Last November USATODAY reported that data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report showed that in 2013 the police fatally shot 461 felony suspects—the highest number in two decades. In the wake of the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri last August, the newspaper examined the FBI’s justifiable homicide database over a seven year period ending in 2012 and found there was an average of 91 fatal police shootings each year. It is estimated that two-thirds of the victims in these fatal encounters were minorities, predominantly African-American.
Now, 2015 appears to be on track to surpass all previous years, with 385 people shot and killed by police during the first five months alone, according to a Washington Post analysis.
No Statistics on Police Killings
The unfortunate reality of these statistics, as the Washington Post points out, is that no one knows with certainty whether they are accurate. The Justice Department does not keep accurate statistics of police shootings and relies on police departments to self report. Inexplicably, there is no law in place that requires police to report shootings to a central data base that would allow better tracking of these incidents. This is causing increased concern for those who want to know who the police are killing and for what reason.
What we do know is that blacks are killed at three times the rate of white or other minorities.
What’s going on…?
It is inconceivable to believe that white police officers set out each day on their tour of duty with the intent to kill black people. But why then are white police officers so quick to “shoot-to-kill” people who don’t look like themselves, especially black people? The answer, we believe, is relatively simple: black fear.
White police officers seem to have an inordinate fear of black people, especially when it comes to those suspected of committing crime. In a September 2013 post on The Daily Beast, Jamelle Bouie had this to say about black fear:
“… racism is a cultural force as much as it is a series of beliefs, and as such, it bears on our subconscious as much as it does our actions. For Americans, race has a strong pull on our sense of fear and our perceptions of aggression, a fact that has more to do with the legacy of slavery and our long history of racial demonization than it does any particular set of crime statistics. And in particular, according to a range of surveys and implicit association tests—which measure unconscious bias by flashing faces and soliciting responses—white Americans are more afraid of black men than any other group in the country.”
Some of these studies suggest that nearly half of white Americans believe black men are more violent than any other minority group of males. This fear is fueled by the reckless and racist rhetoric of the fear mongering far right, like those at the Counsel of Conservative Citizens, who spew statistics about black on white crime.
Too Many White Cops Policing Communities of Color
Another problem obviously stems from recruitment and hiring practices of law enforcement departments.
The New York Times reported several months ago that the percentage of white officers in police departments in 17 of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas is 30 percent higher than the communities they serve. Thus, in the nation’s crime hot spots, the percentage of white officers is dramatically disproportionate to the number of black officers charged with preventing crime and keeping these communities safe. This can only contribute to the apparent “us against them” policy of heavy handed police responses we have witnessed in recently released incidents captured on video.
Militarized Police Bad for America
Most people assume we now have militarized our police in this country to protect us from terrorism. That’s not true.
Our militarized law enforcement has actually been created to respond to local in-border threats—violent gangs, social unrest, and, yes, even minor civil disobedience. The problem is that cops are not trained to be military combatants. Thus, unfortunately, because law enforcement is not always professionally trained or because they collectively see power of the badge as a shield against black fear, the country is increasingly witnessing unnecessary (and sometimes criminal) lethal responses from our white law enforcement officers against black people.
Immediate De-militarization of Police Needed
The solution? The first thing, there should be an immediate de-militarization of law enforcement throughout the country. The second thing, police department throughout the country should expeditiously integrate minorities into their ranks. There is something truly revealing about the optics of a white cop, as in the Michael Brown case, killing a black man, and all the responding officers to the scene are white and are aggressively facing an angry crowd of black citizens. That picture portrays the end result of black fear. It also demonstrates the source of the pervasive distrust between the police and the communities they serve.
The institution of slavery and the horrible war it produced (and for those who say the Civil War was not fought over slavery have not read the Declarations of Succession by each of the seceding states) left indelible scars on the psyche of this nation. Black fear is the largest and ugliest of those scars—and, like it or not, it still festers in our nation’s law enforcement agencies.
Enough is Enough
This nation simply cannot continue to see innocent black people being gunned down in our streets as was the case in 2013 when Florida A&M student Jonathan Ferrell was slain by Charlotte, North Carolina police while seeking help following a traffic accident.
We cannot continue to see black people die at the hands of our police because they made a wrong traffic turn, didn’t have a proper license plate, or because they were children innocently waving a toy gun.
Overwhelming Force, Shoot to Kill Must Stop
This unchecked, unapologetic “shoot-to-kill” license by our white police must be stopped, and the psyche of our white police must be retooled to see black people, not as a troublesome segment of the population that must be controlled but as honest, law-abiding citizens for whom they have a duty to serve and protect.
We do not subscribe to the notion that all white police officers are inherent racists. What we do subscribe to is the belief that improperly trained police officers have an inordinate fear of black people, when combined with militarily style training and weapons, too often produces tragic consequences that reflect institutional racism.