Sadly, American police are among the deadliest on earth.
In the year since Michael Brown was killed at Ferguson, Mo., more than 1,110 people have been killed by our police.
No doubt, many killings involved violence on the part of the deceased. And nobody argues that officers who risk their lives ensuring public safety must make split-second decisions. But those decisions have led to the mentally ill and minorities dying disproportionately to the overall population.
That’s at the heart of national reform movements such as Black Lives Matter.
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Yes, all lives matter. But black and homeless lives are at far greater risk of police killings than others.
If 1,110 Americans were killed in a single year by foreigners, we’d go to war – or at least launch drones. Instead, we blame the victims.
There are plenty of reasons for such deaths: It’s a big country with lots of criminals and a love affair with guns. Bad people get killed. Accidents happen.
Most cops are good. It’s true and I believe it. It’s the unstable, impulsive, malevolent few who give the rest a bad rap.
Uncomfortable though it is, we have to talk about police violence. Consider: In March this year alone, U.S. police killed more than twice as many people than cops in the United Kingdom did in the entire 20th century. Only 52 people were killed by British cops during those 100 years.
I’ve written about why many Americans, by nature, don’t immediately bow when cops issue commands. We want to know “why.” It was an observation on the American character and law enforcement’s apparent blindness to it.
After posting the piece on Facebook, the response was mostly positive. A few people, though, couldn’t abide any criticism of police: “Cop hater.” “Obey the law and you won’t get hurt.” Only “thugs” are killed by cops. One police officer from outside San Luis Obispo County was so incensed he demanded, threateningly, via private message: “Remove this site now.”
There’s nothing quite like calling out unjustified police violence to prompt a violent response from people who believe police violence is always justified.
That piece posted at the beginning of a week in which six cops were charged with murder in separate cases across the nation. Apparently, after months of sustained Black Lives Matter protests, the wheels of American justice started turning.
This comes after decades of non-indictments from hand-picked grand juries, most notably in the recent cases of Michael Brown in Missouri, Eric Garner in New York, 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, and Tony Robinson in Madison, Wis. – all unarmed black males. Regardless of their level of criminal activity – if there was any – all were executed by cops with no due process of any kind: no arrest, no arraignment, no trial.
Earlier this month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a state law prohibiting the use of grand juries in cases of police using lethal force, a response to distrust of the grand jury process following police killings of unarmed black men across the country.
The rate of police indictments for fatal incidents has increased five-fold in the last five months, according to “The Atlantic” online. Some 14 cops have been charged with crimes related to on-duty killings in recent months.
They include charges in the shooting of an Albuquerque homeless man as he surrendered, the tasing death of a handcuffed Georgia man sitting in a creek, the shooting of a Virginia man standing with his hands up in the doorway of his home, the shooting of a motorist by a university cop in Cincinnati, and the shooting in the back of a South Carolina man as he ran from a cop. All were unarmed.
As such indictments increase, Americans’ confidence in police ebbs at a 22-year low, according to a Gallup poll released in June.
It was about a year ago that then-SLO police Chief Steve Gesell wrote an op-ed expressing outrage at the public’s anger about police violence.
“What shocks me is the ever-growing lack of deference to rule of law, push for mob justice by some and a concerted lack of objective focus by the media ,” Gesell wrote.
Gesell was rightly criticized for the authoritarian tone of his commentary about what clearly was becoming a growing national concern. The recent Gallup poll confirms that the public is paying more attention and insisting on more police accountability.
Demanding fealty at the foot of authority will not increase Americans’ confidence in police.
Cops behaving lawfully while performing a dangerous job just might.