As of August 28, 2019, police have killed 602 people in 2019, according to the Police Shootings Database. Police killed 1,166 people in 2018. That is approximately 3.2 murders committed daily by police officers that year. In 2017, American police officers killed 1,147 people. Black people were 25% of those killed while only being 12% of the population. There were only 23 days in the entire year of 2018 when police did not kill a single person. Additionally, from 2015 to August of 2019, 99% of police-involved shootings resulted in none of the involved officers being convicted of a crime. There is no accountability.
The extended debate of how police respond to African Americans versus white suspects is ongoing and argued heavily by academics on both sides. A new study by Frank Edmonds, Hedwig Lee, and Michael Esposito of Rutgers University, Washington University and the University of Michigan respectively, used data from the Fatal Encounters website from 2013-2018. Their study found that police would likely kill approximately 39 of 100,000 white boys and men in their lifetime. In comparison, 1 in 1,000 black boys and men would likely die at the hands of police in their lifetime. People of color, in general, were found more likely to be killed by police than their white counterparts.
Opponent of the study, Joseph Cesario of Michigan State University, argues that racial demographics and violent crime rates of a given location is a more accurate barometer for the conclusive determination of a police victim’s race. Cesario would later explain that if you were to live in a country where a large number of black people are committing crimes, this would result in more black people being killed by police. If there were more white people committing crimes, there would be more white people likely to be shot by police. Equally important, several academics challenged Cesario’s findings and methodology, primarily his decision to set aside the benchmark of calculating racial disparity using population. Using population as an applicable benchmark in this type of analysis is questionable and seriously flawed; it assumes white and black people are equally likely to experience a police confrontation. White people comprise 62.6% of the U.S. population, while African Americans comprise only 12%. Even with the numbers, one would have to assume white and black officers interact with black civilians with even temperaments and in equal numbers, which they do not. Historically black people have withstood the worst of police brutality, hostility, and oppression. The psychological effects are overwhelming.
The contextual history of the use of deadly force used against unarmed black Americans by the use of state violence bares with its current disparities and historical injustices. The list of victim names are endless. However, the current list includes familiar names such as Sandra Bland (Driving while black), Tamir Rice (12 years old, playing in a park), Stephon Clark (standing in his grandmothers back yard), Philando Castille (reaching for his driver’s license), Bothem Jean (sitting on his couch, in his own home, eating ice-cream), and the most recent as of the writing of this piece, Atatiana Jefferson (playing video games with her nephew within her own home). “Say their Names.”
These listed victims are only a few that have perished at the hands of police. Our community is in a state of continuous grief from mourning our deceased loved ones. The mental anguish that we, as a community, experience almost daily as victims of state-sponsored violence is often internalized. The anxiety we feel simply while experiencing a routine police interaction such as a motor vehicle stop, moving or non-moving violation, an encounter that, under normal circumstances involving our white counterparts, usually results in a simple citation can often result in an officer-involved shooting. We are simply not afforded the benefit of the doubt.
Our skin color has been weaponized and demonized by the dominant society. Black family members fear for their loved ones every time they leave their home. The all too familiar “talk”-counseling them on how to conduct themselves during police interactions, now has to be had with our black children around the age of 12, if not younger. We can “dress” right, “talk” right, drive expensive automobiles and hold six-figure positions and it still is not enough to protect us from a xenophobic police officer determined to violate our humanity. We as black people are under siege in America.
I am reminded of a personal experience: I was walking home after a visit to the park on a summer afternoon half a block from my mother’s house. A white police officer, who was driving down the street, slowed beside me and ordered me to raise my shirt using my forefinger and thumb. After doing so, he ordered me to slowly turn around. I followed his instructions. After seeing that I wasn’t carrying any weapons he proceeded to continue to patrol my neighborhood. I was 9 years old. It was the first of many like encounters I would experience throughout my life. These have had an everlasting impression on me. I remember shortly after the initial encounter “McGruff the Crime Dog” came to my school to encourage friendly interactions between police officers and children. “Police are your friends,” he would say. All of my classmates were excited and wanted to touch and play with him. I was afraid of him. Not afraid of his silly costume, but afraid of the very institution he represented. My point is simply to emphasize the psychological and long-lasting effects experiences have, individually and collectively as a community.
Who do we call when the murderer wears a badge? For every Eric Garner story, for every Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Shawn Bell, Botham Jean, Atatiana Jefferson – the list is long – our individual and collective hearts drop. For each story, we see the killing of an unarmed black person; our anxiety levels rise. Who do we call when we need to be protected from those that are supposedly here to protect us?
The Lion has learned to write! We must tell our own Stories.