Baltimore unrest: A look back at police actions that stoked racial unrest in the US

Police violence has often been the trigger for racial tensions in America.

The funeral of Freddie Gray, 25, who died from spinal injuries while in police custody, sparked riots in Baltimore. The riots have led the authorities to declare a state of emergency.

This is the latest in a series of deaths during police encounters in the United States that have led protesters to public outcries.

It joins a recent string of cases such as the shooting of Walter Scott in early April, the shooting of teenager Michael Brown and that of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old carrying a replica gun in 2014.

Here are some previous high-profile shootings of unarmed black men which have stoked accusations of racism and police brutality:

South Carolina, 2015: South Carolina officer Michael Slager was fired after a video of him shooting Walter Scott repeatedly in the back was recorded by a bystander. The video sparked public outcry and led to a murder charge against the policeman.

CASES IN 2014

New York, July 17: African American father-of-six Eric Garner, 43, dies after being held in a police chokehold while he is being arrested for selling cigarettes illegally in New York. A coroner declares the death a homicide, but a grand jury opts not to charge the white officer involved, unleashing demonstrations in several cities.

Ferguson, Missouri, August 9: A white police officer kills an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, 18, unleashing sometimes violent protests and heavy-handed police tactics in Ferguson, Missouri. The later decision not to indict the police officer, Darren Wilson, prompts riots in Ferguson and raises racial tensions.

Los Angeles, August 11: Ezell Ford, 25, an unarmed black man who is mentally disabled according to his family is killed by Los Angeles police officers as he walked in the street. His autopsy shows he was shot three times, including once in the back at close range.

New York, November 20: An unarmed black man, Akai Gurley, 28, a father of a young daughter, is shot by an Asian-American officer who opens fire in a dimly lit staircase at a Brooklyn, New York apartment block. On the day of his funeral on December 7, New Yorkers take to the streets to denounce the spate of police killings. The police officer, Peter Liang, was charged with manslaughter.

Ohio, November 22: In Cleveland, Ohio, a video emerges of US police officers shooting dead Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy carrying a replica gun, just seconds after confronting him. Ohio was also the scene of another fatal shooting in August, when police responding to a 911 call shot and killed a black man, John Crawford, in a Walmart store while he was carrying a toy gun sold there.

EARLIER CASES

Florida, 2013: Crowds took to the streets in cities such as New York, Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles last year after neighbourhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was acquitted of murder charges. He shot dead an unarmed black 17-year-old, Trayvon Martin, in Florida on Feb 26, 2012.

Oakland, 2009: Protests turned violent after Johannes Mehserle, a white former transit police officer, was jailed two years for involuntary manslaughter for the shooting of a black man, Oscar Grant.

Mehserle said he mistakenly drew his gun instead of his Taser while trying to subdue Grant, 22, on New Year's Day 2009. The incident was captured on mobile phones by many out for New Year's Eve celebrations and the footage created an uproar.

While recommendations on better training and equipping transit officers were made, few were implemented, according to a 2011 New York Times article.

Cincinnati, 2001: Cincinnati had to declare a state of emergency after three days of vandalism and racial unrest sparked by a white officer shooting a black teen. Timothy Thomas, a 19-year-old black teen, was shot by Officer Steven Roach who was attempting to arrest him for traffic violations. Roach was acquitted of negligent homicide.

New York, 1999: Four officers, who fired a total of 41 shots at African immigrant Amadou Diallo, were freed. The jury ruled that the police officers from New York's elite Street Crime Unit had acted in self-defence, and thought Diallo, 22, was pulling a gun when he reached into his pocket.

The shooting triggered demonstrations across the city. The city dissolved the Street Crime Unit in 2002, doing away with the elite corps that had been criticised for its aggressive tactics after the shooting.

Los Angeles, 1992: Rodney King and some friends were stopped by Los Angeles police in 1991 after a high-speed chase. He was beaten by officers with batons while a bystander videotaped them. When the officers were cleared of brutality charges a year later, riots broke out in Los Angeles, resulting in 53 deaths.

Federal prosecutors brought civil rights charges against four officers after they were acquitted in a state court. In the end, two officers were convicted and the other two were acquitted.

After the King beating, Congress passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act giving feds power to discipline police departments that have abused the civil rights of any group. The US Justice Department is weighing taking action against the Ferguson police department under this Act.

Sources: New York Times, Agence France-Presse, Reuters, Bloomberg, BBC

chuimin@sph.com.sg