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Back to Black – Racism and Police Homicides in America

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by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Mr. George Floyd of Minnesota

Once again, an egregious police homicide of a Black man caught on videotape shatters the calm and erupts into national protests and outrage. This time it is George Floyd of Minnesota. His life was slowly squeezed out of him as he lay bound and helpless while a seemingly depraved and indifferent cop pinned Mr. Floyd’s neck to the pavement with his knee.

Once again, the eyes of the nation turn towards the seemingly intractable problem of racism that, among its many forms, would cause African Americans to be nearly twice as likely to die at the hands of law enforcement than White Americans. Racism is our greatest barrier to becoming a more perfect union and at present, the racists seem to have ascended to power.

And once again, this despicable racial killing by a cop in broad daylight has ignited a blaze that masks an underlying outrage behind the numbers. About one-thousand American civilians are being killed every year by our civilian police force. From January 1, 2015, through December 31, 2019, there have been 1,179 police homicides of Black citizens, 2,242 homicides of White citizens, 843 police homicides of Hispanic civilians, and a total of at least 4,947 civilians killed by police.

Data is from the Washington Post database. Analysis by the author.

Civilian homicides by police always rise to public attention because they so disproportionally target African-Americans. Once the problem is framed as a systemic racial issue the proposed remedies never reach beyond the disproportionality question. The fact that our highly aggressive and militant police training is resulting in thousands of needless deaths never comes to light. Until that is addressed, the proposed solutions will never be to anyone’s satisfaction.

Data from the Washington Post database. Analysis by the Author

Civilian homicide rates by law enforcement in America are orders of magnitude higher than in Great Britain, France, or Germany. Yet, the actual number of civilian deaths could be considerably larger still. There is no mandatory federal tracking of homicides caused by police in the line of duty. Federal reporting is all voluntary and spotty at best. The countries best numbers come by combing through local newspaper accounts and gleaning what can be learned from the public account of police-involved civilian deaths. This civilian effort to track police homicides only started about five years ago. It is an imperfect system. Clearly, not all police shootings make it into the local newspapers. The information reported is rarely investigated by local reporters. They are the accounts given to the press by the local police officials. And there are undoubtedly police-related fatalities of civilians that are never reported in the local press.

No racial activist would be or should be satisfied if successful remedies to the racial problem merely end racial disparities. In practical terms that would mean about 103 fewer Black minority deaths each year while still tolerating 133 annual minority homicides. It would be equally crazy to accept 448 White civilian death by the police as long as this carnage is in proportional to the number of Blacks and Hispanics that are also killed each year.

Data is from the Washington Post database. The analysis is by the author.

The militarization of the American police force is its own grave problem that must be addressed. If German laws and police practices were adopted here, adjusted for our larger population, the United States might expect only about 40 police homicides per year, mostly justified uses of force, as opposed to nearly 1,000.

The arguments for this position on police homicides are in numbers found in the tables I created from the data contained in five year’s worth of information collected by the Washington Post. Seeing all the names as you scroll down that database of the dead is sobering.

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1 Comment

  1. Jane Boschen says:

    Brian, it just breaks my heart when I see this black man being held down and three other police officers watching. Over and over in my mind I see him crying out I can’t breathe even crying out to his mother who has passed and on the other tape the police officers taunting him and telling him to get up bro and get in the police car. Third degree murder surely you are kidding me how about first degree murder and the other three should have very serious charges brought against them, too.

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