The fact that it took nearly six years for a trial and verdict in this case is quite telling. Smith’s fatal encounter with police took place in December 2011, three months before Trayvon Martin was shot in Florida and the term “Black Lives Matter” was coined. During the high-speed chase that ended Smith’s life, Stockley was recorded saying he was “going to kill this motherfucker, don’t you know it.” After directing another police officer to hit Smith’s car, Stockley walked up to the young man’s vehicle. He fired five times into the car, killing Smith. Stockley claimed Smith had a gun in his hand and that he killed him in self-defense. But prosecutors suspected that the gun found in Smith’s car was planted by the officer since it had only Stockley’s DNA on it, and none of Smith’s. It took the state more than four years just to bring charges against the man who took Smith’s life.
We live in an even more polarized country than the one in which Mike Brown’s killing at the hands of Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson galvanized Americans. Despite three years of intense public pressure over the fatal police shootings of black Americans, district attorneys, judges and juries around the country have rarely held law enforcement accountable. And so the shootings and acquittals continue.