Jordan Edwards, 15, was trying to leave a house party that had gotten out of control on Saturday. But the black teenager would never get home that night — because, as he sat in a car, a police officer shot and killed him.
Police in Balch Springs, Texas, a majority-minority Dallas suburb, claim there was an altercation with the vehicle. Edwards, who was unarmed, was sitting in the front passenger’s seat, with four other unarmed teens, including Edwards’s brother, in the car, according to family attorney Lee Merritt.
A cop responding to the scene shot at the car with a rifle. A bullet broke through the front passenger’s window and hit Edwards. Shortly after, Edwards was rushed to a hospital, where he died from gunshot injuries. No officers were injured in the incident.
Balch Springs Police Chief Jonathan Haber originally said the car backed up toward responding officers “in an aggressive manner.”
After his original statement, however, Haber said that he “misspoke.” He clarified that the car was in fact driving away from officers, not toward them. He added, “After reviewing video, I don’t believe that it [the shooting] met our core values.”
The officer who shot Edwards, whose name has yet to be released, is on administrative leave pending an investigation.
Neighbors told local reporter Gabriel Roxas that the party Edwards left was crowded, with unsupervised, drunk teens fighting before gunshots were fired. According to the family attorney, Edwards “was leaving a house party because he thought it was getting dangerous.”
Edwards’s coaches and community members reportedly attended a press conference demanding answers for the shooting. Mesquite Independent School District, where Edwards was a freshman in high school, said in a statement that he was “a good student who was very well liked by his teachers, coaches, and his fellow students.” Edwards played football at the school, and one of his teammates called him “the best running back I ever played with.”
The Dallas County Sheriff’s Department will investigate the shooting. The department is currently reviewing body camera footage of the shooting, but the video hasn’t been released to the public yet.
Black people are much more likely to be killed by police than their white peers
Based on nationwide data collected by the Guardian, black Americans are more than twice as likely as their white counterparts to be killed by police when accounting for population. In 2016, police killed black Americans at a rate of 6.66 per 1 million people, compared to 2.9 per 1 million for white Americans.
Black teens in particular were 21 times as likely as white teens to be shot and killed by police between 2010 and 2012, according to a ProPublica analysis of the FBI data. ProPublica’s Ryan Gabrielson, Ryann Grochowski Jones, and Eric Sagara reported: “One way of appreciating that stark disparity, ProPublica’s analysis shows, is to calculate how many more whites over those three years would have had to have been killed for them to have been at equal risk. The number is jarring — 185, more than one per week.”
There have also been several high-profile police killings since 2014 involving black suspects. In Baltimore, six police officers were indicted for the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. In North Charleston, South Carolina, Michael Slager was charged with murder and fired from the police department after shooting Walter Scott, who was fleeing and unarmed at the time. In Ferguson, Darren Wilson killed unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown. In New York City, NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo killed Eric Garner by putting the unarmed 43-year-old black man in a chokehold.
One possible explanation for the racial disparities: Police tend to patrol high-crime neighborhoods, which are disproportionately black. That means they’re going to be generally more likely to initiate a policing action, from traffic stops to more serious arrests, against a black person who lives in these areas. And all of these policing actions carry a chance, however small, to escalate into a violent confrontation.
That’s not to say that higher crime rates in black communities explain the entire racial disparity in police shootings. A 2015 study by researcher Cody Ross found, “There is no relationship between county-level racial bias in police shootings and crime rates (even race-specific crime rates), meaning that the racial bias observed in police shootings in this data set is not explainable as a response to local-level crime rates.” That suggests something else — such as, potentially, racial bias — is going on.
One reason to believe racial bias is a factor: Studies show that officers are quicker to shoot black suspects in video game simulations. Josh Correll, a University of Colorado Boulder psychology professor who conducted the research, said it’s possible the bias could lead to even more skewed outcomes in the field. “In the very situation in which [officers] most need their training,” he said, “we have some reason to believe that their training will be most likely to fail them.”
Part of the solution to potential bias is better training that helps cops acknowledge and deal with their potential subconscious prejudices. But critics also argue that more accountability could help deter future brutality or excessive use of force, since it would make it clear that there are consequences to the misuse and abuse of police powers. Yet right now, lax legal standards make it difficult to legally punish individual police officers for use of force, even when it might be excessive.