On July 26th, 19-year-old Zachary Hammond was killed during a drug sting over a small quantity of marijuana. He had driven into a parking lot with a female friend who intended to sell 10 grams to someone she would soon find out was an undercover cop. Hammond was unarmed, but the officer claims he was trying to run him over and that he opened fire in self defense.
Hammond's death has not gotten as much media attention as other recent police shootings, namely those involving white cops and black victims. Hammond's family has said the case would have gotten much more attention if he had been black.
Yet one of the groups working hardest to ensure that Hammond's story does't go ignored is Black Lives Matter movement.
1. Police violence affects everyone.
Race plays a huge role in police brutality, which is why minorities experience it disproportionately. Still, they're not the only ones it impacts; police violence and its subsequent lack of repercussions can damage any community. The case of Zachary Hammond shows yet again that when there's limited accountability required of armed authorities, state-sanctioned violence easily goes unchecked.
As Lincoln Blades commented in The Grio, acknowledging the systemic causes of Hammond's death means "admitting that black folks haven't been lying or exaggerating when we've said that there is a real problem with policing in America."
2. The War on Drugs is a disaster.
The marijuana involved in this drug sting was worth $50. As a reminder, this was $50 of a drug that's sold legally in some states.
The disastrous consequences of non-violent offenses like this is a reminder of what a huge waste of police and community resources the decades-long drug war has been. Thousands of people, particularly underprivileged minorities, enter the criminal system for minor drug violations like this one. If the drug war was about keeping people from destroying their own lives through substance abuse, the focus would be on rehabilitation, not incarceration.
As Radley Balko wrote in a Washington Post Op-Ed, "a young man is dead because the state of South Carolina deploys men with guns to try to prevent South Carolinians from smoking pot." Policies surrounding the war on drugs are deeply flawed and their execution is often terrifyingly heavy-handed. Zachary Hammond's death is yet another reminder of how much unnecessary violence the supposed state assault on drugs has propagated.
3. Lack of police transparency isn't new.
While the officer involved claimed he shot Hammond because the teen was trying to run him over with his car, an autopsy revealed the shots were fired at close-range and entered through the side of the vehicle. According to Eric Bland, an attorney hired by Hammond's parents, "It is physically impossible for him to be trying to flee or run over the officer that shot him."
The police department is refusing to release the name of the officer involved, a move some have called suspicious. While this ostensibly protects the officer from harassment, it also keeps the public from knowing if the officer has a record of similarly shady incidents. As anyone familiar with the case of Sandra Bland or Marcus Jeter will be recall, the tendency of police departments to focus on protecting their own instead of acknowledging officer misconduct is nothing new.
4. Almost no one is painting him as a thug.
And there is no reason to. The photos of Hammond that have been spreading reveal a young man smiling with braces and standing beside a molecular model. Barely anyone has tried to pathologize Hammond's background or his community, and rightly so. He is the victim here. This isn't how the media responded when Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin were killed, and it highlights the slander victims of color frequently face.
Know Zachary Hammond's name because what happened to him was wrong, but also note how the media isn't vilifying him.
5. #AllLivesMatter has been suspiciously silent.
Some of the most marginalized people are the ones who fight for rights that benefit "mainstream" society. A lot of strides in the gay rights movement came from the work of trans people of color, just like white people would benefit from paying attention to issues that disproportionately impact black Americans.