Data released from The Guardian estimates that 1,136 people were killed by police in the U.S. in 2015. According to the statistics (which are difficult to collect because it is not currently required for police stations to report it), 50.9 percent of these people were white. The remaining fatalities were either minorities or unknown. Specifically, the victims were 26.9 percent of the victims were Black, 16.8 percent Hispanic, 2.4 percent unknown, 2 percent Asian and 1 percent Native American.
The numbers vary greatly from the actual population. In total, whites make up 77.3 percent of the country, while Blacks make up just 13.2 percent.
Specifically, the murders of Black men by police in 2015 dominated media headlines, as well as 2014 murders that have yet to see justice. Notably, the murders — and the aftermath of those murders — of Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray and Walter Scott took the nation by storm.
Some publications have attributed these numbers to crime statistics. According to The Daily Caller, “Those who believe there is an ingrained, irrational bias among police officers against African-Americans take this number as a sign that cops get trigger-happy around blacks. What’s usually left out of the conversation over the disproportionate number of police shootings of African-Americans are the disproportionate number of crimes, particularly violent crime, committed by African-Americans.”
But this does nothing to explain the instances of racial profiling that exist even when no crime has been committed. In Missouri, Blacks were twice as likely as whites to be pulled over by police, but whites were statistically more likely to be carrying contraband. And in Kentucky, a prosecutor said, in court, that being Hispanic was probable cause for being pulled over.
These statistics also do nothing to explain the difference in how police officers treat whites and Blacks, even when both have committed a crime. Currently, the attack in Oregon puts this into question. 40-year-old Ammon Bundy is leading an armed group of 150 white men who are occupying a federal building in the state. The group stated they would not attack unprovoked but would use violence if necessary, adding “but we’re not terrorists.”
The bizarre labeling of these people has not been lost by social media users, who initially used #OregonStandoff to discuss the topic but switched to #OregonUnderAttack. The race of the men is not mentioned in most headlines discussing the incident, with the NY Times simply calling the men an “armed group” and ABC News describing the situation as a “peaceful protest.”
Meanwhile, earlier this year on June 17, Dylann Roof murdered nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. During the attack, Roof told the parishioners he had targeted them because they were Black, saying, “You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country.”
Authorities apprehended Roof the following day in an uneventful arrest. Officers described the killer as “polite” and “quiet,” and pictures show what appeared to be a calm situation.
A controversial aspect of Roof’s arrest, though, was the fact that an officer purchased Burger King for Roof to eat. But according to FindLaw, to not give Roof, who had not eaten in a couple of days, something to eat would have violated his basic civil rights: “A criminal suspect is entitled to humane treatment, no matter how heinous the alleged crime. If you were not treated humanely, for instance, if you were deprived of food and water or if you were beaten either during police questioning or while in a holding cell, your rights may have been violated.”
But the differences are clear when comparing the Oregon coverage and the arrest of Roof to the arrests of some of the high-profile arrests of Black men, and these arrests arguably violate the rights listed above.
The arrest of Eric Garner was, unlike the arrest of Roof, violent and deadly. In July 2014, Garner was approached by NYPD for selling loose cigarettes. A verbal argument quickly escalated, and Garner was taken down and put in a chokehold. He repeatedly told the officers, “I can’t breathe,” but his pleas were ignored. Garner died from compressions to the neck and chest from being placed in the chokehold. Garner committed a crime very different from Roof’s and was treated very differently by law enforcement.
In Baltimore this past April, Freddie Gray was denied the civil rights that officers were sure to award Roof. Gray was arrested and placed, without a seatbelt, in the back of a police van. Gray asked for medical assistance but was not given any. Gray was thrown around in the back of the van and ultimately suffered a fatal spinal cord injury. While officers were sure to get Roof food and drink during his arrest, Gray was refused necessary medical attention, which ultimately cost him his life.
According to Art Roderick, a CNN law enforcement analyst, the men in Oregon are not being treated the way Black Lives Matter protesters have been treated in the past is because they are “not looting anything.” But neither Garner nor Gray, who were both unarmed at the time of their arrests, were “looting anything” either, yet it was them who were added to the statistics of people killed by police.