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TOPIC: America's Police: Protect or Brutalize?

America's Police: Protect or Brutalize? 3 years 10 months ago #51

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The recent shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the militaristic and aggressive response by the Ferguson police during the protests that followed have led many in this country to question whether America's Police forces are her to "protect and serve" this country's citizens or to brutalize and intimidate, especially when it involves people of color. I would like to try and present both sides of the story through articles available on line so that readers can make up their own minds. Here it comes, ready or not....

USA TODAY investigative reporter Brad Heath explains findings behind police shootings.
Kevin Johnson, Meghan Hoyer and Brad Heath , USA TODAY 9:41 a.m. EDT August 15, 2014

WASHINGTON — Nearly two times a week in the United States, a white police officer killed a black person during a seven-year period ending in 2012, according to the most recent accounts of justifiable homicide reported to the FBI.

On average, there were 96 such incidents among at least 400 police killings each year that were reported to the FBI by local police. The numbers appear to show that the shooting of a black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., last Saturday was not an isolated event in American policing.

The reports show that 18% of the blacks killed during those seven years were under age 21, compared to 8.7% of whites. The victim in Ferguson was 18-year-old Michael Brown. Police have yet to identify the officer who shot him; witnesses have said the officer was white.

While the racial analysis is striking, the database it's based on has been long considered flawed and largely incomplete. The killings are self-reported by law enforcement and not all police departments participate so the database under counts the actual number of deaths. Plus, the numbers are not audited after they are submitted to the FBI and the statistics on "justifiable" homicides have conflicted with independent measures of fatalities at the hands of police.

Police in Ferguson ignite debate about military tactics
A member of the Federal Protective Service asks demonstrators to stay off the steps leading to the Thomas F. Eagleton federal courthouse during a protest in St. Louis. About 100 protesters marched from city hall to the courthouse as they continue to press for broader reforms to local and federal law enforcement following the shooting death of Michael Brown by police.A member of the Federal Protective Service asks demonstrators to stay off the steps leading to the Thomas F. Eagleton federal courthouse during a protest in St. Louis. About 100 protesters marched from city hall to the courthouse as they continue to press for broader reforms to local and federal law enforcement following the shooting death of Michael Brown by police. (Photo: Jeff Roberson, AP)

