White Teen Killed by Police Over Weed Largely Overlooked

By Victoria Kim 08/28/15

An autopsy of Zachary Hammond undermined the official police account of what happened on July 26.

Zachary Hammond
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In the wake of the death of Zachary Hammond, a white teenager who was shot and killed by police in Seneca, S.C., it seems strange that his story has gone largely unheard. Compared with other police shooting victims like Walter L. Scott and Samuel DuBose, the 19-year-old’s ill-fated police encounter is hardly making national headlines.

The police had set up a drug sting outside a Hardee’s on the night of July 26, arranging to purchase less than 10 grams of marijuana from Hammond’s date, 23-year-old Tori Morton, who was later charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession. According to Seneca police, Lt. Mark Tiller approached Hammond’s vehicle to make an arrest, but Hammond instead drove his vehicle toward Tiller, causing the officer to fear for his life and fire two shots at the teen in self-defense.

However, an autopsy report revealed that Hammond was actually shot from the side and back, indicating there was no danger to Tiller.

Some people, like the family’s lawyer Eric Bland, say Hammond’s story isn’t getting much play because he was white. “If Zachary were black, the outpouring of protest and disappointment from the public and the press would be amazing,” Bland told the New York Times. But the fact that there is no video footage of Hammond’s death is just as much reason why it has not received the same level of outrage, said Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a longtime civil-rights organization.

Tiller’s lawyer has said that a “white powdery substance consistent with powder cocaine” had been found on Hammond. This is not surprising, since using drugs to demonize the victim is an old practice. George Zimmerman’s defense tried to use it against Trayvon Martin. When it was revealed that marijuana was found in Michael Brown’s system when he was shot and killed by police, his supporters demanded that his killer, officer Darren Wilson, submit to a drug test as well. Many more have died at the hands of police in drug-related incidents, even the innocent.

Cohen said that the teen’s death “reflects that police violence is not confined to one race of victims,” though black Americans are disproportionately harassed and targeted by police. At the end of the day, Hammond’s story simply “doesn’t fit into the current narrative that’s sweeping the country,” said Cohen.

Hammond’s parents have called on authorities to release dashcam footage of the incident, but investigators have refused, saying they are “sensitive law-enforcement records” which could harm the investigation.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr