Increasing public awareness of police misconduct, primarily the use of excessive force or “police brutality” against unarmed Blacks, has sparked outrage amongst many communities throughout the United States. Reinvigorated in the early 1990s by the ferocious beating of Rodney King and perpetuated by the fatal shootings of unarmed teenagers Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida and Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri, activist movements such as “Black Lives Matter” have been established throughout the United States. These movements campaign against police brutality; specifically what they perceive to be the wanton use of excessive physical force against Black citizens. Compiling the total number of fatal shootings by police since May 30th, 2015, The Washington Post found that although Blacks represent only 14% of the total U.S. population, Blacks accounted for more than 27% of victims fatally shot by police so far in 2015. Victim over-representation was not found for Hispanics or Asians, although the 31 “unknown” race victims could sway results. Whites are especially underrepresented as victims of fatal police shootings relative to their percentage of the population, as Whites constitute around 63% of the U.S. population but only account for 46% of victims of fatal police shootings in 2015 so far. Considerably more striking when looking at the data from a racial perspective is that of the 62 victims or 16% of the victim total who were unarmed or found to be carrying a toy gun, around 66% were Black or Hispanic. Based on the data, Blacks seem to be perceived as more dangerous than Whites regardless of whether they have a gun or not pointing to a history of prejudice and racism. This could not have been expressed more clearly than in the Tamir Rice case. Cleveland police on November 22nd, 2014 shot and killed 12-year old Tamir Rice after a 9-1-1 caller reported a juvenile was playing with a gun that was “probably fake” in a nearby park. The gun did actually end up being a toy gun that his friend had given him to play with only minutes before he was pronounced dead. After absorbing this data, consider this question:
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- What do you believe to be the cause of Black over-representation in victim data regarding fatal police shootings? (e.g., Blacks being targeted by their race, Blacks committing more crimes than other races).
A statistic Blacks are not over-represented in, however, and considered by many BLM activists as one of the leading causes of police brutality is their overall representation in law enforcement. According to a survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Black officers constitute just 12% of local police officers. Even more troubling is the fact that many police departments do not reflect the demographics of the jurisdiction in which they operate. For example, Ferguson, Missouri where Michael Brown was shot and killed has a 29% white population and a 67% Black population yet only three of the 53-officer department or 5% are Black. There is a clear disparity between minorities in the community and minorities working in law enforcement, especially for Blacks. Such a disparity could be due to a lack of trust towards law enforcement by the black community. Blacks with criminal records also find it difficult to pass backgrounds checks and application tests required to join the police force. There is, therefore, disconnect between law enforcement and the communities in which they work as differences in culture between primarily white law enforcement and Black communities, more than likely suffering through poverty and its adverse effects, creates a divide between the two.
- What types of policies or prerequisites should the Criminal Justice System enforce to substantially diminish the occurrence of police misconduct, especially towards minorities? What has already been done? Can anything effective be done?
What could be considered even more bizarre is how these fatal police shootings typically begin as minor traffic violations such as traffic stops or domestic disturbances. Below are two cases that exemplify these occurrences.
- Samuel Dubose:
- Eric Garner:
Question to ponder:
- Do you believe that police brutality, especially towards minorities, in the United States is on the rise or are advancements in technology over the past decade (cellphone camcorders, police cameras, etc.) contributing to the increasing number of police misconduct reports.
- Fact: More than 60% of Americans now carry video enabled mobile devices.
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