A member of the Federal Protective Service asks demonstrators to stay off the steps leading to the Thomas F. Eagleton federal courthouse during a protest in St. Louis. About 100 protesters marched from city hall to the courthouse as they continue to press for broader reforms to local and federal law enforcement following the shooting death of Michael Brown by police. A group of protesters march from city hall to the federal courthouse a few blocks away in St. Louis. People visit a memorial at the spot where Michael Brown's body lay after he was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. Rita Bonapart continues to protest the shooting death of Michael Brown along West Florissant Avenue on Aug. 23 in Ferguson, Mo. Police arrest a man who was protesting the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. Demonstrators rally for Michael Brown as they block an intersection in the Chinatown section of Washington. Demonstrators walk along West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson. People protesting the shooting death of Michael Brown march along West Florissant Avenue. Members of the St. Louis chapters of the NAACP and the National Urban League march on West Florissant Avenue. Sondra Fifer voices support for Michael Brown amidst a rally held to show support for Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in St. Louis, Missouri. Supporters of Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson hold a rally in St. Louis, Missouri. Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol greets demonstrators as they protest the death of Michael Brown on Aug. 22 in Ferguson, Mo. Demonstrators peacefully protest the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown on Aug. 21 in Ferguson, Mo. A girl participates in a demonstration on Florissant Road in Ferguson. People watch a demonstration. People protest against the shooting of Michael Brown during a demonstration on Florissant Road. Brown was fatally shot by a Ferguson police officer on Aug. 9. A man is arrested by police. Missouri Army National Guard soldiers stand guard at the police command center. Police watch a demonstration on Florissant Avenue. Members of the Tauheed Youth Group pray with demonstrators and members of the 'Justice for Michael Brown Leadership Coalition' during a march near the Buzz Westfall Justice Center in Clayton, Mo. Demonstrators walk through the streets near the Buzz Westfall Justice Center in Clayton, Mo. Demonstrators with the 'Justice for Michael Brown Leadership Coalition' march near the Buzz Westfall Justice Center in Clayton, Mo. A military police officer with the Missouri Army National Guard keeps watch at the police command center in Ferguson, Mo. People pray after marching about a mile to the police station to protest the shooting of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Brown's shooting on Aug. 9 by a Ferguson police officer has sparked more than week of protests, riots and looting in the St. Louis suburb. People protest the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson. People stage a peaceful demonstration. Protesters march to the Buzz Westfall Justice Center in Clayton, Mo. A grand jury has begun hearing evidence as it weighs possible charges against the Ferguson police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown. Demonstrators pray outside of the Buzz Westfall Justice Center in Clayton, Mo., where a grand jury is expected to begin looking at the circumstances surrounding the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder talks with Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol at Drake's Place Restaurant in Ferguson, Mo. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder shakes hands with Bri Ehsan, 25, following his meeting with students at St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley in Ferguson, Mo. Holder was in Ferguson to oversea the federal government's investigation into the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer on Aug. 9th. Police guard the entrance to the Buzz Westfall Justice Center on Aug. 20 in Clayton, Mo. A grand jury will consider possible charges against the Ferguson, Mo., police officer who fatally shot teenager Michael Brown on Aug. 9. Chelsey Xsmall holds a picture of Michael Brown as she protests outside the Buzz Westfall Justice Center. Demonstrators pray outside the Buzz Westfall Justice Center. Patty Canter, left, a supporter of police officer Darren Wilson, walks next to Chris Finch outside the Buzz Westfall Justice Center. Her sign reads, "My family & friends support officer Wilson and the police." Wilson shot teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 9. A protester is held back by other demonstrators as she yells at Patty Canter, who was staging a counterprotest to support police officer Darren Wilson. Attorney General Eric Holder participates in a closed-door meeting with students at St. Louis Community College Florissant Valley in Ferguson, Mo. Police officers move in to arrest protesters as they clear people from the West Florissant Avenue area on Aug. 20 in Ferguson, Mo. Demonstrators protest the Aug. 9 killing of teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer. Police disperse a protest on Aug. 19. Police charge into the media work area as they try to control demonstrators. Demonstrators protest the shooting death of Michael Brown. Police arrest a protester. Police watch demonstrators during a protest in Ferguson. A protester uses a bullhorn during a peaceful protest. Demonstrators march past police officers. Protesters take part in a peaceful protest. Demonstrators protest the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. A man lies in the middle of the street in protest during a peaceful protest on West Florissant Avenue. A demonstrator is arrested. Missouri Highway Patrol officers watch protesters. Protesters march for Michael Brown. Protesters demonstrate against the killing of the teenager. Demonstrators protest the shooting death of Michael Brown. Missouri State Higway Patrol trooper D. Reuter chats with protester Robert Clark on West Florissant Avenue. A man is arrested for lying down on the street during a demonstration. A man is arrested by police. Demonstrators stage a peaceful protest in Ferguson. Missouri National Guard troops set up barriers across a road to provide protection for a police command center. Missouri National Guard soldiers prepare a barricade. Missouri National Guard soldiers secure an area. Missouri National Guard troops guard a road. A citizen peacekeeper tries to keep protesters back as police advance on Aug. 18 in Ferguson, Mo. The Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer has touched off demonstrations in the St. Louis suburb where police have used riot gear and tear gas against protesters. Law enforcement officers watch a protest on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson. A person helps a man affected by tear gas. Police use tear gas as they attempt to control demonstrators. Police attempt to control protesters. Police throw tear gas at people walking near a demonstration. A protester kneels down in front of a police line. Police watch demonstrators. Demonstrators protect themselves from tear gas. Protesters display signs on West Florissant Avenue. Police officers wear their gas masks during a demonstration. Demonstrators protest the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. A law enforcement officer watches a protest on West Florissant Avenue. A protestor is detained during the demonstration. Law enforcement officers watch the demonstrators. Protesters demonstrate on West Florissant Avenue. Police officers arrest a demonstrator. A protester wears a gas mask during the demonstration. People protest the shooting of Michael Brown. Police officers stand guard in Ferguson. Police arrest a demonstrator. A demonstrator protesting the shooting death of Michael Brown holds a red rose. State troopers watch a protest. Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson addresses members of the media. Demonstrators protesting the shooting death of Michael Brown chant, " Hands up, Don't Shoot", as they make their voices heard in Ferguson, Mo. Protesters move down the street, many carrying roses in Ferguson, Mo. Missouri National Guard personnel gather before helping law enforcement at the Missouri Highway Patrol command center at the Plaza Boulevard Shopping Center in Ferguson, Mo. Police arrest a demonstrator protesting the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Kenneth McClain kneels in the street during a protest for Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Demonstrators march along West Florissant Avenue as they protest the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. A member of the St. Louis County Police Department asks the Rev. Jesse Jackson, right, to move along as they try to keep people from congregating in Ferguson, Mo. Grace Turner prays along West Florissant Road in Ferguson, Mo. A man carries his child past a row of police tasked with keeping the peace as demonstrators protest the killing of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. A man bends down in prayer as police try to disperse a small group of protesters in Ferguson, Mo. Police tackle a man who was walking down the street in front of McDonald's in Ferguson, Mo. <p>Attorney Benjamin Crump, left, holds a diagram produced during a second autopsy of shooting victim Michael Brown as forensic pathologist Michael Balden speaks at a news conference Aug. 18 in Ferguson, Mo. The independent autopsy shows Brown was shot at least six times on Aug. 9 by a Ferguson police officer.</p> Michael Baden points to an autopsy diagram showing where the bullets hit Michael Brown during a news conference at the Greater St. Marks Family Church. Shawn Parcells, left, forensic pathologist assistant and medical investigator, explains the trajectory of one of the bullets that struck Michael Brown. Benjamin Crump, attorney for the Brown family, addresses members of the news media.

