One Year On, John Crawford's Family Is Still Searching for Answers

August 3rd 2015

Alex Mierjeski

It has been nearly one year since 22-year-old John Crawford III, a Black man, was shot and killed by white police officers in a Dayton, Ohio Walmart for holding an air rifle he picked up from the store's shelf, which officers mistook for an actual firearm. But as the grim anniversary approaches, Crawford's case remains under federal review, and his family announced plans for a prayer vigil this week in an effort to keep the case relevant as the region reels from yet another deadly police shooting last month, the Associated Press reported.

Crawford was killed by two officers responding to a Walmart customer's 911 call on August 5, 2014, alleging the 22-year-old was pointing the gun at customers. But Walmart surveillance footage showed Crawford walking past a number of shoppers without pointing the gun at them, eventually being shot in the side as he moves away from advancing officers. Following the incident, a grand jury in Greene County ruled the shooting was justified, declining to indict Beavercreek officer Sean Williams, who shot Crawford, of reckless or negligent homicide. An attorney for Crawford's family at the time called the decision "absolutely incomprehensible."

Warning: graphic images

Following the grand jury's decision, federal agencies including the civil rights division of the Justice Department, the FBI and the US attorney's office in Dayton launched investigations into the case, though the timeline for completion remains unknown, according to the AP. Crawford's case, and a number of others that occurred soon after involving the deaths of unarmed black men—including those of Michael Brown and Tamir Rice—set off a national conversation about the underlying influence of racial tensions on overbearing police tactics. The conversation has been fueled over the past year with a maelstrom of homologous cases.

Just last month, national attention returned to Ohio after Ray Tensing, a former University of Cincinnati police officer, shot and killed Samuel DuBose, a 43-year-old Black man he stopped for driving without a front license plate. After DuBose failed to produce a driver's license and refused to exit his car, a struggle ensued and DuBose was shot in the head.

DuBose's case came on the heels of Sandra Bland's: the 28-year-old Black woman who died in a Texas jail cell following her arrest during traffic stop.

Michael Wright, an attorney for the Crawford family, told the AP that despite a string of similar cases, few reform efforts have had tangible effects so far. "It does not appear that anything has changed for the better in this past year—that we're still having a lot of police-involved shootings of young black men," he said.

According to the AP, Crawford's family, who filed a federal lawsuit against the Beavercreek police department and Walmart, plans to call for charges to be filed at a prayer vigil in Dayton's courthouse square on Wednesday. Their lawsuit alleges that Crawford's civil rights were violated when he was "shot on sight," charges which both the city and Walmart have denied.

"All we want is justice for John Crawford, and everyone responsible for John Crawford's death should be held responsible," Wright said at a press conference last December. "The criminal justice system refused to hold those accountable so the civil system must."