This week’s murder of two black men by law enforcement officers continues to fuel the outrage felt by many Americans. Philando Castile and Alton Sterling were fatally shot by police officers who felt the black men they encountered posed a serious threat. Video footage of both incidents have been released by private citizens which shows excessive use of force, resulting in the death of a suspect, in situations that did not warrant such extreme behavior. While police brutality in the Unites States has been at the forefront of social justice conversations for some time, the increasing frequency and disproportionate number of black and Hispanic men killed by police represents a startling trend that should not be ignored.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced the top ten most dangerous jobs in the U.S., based on work related deaths. Law enforcement officers did not make the list. In fact, they found that fatal work related injuries for officers were down 20%. 44 deaths were attributed to homicides on the job across the United States in 2014. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), for the last 40 years, United States has seen a gradual drop in violent crimes. Rape, robberies, and murder have all dropped multiple percentage points in the last few years alone.
Multiple studies analyzing on-duty law enforcement officer’s safety says it’s improving and the number of violent crime by citizens are decreasing. This should translate into fewer situations that require deadly force, but the numbers tell a different story. According to a Washington Post study, 965 people were fatally shot by police officers in 2015, and that number has been on the rise. Unfortunately, use of deadly force by police is self reported by agencies and department, many of whom don’t report in national annual counts.
While the increase in the number of fatal shootings by police is very troubling, what is even more disturbing is the racial skew among those killed. According to the Washington Post study, while black males represent only 6% of the U.S. population, they account for a staggering 30% of the fatal shootings by police and “3 in 5 of those killed after exhibiting less threatening behavior were black or Hispanic.” One in four of black and Hispanic men killed by police did not posses a deadly weapon. White men, it seems, are given the benefit of the doubt; they are gunned down, without possessing a deadly weapon, at half the rate of their black and Hispanic counterparts.
Its no wonder why so many people are outraged by the use of deadly force on citizens, especially when there is such a high degree of racial bias. Police are giving white men a chance to live while assuming the worst of black and Hispanic men. With a decrease in violent criminals in the general population, we should be seeing police shootings decrease, instead of increasing. Law enforcement agencies must acknowledge the racial bias that exists before steps to correct those injustices can occur and police must be held accountable for their actions and decision-making.
As I was finishing this article, news came pouring in about a shooting at a protest for Philando Castile and Alton Sterling in Dallas, Texas. A sniper shot 12 officers, five of whom died from their injuries. I would like to acknowledge this is an equally terrible act as excessive deadly force by police. Jon Stewart said it best two years ago:
“You can truly grieve for every officer who’s been lost in the line of duty in this country, and still be troubled by cases of police overreach, those two ideas are not mutually exclusive. You can have great regard for law enforcement and still want them to be held to high standards.”
This article was written by Erin Benton, a writer for dusk magazine.