*About 750 agencies contribute to the database, a fraction of the 17,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States.

University of South Carolina criminologist Geoff Alpert, who has long studied police use of deadly force, said the FBI's limited database underscores a gaping hole in the nation's understanding of how often local police take a life on America's streets — and under what circumstances.

''There is no national database for this type of information, and that is so crazy," said Alpert. "We've been trying for years, but nobody wanted to fund it and the (police) departments didn't want it. They were concerned with their image and liability. They don't want to bother with it.''

Alpert said the database can confirm that a death has occurred but is good for little else.

"I've looked at records in hundreds of departments,'' Alpert said, "and it is very rare that you find someone saying, 'Oh, gosh, we used excessive force.' In 98.9% of the cases, they are stamped as justified and sent along.''

Despite those flaws, the FBI records remain the most complete nationwide accounting of people killed by the police.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police, the nation's largest group of police officials, has maintained that police use of force is rare. Citing data gathered by the Bureau of Justices Statistics in 2008, the IACP said less than 2% of the 40 million people who had contact with police reported the use of force or threatened use of force.

"In large part, the public perception of police use of force is framed and influenced by the media depictions which present unrealistic and often outlandish representations of law enforcement and the policing profession,'' the group said in a 2012 report.

And in a written statement Thursday, IACP President Yost Zakhary said the group "remains committed to studying police use of force issues.''

But University of Nebraska criminologist Samuel Walker, who has conducted extensive research on police force issues, called the lack of a national repository tracking such incidents a "major failure'' of the criminal justice system.

That doesn't mean that all incidents have escaped scrutiny. In addition to federal and state prosecutions of individual officers, seven U.S. police departments have been the subject of reviews by the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division in the wake of fatal police shootings since 2010, according to Justice records.

