A critical look at police shootings in the U.S.

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The week of July 4th, 2016 may go down in infamy as a catalyst in the United States. Two cases of police killings have dominated the media, as has the case of a citizen who decided to take personal vengeance against the police and “white people” by killing 5 and injuring 10 police in Dallas, Texas. People of all sides are pissed off. Everyone’s a victim, it seems. Blacks are tired of what they see as a systematic and targeted killing of themselves, cops are tired of getting blamed by pissed off citizens and a largely unsympathetic media, and everyone else in the middle is getting pissed of hearing about it so much. There has certainly been inflammatory rhetoric from all sides, and most of it is unfortunately based on sheer emotion and ignorance of the true facts.

But what you may not know is this: In 2016, the amount of white people killed by police has been 238. The amount of black people: 123. The total: 509 citizens killed by police from the beginning of January 2016 to the end of June 2016. (Washington Post)

Now, since white people are still the majority population in the United States, a larger proportion of whites being killed by police is a logical if unnecessary outcome. It must be kept in mind, however, that the white population in the U.S. is approximately 4 times the black population, and there is an even wider racial discrepancy when it comes to incarceration statistics. These are also approximate numbers: some websites report more shootings. I used the Washington Post for my statistics because they are (in my opinion) reputable and non-biased. It also must be kept in mind that not all shootings are being properly documented and tracked, although with the increased media scrutiny I would wager that it will be thoroughly documented one way or another.

I have my theories as to why police shootings are as high as they have ever been, but I’ll leave the analyses to someone that knows better. Instead, I’m just gonna stick with the facts.

One thing’s for sure: in 2016, in America, everyone truly does like to play the victim.

Unfortunately, in 2016, in America, most people really aren’t the victims that they make themselves out to be. The pejorative terms of “privilege” being thrown around are as outdated as seersucker suits and sockhop dances. In 2016, in America, the vast majority of people, of all races, have relatively equal chances to succeed. The only legitimately differing factor is socioeconomic: if you are poor, you will, quite frankly, not have as good a shot to succeed. That isn’t to say that it is impossible, but there will be additional obstacles.

This isn’t to legitimize the fact that people in America have been victims in the past. The treatment of blacks and Native Americans has been horrendous, and has only recently improved in the past half century. There are legitimate cases of racism in this world, and there is a legitimate trend of far-right political posturing that is permeating many governments worldwide. But the vast majority of “social justice warriors” are people who spend more time worrying about social media stats and spreading controversy, instead of using critical thinking skills and attempting to look at an issue from multiple angles. I remember when I was a kid myself: it was all about A.C.A.B. and anti-authority. It may seem shocking, but I have actually been profiled as a white man by the police in the city of Detroit, where it is well known that the inner city had animosity toward the suburbs, and especially suburban people who came to Detroit and dared to venture out of the downtown area. I have had guns held to my head by the police on multiple times, not because I was a threat, but because they wanted to intimidate me. It pissed me off, but eventually I became to see these instances as anomalies. Now I am a grown man with a family of my own, and the colors of my worldview aren’t as sharply defined in black and white (the colors, not the races). Simply put, there are a LOT of gray areas in this world, and we could use a lot more self-accountability and honesty from ALL groups of people, and especially from the police where self-accountability, honesty, and transparency should be a top priority.

But, back to 2016: I have to believe that there is no systematic conspiracy to commit genocide in this country. Now, there are isolated cases of people committing genocidal acts, such as when Micah Johnson murdered the policemen in Dallas. There are isolated acts of police murdering citizens, and sporadic acts of police shooting citizens for unjustifiable reasons, but I refuse to believe for a minute that the average cop wakes up in the morning with racial retribution on their minds. That doesn’t give them a free pass, however. We have the absolute right to examine the critical thinking skills and reasoning of any policeman who decides to shoot a citizen because they are sworn to serve and protect us, and as public employees, the taxpaying citizens pay their salaries. I am also a public employee and a union member, and while I am not a policeman, I welcome any chance for constructive criticism or improvements. Police officers, as anybody else in any other line of work, should be accountable for their actions and should strive for self-improvement at their job. Taking out frustrations on citizens will do nothing but get you a stack of paperwork and a pissed off populace. To quote Isaac Newton, “For every action, there is an equal but opposite reaction.”

While 509 people being killed by police in a 6 month time frame may seem absurdly high (and if you really want an absurd statistic, consider the fact that children aged three and younger have shot at least 25 people in the United States so far this year), the facts remain that there are thousands of policemen and women in the United States that conduct millions of traffic stops every year. The vast majority of cops do their jobs to the best of their abilities, and are only concerned with upholding the rule of law regardless of outside circumstances.

The problem that I truly have, is the arbitrary application of the rule of law in the U.S. If a policeman shoots a citizen, there needs to be a higher standard applied. Being a cop in this country must be tough: you get yelled at by citizens, the administration, city councils, the media, etc. That still doesn’t excuse a lack of critical thinking skills. If you are going to be licensed and deputized to carry a firearm, you damn well better treat using it as a last resort. When you pull somebody over for a taillight violation, you don’t shoot them when they reach for their identification, as in the case of Philando Castile in Minnesota. Castile was a licensed CPL holder and was carrying, and immediately disclosed that fact to the policeman, as is required by law.

If a policeman does kill a citizen or seriously wound them without justification, there needs to be a mandatory minimum punishment, such as the Reagan-era mandatory minimums that overfilled our prisons by giving people 10 year sentences for dime (crack) rocks. Don’t just give them desk jobs for six months. If criminal charges can’t stick, they need to be barred from working in the police force again.

Bodycams and police cruiser video cameras are great tools…when used correctly (i.e. not turned off at convenient times). Citizens with smartphones recording video of traffic stops is also a great tool and an important equalizer.

But realizing that the vast majority of people in this country are law abiding citizens, and realizing that the vast majority of police in this country do their jobs commendably, is arguably an even better tool.

 

 

 

 

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One comment

  1. appreciate this. bottom line: this is all in the gray. life is lived in the gray. i don’t think you can ignore systemic injustice that exists. I don’t think police offers wake up with the intent to find, police, and execute black citizens. equality exists under the law, but EQUITY and PARITY do not for many marginalized groups. It’s in the subtle, unconscious (subconscious?) ways that biases play out. Add in life-and-death situations, which can be a routine traffic stop for officers as well as the person pulled over, these deeply-ingrained biases can take over.

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