Homeland Homicides

Continuing the Conversation on Police Violence after Killing of Botham Jean, 26

CW: police brutality, racial violence

In recent years, police violence has become the subject of many debates in the United States. The recent murder of Botham Jean, a 26-year-old black man who was killed in his own apartment by a Dallas police office, is the most recent event that has perpetuated the fight for police accountability. The fight for accountability in cases of police violence may seem like an uphill battle for some, especially in light of the current political situation in America. Nicole Hemmer of US News and World Report wrote an op-ed where she coined the term “brutality president” in response to Trump’s encouragement on escalating the current situation.

The problem of police violence is thoroughly documented. Lauren McCauley reported in an article for MintPress that “many fatalities occurred when police were called in to help de-escalate a conflict or situation.” She pointed out that 20 percent of people killed by police were mentally ill or going through a mental health crisis. The Guardian’s database, “The Counted,” displays statistics on police killings in the U.S. for 2015 and 2016. The database groups these killings by state, ranking them by the number of people killed per capita and total number of people who were killed by police in 2015 and 2016. During those two years, 2239 people were killed by the police. A more recent article by The Washington Post reports that police were responsible for the killings of 987 people in 2017 alone.

The extent of this problem has reached the point that it constitutes a good portion of homicides in America, and this statistic is gendered. A recent report by American Journal of Public Health found that police kill an average of 2.8 men per day, and, overall, police are responsible for 8 percent of all homicides that have a male victim. Frank Edwards, a reporter on a Mic article on police brutality, said that the number of men killed by police is “huge, and that number is even higher in some places than others. That’s really striking, to think of police as a major source of homicide deaths. It’s a public health problem.”

The racial patterns of police violence are also well established. Black men are the most likely group to become victims of police violence, with between 1.9 and 2.4 killed by police officers per 100,000 people. Members of the Latinx community have a police mortality risk between 0.8 and 1.2 deaths per 100,000, while only 0.6 to 0.7 per 100,000 white people are killed by police. In 2016, 10.13 indigenous people per million were killed by the police.

Even with all this evidence, official data still does not reflect realities on the ground. “Police agencies are not required to submit any incidences of death caused by or in the presence of its officers,” Mic states. Since the Bureau of Justice Statistics relies solely on voluntary reporting, the authors of the report used their own methodology, which includes novel data on police-involved fatalities and Bayesian models to estimate mortality risk for black, Latino, and white men for all U.S. counties by census division and metropolitan area type. Frank Edwards of the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) explains that “the disparities and risk of killing were uniform nationally.” What is even more so surprising for Edwards is that “Even in rural places — even in places with relatively small black populations — we still see elevated risk of being killed by police among black people.”  

The implications of the AJPH article are that “homicide reduction efforts should consider interventions to reduce the use of lethal force by police. Efforts to address unequal police violence should target places with high mortality risk.” Unfortunately there is much work to be done on the matter of police violence and killings. “It was clear to me that we didn’t have an understanding of basic police killing facts,” Edwards exclaimed. He would also like to do further research on the role of police violence with increased attention paid to children, indigenous people, pacific islanders and Alaskan natives.

Police violence has been an ongoing issue in Portland itself, with the police killings of Jason Washington on June 29 of this year and Quanice Hayes on February 9 of last year as two particularly scarring incidences of such police violence to the community. The continual threat of police violence, both at Portland and the nation at large, remains unchanged in spite of the visible harm and current calls for change.

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