Albuquerque and New Orleans represented the most egregious cases during that time, while separate reviews have involved Puerto Rico, Portland, Miami, Seattle and Newark.

Hundreds of peaceful protesters march in Ferguson
Earlier this year, street protests erupted in Albuquerque following the police shooting death of James Boyd, a homeless man who had a history of violent outbursts and mental instability.

A month later, the Justice Department issued a scathing review of the local police department, concluding that of 20 fatal shootings resulting in death between 2009 and 2012, a "majority ... were unconstitutional.''

"I'll be the first one to say that they put their life on the line every day, but they're killing innocent people and kids," said Christal Kennerson, whose nephew was shot and killed by an Albuquerque police officer in 2012.

Kendrec McDade's cousin, Kaysa McDade, left, gets a kiss from her niece, Ryan McDade, 5, as the family mourns Kendrec McDade, a 19-year-old Citrus College student at a memorial in Pasadena, Calif. on Thursday, March 29, 2012. McDade was shot by police after being chased and making a move, reaching into his waistband, according to police. The police were chasing McDade, believing him to be one of two thiefs who had just robbed Oscar Carrillo, who had told police that McDade was armed.(Photo: Damian Dovarganes ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Her nephew, Daniel Tillison, 31, was unarmed at the time. Police said the officer was responding to an anonymous report of someone selling stolen stereo parts. An investigation by local prosecutors found that when the officer approached him, Tillison put his car in gear and tried to drive away, colliding with the officer's patrol car. The officer, Martin Smith, said he saw Tillison holding a black object; fearing that it was a gun, he shot Tillison once, killing him. Prosecutors concluded that the shooting was justified.

Kennerson said nothing her nephew had done justified killing him. "Just because my nephew wasn't an angel didn't mean he needed to die," she said.

An Austin police officer shot Billie Mercer's unarmed son in the back of the neck last year. The oldest of his three children, now 13, still asks when he'll be able to see his father again, she said.

"I already feel like I have a hole in my heart, and to see my grandkids missing him like that," she said, going quiet for a moment. "That detective, he just doesn't know what he did to our family."

Tinoris Williams (left) with his daughter, Dejeh Williams. Tinoris Williams was shot to death by a PBSO deputy during an incident on Orleans Court earlier this week. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post) ORG XMIT: 1113308 [Via MerlinFTP Drop](Photo: Allen Eyestone, The Palm Beach Post)
Mercer's son, Larry Jackson, Jr., was killed after he tried to open the door of an Austin bank that had been robbed earlier that day. A detective, Charles Kleinert, tried to question him, but Jackson fled. Kleinert — who at one point got a ride from a passerby — pursued him under a nearby bridge, where he shot Jackson in the back of the neck. A grand jury indicted Kleinert on a manslaughter charge in May. It charged that Kleinert was trying to strike Jackson while he was holding his gun, "recklessly" causing his death. Jackson died under the bridge.

Watching news reports of other police shootings "hurts, and something needs to be done about it. The police are protecting their own when they know they're wrong," Mercer said.

Beyond the work of Justice's Civil Rights Division, which is largely focused on individual agencies, Walker said a national repository of police deadly force cases is needed to define the scope of the problem for the public.

"The reason there isn't one is because the information is often embarrassing for police departments,'' Walker said.

"People should be able to log into a database and identify where their own department stands on this,'' he said, adding that the information supplied annually to the FBI on police officers who are killed or assaulted in the line of duty is far more detailed.

Washington Post: Figures on police shootings lacking
How many times a year do U.S. police officers employ deadly force, and how many people die as a result? What are the races and ethnicity of those involved? How often are the objects of police force armed or unarmed? These are just some of the questions people have asked in the wake of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. — and they are perfectly reasonable queries.

What’s less easy to understand is that no one can answer them precisely. This data-driven society, in which retailers know the buying habits of their customers down to the last dollar and police use sophisticated software to target crime "hot spots," apparently lacks solid and systematic information about police shootings.

