Yesterday [Thursday, August 4] emotions were high and the atmosphere was tense as a jury convicted a former Virginia police officer of voluntary manslaughter following his fatal shooting of a young unarmed Black man accused of shoplifting.
It was on the morning of April 22, 2015 that Stephen Rankin, a Portsmouth, VA police officer, responded to a call about suspected shoplifting at a local Walmart.
After arriving and spotting an 18-year-old William Chapman II walking through the parking lot, Rankin radioed in that he was approaching.
Nearly one minute later, the teen was shot in the chest and face.
While the case previously failed to receive the same amount of national attention of similar killings of unarmed Black men at the hands of law enforcement, this trial and subsequent verdict come at a time when racial tensions within the nation are at a palpable high following the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.
“The criminal justice system is hell-bent on favoring those in law enforcement,” said James Boyd, president of Portsmouth’s NAACP chapter, before the verdict was delivered. “We see these violent injustices happening time and again without any sense of accountability. This trial has implications for every citizen, but specifically for every black American in this country.”
While the jury convicted Rankin on the charge of voluntary manslaughter, a sigh of relief is nearly absent as they denied to convict him on more serious charges of first degree murder, choosing to recommend a sentence of two and a half years with Chapman’s mother remarking that “it’s not enough”.
During the trial, Rankin’s defense argued that the shooting was justified with witnesses stating that a struggle ensued. A stark contrast to many cases of late, however, is that no footage of the fatal encounter ever surfaced.
Rankin had been involved in an all too similar incident when he shot and killed another unarmed suspect four years earlier in Portsmouth.
“I think this is a terrible tragedy. I wish it had never happened. I wish none of it had ever occurred,” said Rankin after being found guilty.
The former police officer currently faces the possibility of up to 10 years in prison.