New York Times SJI

Aaron Brandon’s death at the hands of an off-duty police officer raises questions.

A white off-duty Chicago police officer killed Mr. Brandon, a Black teenager, in 2017. A year later, the officer took his own life.

Lakeisha Brandon still hears the deep and raspy voice of her son, Aaron, four years after his death — especially every April 12, when she remembers how he would mischievously tease her about forgetting his birthday, then give her a hug before going to bed.

His brother, Dakurie Brandon, hears Aaron’s voice, too. And when he lies awake in the middle of the night, the loud bangs of gunfire that killed his little brother and wounded him also reverberate in his head.

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This article is a project from The New York Times Student Journalism Institute, a professional development program for collegiate journalists.

Over three months, 46 students had a single focus: reporting on victims of police violence. Those students from across the United States are featured in the photo above. (Contributed by Rich Jones, Institute Director).

After a yearlong hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic, the New York Times Student Journalism Institute returned in Spring 2021 in an all-remote format featuring its largest class — 46 students, including two dozen who were selected in 2020 before the program was put on hold.

The NYTSJI reporting project aligned with the national discourse on police violence and racial equality that arose after the murder of Mr. Floyd, a Black man who died in May 2020 in a knee-to-neck maneuver by the police. The articles that are part of this year’s project centered on lives lost to police violence around the United States since the turn of the century. The profiles of those killed are primarily told through the lens of families and loved ones still dealing with the hurt, and for many, questions without answers.

In the end, the students compiled dozens of articles, photo essays, videos and first-person accounts into a collection of articles that examine the grief, activism, political mobilization and legislative change that can mark the aftermath of cases involving police violence.

This year’s class, members of the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Asian American Journalists Association and the Native American Journalists Association, embarked on a three-month-long assignment unlike any past Institute project. As the pandemic upended many aspects of life, the Institute sought to adapt to the virtual landscape.

— Stephanie Lai, NYTSJI journalist