A 1994 statute instructed the Justice Department to gather data on the "excessive" use of force by police officers around the country and to publish it annually. Stunningly, the department has never done that, whether because of resistance by state and local governments, lack of funding or the admitted vagueness surrounding the term excessive.

As The Post’s Philip Bump discovered when he attempted to pin down the numbers, the closest thing to an authoritative national estimate for killings by officers is the figure for "justifiable homicides" by police that the Federal Bureau of Investigation publishes each year. That number has oscillated between 300 and 450 for most of the past quarter-century. But it’s an insufficient data point, because it’s based on voluntary reporting from only 750 of the nation’s 17,000-plus police agencies. And, of course, it seemingly doesn't include any killings that were found to be unjustified.

In November 2011, the Bureau of Justice Statistics published figures on "arrest-related deaths" from 2003 through 2009, which did include information on the races and ethnicity of the deceased, as well as broad categorization of circumstances surrounding each case. The annual average of homicides attributable to police, 422, is consistent with the FBI reports. But there were holes in these data, too — not all states reported each year, for example — and the figures have not been updated in a half-decade. The Justice Department’s legal authority to require quarterly reports from the states expired in 2006.

This won’t do. Right now, the United States is embroiled in a necessary but, at times, emotional debate about the use of deadly force by police against civilians. Precise, complete and reliable official information must inform that discussion. Data are also, crucially, needed for the Justice Department’s exercise of its statutory authority over police suspected of a "pattern or practice" of excessive force. If Congress does nothing else in response to the tragedy in Ferguson, it must legislate, and fully fund, the collection of this information.

Exactly How Often Do Police Shoot Unarmed Black Men?
The killing in Ferguson was one of many such cases. Here's what the data reveals.
—By Jaeah Lee
The killing of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Missouri, was no anomaly: As we reported yesterday, Brown is one of at least four unarmed black men who died at the hands of police in the last month alone. There are many more cases from years past. As Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Missouri chapter put it in a statement of condolence to Brown's family, "Unarmed African-American men are shot and killed by police at an alarming rate. This pattern must stop."

But quantifying that pattern is difficult. Federal databases that track police use of force or arrest-related deaths paint only a partial picture. Police department data is scattered and fragmented. No agency appears to track the number of police shootings or killings of unarmed victims in a systematic, comprehensive way.

Here's some of what we do know:

Previous attempts to analyze racial bias in police shootings have arrived at similar conclusions. In 2007, ColorLines and the Chicago Reporter investigated fatal police shootings in 10 major cities, and found that there were a disproportionately high number of African Americans among police shooting victims in every one, particularly in New York, San Diego, and Las Vegas.

More MoJo coverage of the Michael Brown police shooting
Ferguson Is 60 Percent Black. Virtually All Its Cops Are White.
"Hands Up, Don't Shoot:" Peaceful Protests Across the Country Last Night
4 Unarmed Black Men Have Been Killed By Police in the Last Month
A Few Horrifying Pictures From Ferguson Last Night
Anonymous Posts St. Louis Police Dispatch Tapes From Day of Ferguson Shooting
Incredibly Powerful Photo of Black Students at Howard University
The Ferguson Shooting and the Science of Race and Guns
"We need not look for individual racists to say that we have a culture of policing that is really rubbing salt into longstanding racial wounds," NAACP president Cornell Williams Brooks told Mother Jones. It's a culture in which people suspected of minor crimes are met with "overwhelmingly major, often lethal, use of force," he says.

In Oakland, California, the NAACP reported that out of 45 officer-involved shootings in the city between 2004 and 2008, 37 of those shot were black. None were white. One-third of the shootings resulted in fatalities. Although weapons were not found in 40 percent of cases, the NAACP found, no officers were charged. (These numbers don't include 22-year-old Oscar Grant, who was shot and killed by a transit authority officer at the Fruitvale BART station on New Year's Day of 2009.)

The New York City Police Department has reported similar trends in its firearms discharge report, which shows that more black people have been shot by NYPD officers between 2000 and 2011 than have Hispanics or whites.

