In the first four months of 2015, U.S. police officers have killed 351 Americans, according to KilledByPolice.net, a site that lists published details of all types of police shootings and arrest deaths. Many of the incidents — when white officers kill unarmed blacks — have produced stormy protests.
Why cite an unofficial source for such important data? Because as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has pointed out repeatedly since the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., there is no official count of police shootings in the United States.
During the past seven years, Chicago police have killed more than 120, and the city is paying millions for wrongful deaths. A $5 million settlement has been offered to the family of a 17-year-old black youth who was shot 16 times last October. Also, a $5.5 million fund has been started to compensate other victims. The Better Government Association says Chicago paid more than $500 million for wrongful police killings in the past decade.
Here’s a report from Tuesday’s New York Times about Chicago’s police department under infamous commander Jon Burge:
“Between 1972 and 1991, lawyers say, about 120 mainly African-American men were picked up by Mr. Burge’s ‘midnight crew,’ shocked with cattle prods, beaten with telephone books and suffocated with plastic bags until they confessed to crimes. Mr. Burge was ultimately fired in 1993 after he was linked to a torture case … . In 2010, he was sentenced to four and a half years in prison for perjury and obstruction of justice.”
Lately, stunning videos of white police killing unarmed blacks create an impression that a sudden epidemic is flaring. But actually, today’s numbers are no worse than in the past, black leaders say. The difference today is that more bystanders have cell phones and digital cameras to film the abuse.
Cedric Alexander, president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, told CNN: “Black and brown people have been making these complaints for years, but they fell on deaf ears because no one wanted to believe some officers would act this way.”
But after witness videos hit the nightly TV news, he said, white Americans react: “Wow, they really did shoot this guy in the back. Wow. Oh s—t, there’s some truth to this.”
In Baltimore, the U.S. Justice Department said it will investigate how a 25-year-old black man suffered a fatal spinal injury while in police custody,
In South Carolina, where a black man was shot in the back by a white officer, reformers want a federal probe of all such killings in the past 21 years.
Police have dangerous jobs. Time after time, they risk being shot in pistol-polluted America. People count on police to enter dangerous situations to protect others, but this hair-trigger mentality among too many officers must be changed.
Something must be done to reduce excessive police killings. We’re glad that President Obama is pushing for body cameras to be worn by all officers. Police can’t claim that defendants were killed while attacking, if their own video shows otherwise. This incontrovertible evidence may open enough eyes to finally reduce deadly police violence.