Killings By Police Officers Are Far Too Common In The United States

The injustice at Ferguson remains fresh in our minds as yet another case of a police officer who killed a black is not going to trial. The grand jury has decided against an indictment in the killing of Eric Garner in an illegal chokehold. The New York Times reports:

A Staten Island grand jury voted on Wednesday not to bring criminal charges in the death of Eric Garner, a black man who died after being placed in a chokehold by a white police officer, a decision that triggered outrage by many public officials, spurred protesters to take to the streets and led President Obama to once again vow to help heal the rift that exists between the police and those they serve.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, speaking at a news conference in Staten Island, said that he had been assured by Attorney General Eric Holder that a federal investigation would continue to probe the death and determine whether Mr. Garner’s civil rights were violated.

The grand jury decision was reached after months of testimony, including that provided by the officer who used the chokehold, Daniel Pantaleo. The grand jury reached its decision less than two weeks after a grand jury in Ferguson, Mo., declined to bring charges against a white officer who fatally shot an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown.

An autopsy by the city’s medical examiner found that Mr. Garner’s death was a homicide resulting from the chokehold and the compression of his chest by police officers.

Video of the event is above in which Eric Garner can be heard saying more than once that he could not breathe.

There has been more interest in the number of killings by police. The Wall Street Journal looked at the statistics and found that they were being under-counted:

When 24-year-old Albert Jermaine Payton wielded a knife in front of the police in this city’s southeast corner, officers opened fire and killed him.

Yet according to national statistics intended to track police killings, Mr. Payton’s death in August 2012 never happened. It is one of hundreds of homicides by law-enforcement agencies between 2007 and 2012 that aren’t included in records kept by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

A Wall Street Journal analysis of the latest data from 105 of the country’s largest police agencies found more than 550 police killings during those years were missing from the national tally or, in a few dozen cases, not attributed to the agency involved. The result: It is nearly impossible to determine how many people are killed by the police each year…

To analyze the accuracy of the FBI data, the Journal requested internal records on killings by officers from the nation’s 110 largest police departments. One-hundred-five of them provided figures.

Those internal figures show at least 1,800 police killings in those 105 departments between 2007 and 2012, about 45% more than the FBI’s tally for justifiable homicides in those departments’ jurisdictions, which was 1,242, according to the Journal’s analysis. Nearly all police killings are deemed by the departments or other authorities to be justifiable.

The full national scope of the underreporting can’t be quantified. In the period analyzed by the Journal, 753 police entities reported about 2,400 killings by police. The large majority of the nation’s roughly 18,000 law-enforcement agencies didn’t report any.

Paul Waldman, discussing Ferguson, recently compared killings by police in the United States to other countries:

American police kill many, many more citizens than officers in similar countries around the world. The number of people killed by police in many countries in a year is in the single digits. For instance, in Britain (where most officers don’t even carry guns), police fatally shot zero people in 2013 and one person in 2012. Germany has one-quarter the population of the United States, and police there killed only six people in all of 2011. Although official figures put the number killed by American police each year around 400, the true number may be closer to 1,000.

The most common explanation is that since we have so many guns in America, police are under greater threat than other police. Which is true, but American police also kill unarmed people all the time — people who have a knife or a stick, or who are just acting erratically. There are mentally disturbed people in other countries, too, so why is it that police in Germany or France or Britain or Japan manage to deal with these threats without killing the suspect?

This is where we get to the particular American police ideology, which says that any threat to an officer’s safety, even an unlikely one, can and often should be met with deadly force. We see it again and again: Someone is brandishing a knife; the cops arrive; he takes a step toward them, and they fire. Since Brown’s death, at least 14 teenagers have been shot and killed by police; the weapons they were wielding included knives, cars and a power drill, all of which can be obtained by European citizens, at least as far as I know.

In the case of Michael Brown the killing was justified by claims that Brown had grabbed Darren Wilson’s gun (with much of the physical evidence and eye witness testimony putting this claim in question). We can see what happened in the killing of Eric Garner in the video above and there is no sign whatsoever that the police had reason to feel threatened.

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