When you look at the racial breakdown of New Yorkers, black people are disproportionately represented among those targeted as criminal shooting suspects, firearms arrestees, and those fired upon or struck by police gunfire.

NYPD Firearms Discharge Report, 2011
Often, the police officers do not get convicted or sentenced. Delores Jones-Brown, a law professor and director of the Center on Race, Crime, and Statistics at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, has identified dozens of black men and women who have died at the hands of police going back as far as 1994. She notes that while these incidents happen regularly, it often takes a high-profile case, such as Brown's, to bring other recent incidents to national attention.

"For whatever reason, juries are much less likely to convict" police who kill.
"Unfortunately, the patterns that we've been seeing recently are consistent: The police don't show as much care when they are handling incidents that involve young black men and women, and so they do shoot and kill," says Jones-Brown, a former assistant prosecutor in Monmouth County, New Jersey. "And then for whatever reason, juries and prosecutor's offices are much less likely to indict or convict."

Between 2003 and 2009, the DOJ reported that 4,813 people died while in the process of arrest or in the custody of law enforcement. These include people who died before an officer physically placed him or her under custody or arrest. This data, known as arrest-related deaths, doesn't reveal a significant discrepancy between whites, blacks, or hispanics. It also doesn't specify how many victims were unarmed. According to the FBI, which has tracked justifiable homicides up to 2012, 410 felons died at the hands of a law enforcement officer in the line of duty.*

Bureau of Justice Statistics
But black people are more likely than whites or Hispanics to experience a police officer's threat or use of force, according to the Department of Justice's Police Public Contact Survey in 2008, the latest year for which data is available. Of those who felt that police had used or threatened them with force that year, about 74 percent felt those actions were excessive. In another DOJ survey of police behavior during traffic and street stops in 2011, blacks and Hispanics were less likely than whites to believe that the reason for the stop was legitimate.

The Justice Department has investigated possible systemic abuse of power by police in at least 15 cities.

Police shootings of unarmed black people aren't limited to poor or predominantly black communities. Jones-Brown points to examples where police officers have shot unarmed black men and women in Hollywood, Riverside (California), and Prince Georges County—a Maryland suburb known as the most affluent US county with an African-American majority. "Part of the problem is that black people realize that you don't have to be poor, you don't have to be in your own community...and this can happen to you," she says. These killings occur against black people of varying socioeconomic backgrounds: "Actors, professional football players, college students, high school grads. They happen to black cops, too."

"You don't have to be poor, you don't have to be in your own community...and this can happen to you."
Yet, the lack of comprehensive data means that we can't know if there's been an upsurge in such cases, says Samuel Walker, a criminal justice scholar at the University of Nebraska in Omaha and author of The Color of Justice: Race, Ethnicity, and Crime in America. "It's impossible to make any definitive statement on whether there were more incidents in the last 5 to 10 years than in the past," he says. "We just don't have that kind of data." But what is certain, Walker says, is that the fatal shooting in Ferguson "was just the tip of the iceberg."

UPDATE (8/15/14): USA Today reported that on average there were 96 cases of a white police officer killing a black person each year between 2006 and 2012, based on justifiable homicides reported to the FBI by local police. As I reported above, the FBI's justifiable homicides database paints only a partial picture—accounting for cases in which an officer killed a felon. It does not necessarily include cases involving victims like Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and others who were unarmed when confronted by police. The data in this post has been updated with 2012 numbers, and the map has been updated to reflect that certain cases have been closed.

