 2627
NY NY 10009

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