By Michael Nam
While the federal government and law enforcement agencies do not have or provide standardized figures on fatal shootings by police officers nationwide, the growing awareness of police-related violence has spurred more and more independent investigations.
The Guardian reports that in 2015 alone, 102 of the 464 individuals killed by police were unarmed, and that 32 percent were Black. Adding Latino and other people of color,almost two-thirds of unarmed individuals killed by police were from underrepresented people:
Percent of Unarmed People Killed by Police
How underrepresented are those who make up the majority of unarmed shooting deaths According to the U.S. Census, Blacks make up only 13 percent and Hispanic/Latino people 17 percent. White people make up almost 63 percent of the population.
While some would deny that figures like the Guardian’s research show clear racial bias in law enforcement, the alarming amount of video evidence of police in individual situations coming to light supports these patterns.
The chokehold of Eric Garner over an alleged matter of selling loose cigarettes; the shooting of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy playing alone with a toy gun; and Walter Scott being shot in the back while fleeing a police officer after a minor traffic stop this year these recorded incidents can be viewed as exposing police attitudes toward profiling and excessive use of force.
Still, additional data would be welcome, and the lack of official Federal statistics on police-related deaths may surprise some, as the Guardian found out:
Some relatives of people killed by police said they had been unaware of the dearth of publicly available information on police-involved fatalities until their family became affected. Anthony Scott, whose brother Walter wasshot dead in April by police officer Michael Slagerin North Charleston, South Carolina, said the lack of public information “came as a surprise”.
Calls for more and better organized information on a Federal level is currently being support by the likes of Sen. Barbara Boxer and Sen. Cory Booker, in efforts to improve what FiveThirtyEight describes as incomplete knowledge:
Efforts to keep track of “justifiable police homicides” are beset by systemic problems. “Nobody that knows anything about the SHR puts credence in the numbers that they call ‘justifiable homicides,'” when used as a proxy for police killings, saidDavid Klinger, an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri who specializes in policing and the use of deadly force. And there’s no governmental effort at all to record the number of unjustifiable homicides by police.
Media inquiry into public data, such as the Guardian’s initiative called “The Counted,” and the confirmation of social media data, help to clarify the picture of systemic bias in our justice system. When Officer Daniel Pantaleo of the NYPD avoided indictment in Eric Garner’s death, the NAACP took to Twitter and tweeted out 76 names of unarmed Black men and women killed by police between 1999 and 2014.
However, hard numbers from a standardized, national source would go a long way to helping the nation come to grips with the deeply rooted problem of racial profiling and police brutality.