Blacks in the US are killed by law enforcement at three times the rate of whites:

This post originally appeared at the Sunlight Foundation.
When a police officer kills someone while trying to stop a crime or make an arrest, government agencies classify the death as a legal intervention. The death of Mike Brown, the 18-year-old and unarmed teenager killed by a police officer earlier this month in Ferguson, Missouri will likely be classified under this term when it comes time to report the circumstances of his death to the national databases that track such information.
For many people, especially Mike Brown’s family and friends, describing the loss of their loved one in such a dry, unemotional and even benign-sounding way, will be hard to swallow. But in an effort to get justice and respect for the life of Brown—and perhaps to stop more incidents like the one in Ferguson, which has caused weeks of protests and police standoffs — advocates and researchers will inevitably rely on data that agencies like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) collect.
The CDC makes information about the rate at which people are killed by law enforcement available in its WONDER database, which stands for Wide-ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research. Its Multiple Cause of Death database is based on a comprehensive collection of all birth and death certificates issued nationwide. Because of the details in these certificates, the CDC WONDER database can often provide specific demographic information alongside cause of death. Since the database also pulls in local population data, the CDC can additionally report not just on the total number of deaths but also an average rate of deaths relative to the population.

Filtering on demographic variables, the CDC WONDER data reveals the stark impact of race on probability of death by law enforcement. For instance, according to the CDC, in Oklahoma the rate at which black people were killed per capita by law enforcement between 1999 and 2011 was greater than anywhere else in the country. During that same time period, Oklahoma’s rate for all people killed by law enforcement, including all races, is second only to New Mexico. However, Oklahoma, the District of Columbia, Nevada and Oregon are all tied for the rate at which people are killed. (The CDC treats the District of Columbia as a state when collecting and displaying statistics.)
In Missouri, where Mike Brown lived and died, black people are killed by law enforcement twice as frequently as white people. Nationwide, the rate at which black people are killed by law enforcement is three times higher than that of white people.
In a post that ran last week, Ruben Fischer-Baum at FiveThirtyEight argued that there might be data missing from what is made available regarding people killed by law enforcement agents nationwide. Whether that’s true or not, there is indeed data available that should be used and scrutinized.
The CDC has also created a dataset that attempts to create a clearer understanding of violent deaths and violence levels. That dataset, called the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS), provides details about some of the deaths reported to the CDC that would otherwise go unrecorded, such as whether or not it was an argument or a fight that led to a death, or if a person was involved in a love triangle and killed because of it.
When a killing is the result of a legal intervention, NVDRS indicates whether the action was ultimately determined to be justifiable. Of the legal intervention cases reviewed by that survey, 95% were reported justifiable.
A huge caveat, though, in trying to use NVDRS is that the data is not nationally representative: Only 18 states participate.
At the very least, this information should prompt people to ask what is happening in these locations and how it can it be stopped. Ideally, knowing this information and examining the implications could lead to increased scrutiny of the deaths caused by legal intervention and serve to reduce the number of deaths in the future.
The datasets mentioned above have the potential to tell the public and policy makers more than has been detailed in this post. They also have limitations that could be improved upon, such as suppressed data availability due to privacy concerns, funding issues that hinder data collection and even website problems that make it hard to find and download relevant data. It might seem counterintuitive and less-than-sexy to address the deadliness of violence through the sterile lens people perceive data to be, but good evidence leads to good decisions and data can provide us with that.
Damian Ortellado contributed to this post.
*The data displayed in the graphic above is affected by protocol the CDC follows in an effort to protect personal privacy and to represent findings accurately. For more information on suppression, visit the CDC’s website.
Some rates are marked as “unreliable” by the CDC when the death count is less than 20 and therefore leaves no data to show for the Black or African American category for Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Kansas, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin, as well as in data for White deaths in Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey and South Dakota. Data that appear blank for White deaths in Illinois, Massachusetts and New York are actually recorded crude rates of 0 per 100,000.


Preliminary 2014 Law Enforcement Officer Fatalities August 31, 2014 vs. August 31, 2013

2014 2013 % Change
Total Fatalities 78 66 +18%
Firearms-related 31 19 +63%
Traffic-related 29 27 +7%
Other Causes 18 20 -10%
*Please note: These numbers reflect total officer fatalities comparing August 31, 2014 to August 31, 2013

For a incomplete list of people who were killed by police officers in the month of August, 2014, please cut and paste the following URL into your search engine: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_killings_b..._States,_August_2014
Last Edit: 3 years 10 months ago by Pinecone.
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