Police brutality and officer involved killings of African American men and women has over the past few years exploded as a national issue that has mobilized millions of people across the country. Presidential candidates have made it a topic of intense debate on the campaign trail, grassroots organizers have grown more vocal in recognizing the value of black lives, and new regulations are being proposed on the legislative agenda to reverse this crisis.
The city of Atlanta can be counted among the several areas where the socially damaging impact of police brutality can be felt. Perhaps the most graphic case is that of 27 year old war veteran Anthony Hill. On March 9, 2015 Hill was shot and killed by DeKalb County police officer Robert Olsen. Olsen shot Hill despite the fact that he was completely naked at the time of his killing.
Hill, who suffered from post-traumatic stress and bipolar disorder, has since become a galvanizing symbol in the anti-police brutality movement of what can happen in communities when those who are sworn to uphold the law violate their civic responsibilities. In an effort to bring about some measure of accountability for this killing, District Attorney Robert James has sought an indictment against Officer Olsen, stating “a crime was committed.”
Meanwhile, Atlanta area community advocates remain emboldened and resolute. Under the banner of #RiseUp they have launched a “grand jury watch.” Described as a “24 hour presence in front of the DeKalb County Courthouse” the collective of activists initiated this action with the objective of securing the indictment of Officer Olsen. At the forefront of this campaign for justice is Hill’s girlfriend Bridget Anderson.
Interviewed in local DeKalb newspaper The Champion Anderson stated, “We are going to keep his story alive … we have to keep his spirit alive and let everybody know what kind of person he was and let people know he’s not just some unarmed, naked man.” This fight to humanize and give voice to the life story of Anthony Hill is a common theme to be sensed in numerous police involved killings from the choking death of Eric Garner to shooting deaths of Mike Brown and Tamir Rice.
According to research organization Mapping Police Violence “police killed at least 336 black people in the U.S. in 2015.” Furthermore, nearly a third (30%) of black victims in police killings were unarmed. Startling statistics of this kind provide a clear illustration of the task that lies ahead for those of us genuinely committed to constructing a better future for our communities and the fight for justice in the case of Anthony Hill is one significant pillar in this project.