Have police killings of African-Americans slowed down?
Over the last year, we've heard little about police officers killing black people. So did these bad cops go away, or somehow learn to behave?
No, says Michael Harriot, writing for The Root. They are still there.
He cites a database used by The Washington Post that tracks police shootings. This year, 278 people have been shot and killed by police. And according to the database, there have been six more fatal shootings this year than at the same time last year. Out of that number, 60 were black. Last year some 233 black people were killed by police. A total of 963 people were fatally shot by police in 2016. That number is slightly lower than 991 shootings that were recorded in 2015, so perhaps the shootings are slowing down slightly. But they are still occurring.
So why aren't we hearing about them?
Harriot posits that people just don't care anymore.
"People have moved on. Black America has always been aware of and screamed about police brutality, but the larger popular culture only started caring about it when they happened upon the Eric Garner video on BuzzFeed or Reddit, or whatever the Caucasian The Root may be."
At one point he added:
"…It never becomes popular until white people notice."
The Counted, a database compiled by The Guardian, reported that in 2015 and 2016, black people were killed at more than twice the rate of white people. It found that black males between the ages of 15 and 34 were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by law enforcement officials last year.
I wanted some perspective on this, so I talked to Khary Penebaker, who is a businessman, entrepreneur and politician. He ran against Republican incumbent Jim Sensenbrenner for a seat in the House of Representatives in Wisconsin's Fifth congressional district during the 2016 election. Unfortunately Sensenbrenner kept his seat. (Full disclosure: Khary is a friend of mine.) He's considering another run in 2020.
I asked him what his thoughts were, and he responded:
"People do care, however, not enough do — and certainly not enough people know what's going on. Generally speaking, many folks have moved on to the next thing."
He points out the media's role in this as well:
"In the age of 24-hour news, things move so quickly and media outlets aren't always interested in actual news, but rather, they are more interested in website clicks and Neilsen ratings."
Penebaker said he appreciates media outlets that are doing their jobs and "reporting on the issue and fighting for change, simply because the larger media complex may have moved on." And there are many news outlets out there where people can get accurate information.
But in this day and age we need to fact-check websites, even those that are mainstream to verify if a "given story exists."
"Having said that, when a story runs out of the perceived public interest, then many journalists move on to find the next 'big' thing rather than wanting to shine as big of a spotlight as possible on a specific issue."
And when it comes to cops killing African-Americans, that spotlight can't be big enough. Since few people are shining that spotlight, Harriot decided to do just that, citing several instances that are every bit as ugly as the ones that occurred in 2016.
These two cases occurred just last month:
— Luli Ortiz (@LuliOrtizTV) March 19, 2017
- Alteria Woods. This beautiful young woman, who was four months pregnant, was an innocent bystander on March 9 when Indian River Sheriff's deputies executed a search warrant at an alleged "drug house," in Indian River County, Florida. Her boyfriend, Andrew Coffee IV and his father Andrew Coffee III were the the suspects the deputies were looking for. According to Indian River County Sheriff Deryl Loar, the younger Coffee used the young woman as a human shield. Woods was only 25.
Both men appeared in court Monday, and a judge set a $93,000 bond for Coffee III, while his son's bond was set at $307,000.
- Desmond Phillips. When this young man's dad called paramedics (something he'd done more than once) on March 17, in Chico, California,so that his son could get the medications he needed, the fire department showed up instead. But they reported Phillips, 25, was acting erratically and police were called to the scene. Two officers forced their way into the house, and one noticed Phillips holding a butter knife and a smaller knife for chopping vegetables. One cop fired a Taser and the other fired a gun 10-12 times. His dad, David Desmond said it happened quickly.
"Tase, this cop 'boom, boom, boom, boom, boom!' And I said, what the hell are you doing? You just killed my son!'"
Neighbors corroborated David Phillips's statement.
"We heard the Taser go off and then right after that, a couple seconds after that, a ton of gunshots, like a lot," said neighbor Janet Tu. "I didn't register them as gunshots at first, because there were so many."
Phillips had no known criminal records, but he had a history of mental illness. And obviously, the cops who responded had no idea how to handle a suffering and mentally ill person. Shame on them. Did they really need to shoot him that many times?
Undoubtedly, there are a lot of reasons why this tragic issue has been swept under the rug in 2017. One of those reasons, we decided, is Donald Trump's inept presidency.
"Trump's ineptitude, bigotry, racism and the fact that he is clearly in over his head, provides so much content that his controversies write the articles themselves. Because of his position he will always dominate the news cycle. While Trump attempt's at running our government may generate increases in ratings, it isn't the only issue that is worthy of coverage. However, it may be the easiest to do because he is simply that bad. "
Penebaker added that because Trump continually talks about law and order, it creates an opportunity for the media to discuss police violence "and how ineffectual over-policing would be."
Like many people, he believes officers should be suspended without pay, unless that officer is found not guilty. But he cautioned that if we don't make officers aware that there will be consequences, "they run the risk of not being as careful and diligent as they should be."
"Without any deterrent , how can we get them to reform and improve?"
But perhaps we need to go further than that and pressure agencies to make sure that any new hires don't have racist connections. And it's sad to think we even have to train cops not to shoot someone 10 or 12 times.
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.
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