The Washington Post’s effort to tabulate police killings of civilians has discovered that, “among the unarmed victims of police homicides, African-American and Hispanics represent 67 percent of all victims.” So far this year, cops have already killed more people than the FBI’s annual estimate. If police continue to kill citizens at this rate, more than 1,000 people will die at the hands of police by the end of this year.
In a recent article entitled “Fatal Police Shootings in 2015 Approaching 400 Nationwide,” The Washington Post reports that 385 people across the US, ranging in age from 16-83, have died from police homicide. According to this report, one in six victims of police terror were unarmed, Black or Hispanic. Predictably, in light of the Department of Justice amnesty given to the killers of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, officers were charged in less than 1 percent of the cases of police homicide. The magnitude of this violence should be unimaginable for a country that self-defines itself as civilized.
Nelson Mandela, in response to the 1960 Sharpeville massacre, in which apartheid-era police killed 69 people, declared: “We no longer accept the authority of a state that makes war on its own people.” The Sharpeville massacre triggered condemnation by the United Nations and played a role in South Africa’s departure from the Commonwealth of Nations in 1961. Unfortunately, the international community has failed to voice its outrage against state sponsored police homicides of African-Americans.
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The FBI has conveniently underreported civilian murders by citing 400 fatal police shootings per year, or an average of 1.1 deaths a day. Prompted, however, by mass demonstrations across the country and calls for an independent investigation of these murders, the Post initiated an ongoing investigation into police homicides. The initial result of this investigation seems promising. For example, the Post revealed that in contrast to the FBI reports of 400 fatal police shootings of citizens per year, nearly 385 killings have taken place in the last five months of 2015, or 2.6 people killed daily by the police. This accounts for a statistically significant undercounting of deaths by the FBI of nearly 50 percent. If police continue to kill citizens at this rate, over 1,000 people will die at the hands of police by the end of this year.
The goal of the Post study is to: “track every fatal shooting by an on-duty law enforcement official (my emphasis) nationwide since January (2015), as well as the number of officers who were fatally shot in the line of duty.”
It’s important to note that a major methodological flaw of this study is that it fails to capture the murders of young Black men, such as, 18 year-old St Louis resident Vonderrit Myers who was killed by an off-duty policeman. While the Post cites the murder of Eric Harris, a 44-year old African-American, as a part of its study, its methodology should have excluded him because he was killed by Robert Bates, a Tulsa County, Oklahoma, volunteer reserve deputy – not considered an on-duty law enforcement official. In addition, the Post study would exclude the deaths of individuals, such as Trayvon Martin, because he was killed by a vigilante. These exclusion have the consequence of underestimating the breadth of police, vigilante and off-duty police homicides of African American people.
In conducting this study, the Post utilized news reports, the Internet and police records. The newspaper compiled a database with information about each incident, including the deceased’s age, race, gender, location and general circumstances. The Post also noted whether police reported that the person was armed, and, if so, with what type of weapon. In addition, the paper analyzed a decade of FBI and CDC records as part of the study, with the caveat: “The data of the two federal agencies…is incomplete.”
Within the context of the above-noted methodological limitations, a breakdown of the 385 people killed by police in five months reveal that 171 victims were white, 100 victims were Black and 54 were Hispanic. Blacks (a term used in the Census to describe African-Americans and people of African descent, such as Nigerian, Kenyan or Afro-Caribbean) represent 14 percent of the US population but account for 30.7 percent of victims of police homicide. Hispanics, according to the 2013 census, represent 17 percent of the US population and account for 16.6 percent of police killings. African-Americans, according to this study are killed by police at nearly twice the rate of Hispanics. Thus, Blacks, compared to other populations, are killed disproportionately to any other ethnic group in the US. However, among the unarmed victims of police homicides, African-American and Hispanics represent 67 percent or 2/3rd of all victims.
It’s worth noting that about half of police homicides occur when residents reach out to law enforcement for help during domestic conflict, such as concerns about suicide, behaviors that are erratic or threatening violence. Nearly a quarter of the police homicides occur after calls by family members/friends seeking help to transport a loved one to a hospital during a mental health crisis.
State and local law enforcement report to the FBI on police homicides on a voluntary basis. According to the Post study, since 2011 “less than 3% of the nation’s 18,000 state and local police agencies have reported fatal shootings by their officers to the FBI.” This gap in information may account for the inexcusable lack of data by the FBI that has underestimated the number of African-American homicides by police.
In a recent Guardian article entitled: “The Unaccounted: Why the US Can’t Keep Track of People Killed by Police,” the story of Ramarley Graham is highlighted. Graham, 18, was killed February 2012 by NYPD officers in the family’s Bronx apartment in front of his grandmother and brother. Two grand juries would deliberate over the case and the Department of Justice would open a civil rights investigation. However, according to the Guardian, “The FBI…has no record of Grahams’ death. According to the department, the NYPD did not report officer-involved shooting data to the FBI for 2010, 2011 or 2012.” Constance Malcolm (Graham’s mother) remarked:
“This honestly doesn’t surprise me…Most of the people being killed by police are black or Latino. I think they feel our lives aren’t worth the paperwork…[The officers] don’t want this to be published. They don’t want us to know the real number of people they’ve killed because this would show the true color of the police.”
“Operation Ghetto Storm,” published three years ago by the Malcolm X Grassroots Network, ignited the conversation when it exposed that every 28 hours, “someone inside the United States, employed or protected by the U.S. government, kills a Black child, woman or man.” The Operation Ghetto Storm document provides an important analysis that should be read by everyone concerned about police homicides in the Black community.
One important lesson to glean from the Washington Post study is that African-American communities must begin to create alternative institutions to respond to mental health, family conflicts and health crises. Police, in these instances, react to medical and family emergencies in the same potentially lethal manner that they respond to suspected criminal activities. In the final analysis, African-Americans must take control of policing within our communities in order to stop the predictable drum-beat of police homicides.
Additional information on the murders of African-Americans is available at the following links:
Black Code Alert:
Texas policeman pulls gun on unarmed Black teenagers at birthday party and drags young girl by her hair: