The American public is becoming increasingly outraged over the abuse of violence by police against U.S. citizens. Some examples of the excessive use of force are sensational enough to attract and keep the mainstream’s attention, and shockingly, these incidents are surfacing in the media with unnerving frequency.
Behind the high-profile cases, however, lie hundreds of other nationwide incidents of the use of deadly force by law enforcement, some justified, some suspicious, some accidental, and some plain tragic. To add substance to the growing debate over police abuse of power, a foreign news agency is keeping an interactive, up-to-date, public record of these cases, which offers a cold, personal, and truthful perspective on this increasingly tense issue.
‘The Counted: People killed by police in the U.S.,” is a newsroom managed, crowd-sourced, and verifiable public database of U.S. fatalities at the hands of law enforcement beginning in January, 2015. Hosted by the Guardian, a daily United Kingdom newspaper and online news service, the ever-evolving info-page gives an up-close look at who has been killed, where, when, how, and also gives a brief look at the circumstances of their death, including their age, race and whether or not they were armed during their deadly confrontation with police. This continuously evolving body of data is available for free download for anyone interested in analyzing it, but the page offers some topically relevant charts, showing how these numbers breakdown by race and by state.
It appears that no government agency or members of the American press are keeping a similar record of this information and this is noted in the Guardian’s posted reasons why they created and now maintain this database:
“Why is this necessary?
The US government has no comprehensive record of the number of people killed by law enforcement. This lack of basic data has been glaring amid the protests, riots and worldwide debate set in motion by the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old, in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014.
Before stepping down as US attorney general earlier this year, Eric Holder described the prevailing situation on data collection as “unacceptable”.
The Guardian agrees with those analysts, campaign groups, activists and authorities who argue that such accounting is a prerequisite for an informed public discussion about the use of force by police.”
Today is August 4th, 2015, and to date there have been 683 (3 more were added as I wrote this article) people who have been killed, a number on track to reach nearly 1100 before year’s end. Keep in mind, most of these people were never convicted of a crime.
To add perspective to this, the number of American citizens killed by terrorism is typically between 15 and 25 annually, which means, of course, that statistically you’re more likely to be killed by your own furniture than by terrorism, and that the local P.D. is far more of a danger sto you than Al Qaeda or ISIS.
The data in ‘The Counted’ does not show the number of people who have been assaulted, battered or framed by police, and for every use of deadly force incident, there are many more incidents of careless and sociopathic abuse of violence. Cases of police mistreating even the most frail members of our society, as well as infants, children and the mentally unstable, emerge nearly daily, adding to the unfortunate growing distrust of the police by the public. Adding more fuel to the fire are other systemic issues like the abuse of police programs like civil asset forfeiture, where police can seize and keep anything from just about anyone, and the abuse of traffic law enforcement as a tool of revenue generation, and the implementation of unconsititutional police checkpoints and stop and frisk programs.
But, America does have the world’s largest per capita prison population, the highest number of firearms per capita, takes the highest amount of psychotropic medications per capita, spends more on police and military than anyone else, watches more violence programming, and has been involved in more international military conflicts than any other nation.
In this light the numbers make sense, and the problem is as much cultural as it is institutional. Even if it takes a foreign newspaper to point this out to us.
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