On June 14, 2012, Shantel Davis, a 23-year-old African-American woman, was fatally shot by New York City, New York Police Department (NYPD) officer Phil Atkins. She was unarmed, and her death occurred while the national discussion of police brutality was gaining publicity in the wake of similar killings. That debate led to the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement the following year.
Just before her death, Davis ran several red lights and crashed the allegedly stolen car she was driving at an intersection in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn. Two plainclothes police officers saw Davis driving erratically and pursued her vehicle. Once her car came to a stop after colliding with a minivan, the officers got out of their car and approached on foot.
Davis opened her passenger side door, knocking one officer to the ground. She then got back into the driver’s seat. Believing that Davis was trying to drive away, and with the car moving backwards, Detective Phil Atkins reached into her car and tried to shift it into park. While they struggled for control, Atkins shot her once in the chest.
When the officers asked her to exit the car, she stumbled out while bleeding profusely onto the pavement in front of a large crowd. One witness, George Ricketts, said that Davis cried out that she didn’t want to die, and a woman attempted to comfort her. Despite paramedics’ attempts to revive her, Davis was later pronounced dead at Kings County Hospital.
According to East Flatbush residents, the officer who killed Davis had a history of brutality. One resident, Vincent Burgess, said that Detective Atkins had beaten him with a hand-held radio in 2003. Burgess sued Atkins and received a settlement from the city in one of several lawsuits filed against the officer.
While Davis had a criminal record, and had an upcoming court appearance at the time of her death, her friends and family said that she was trying to get her GED and turn her life around. While police alleged that Davis had been trying to escape when she was shot, several witnesses stated that she was trapped behind an airbag and was not attempting to get away. It was also unclear whether the officer fired his weapon intentionally or not. Michael Palladino, a police union representative, stated that he was “confident our detective’s actions were appropriate and justified.”
After her death, Davis’s sister Natasha Duncan collaborated with the mother of Kimani Gray, a teenager also killed by police in East Flatbush, to hold an annual basketball tournament in their loved ones’ memory. The tournament, called Hoops for Justice, promotes unity against police brutality and promotes a positive vision of the community. As of 2017, her family reports that there have been no investigations into her death or the officer who killed her, despite multiple attempts to follow up with the Brooklyn District Attorney office.