The Washington Post decided to investigate and come up with a tally of all the police involved shootings for 2015, apparently to not only answer the burning demands of the public, but to pick apart the data and draw some conclusions. I was expecting a deafening volume of hyperbole out of this report – and there was enough of it to satisfy some of the base – but when you read past the introduction and the dire warnings of activists, they actually do dredge up some potentially useful data. But right up front they need to start with the shock value clickbait and the ominous forecasts.
In an alley in Denver, police gunned down a 17-year-old girl joyriding in a stolen car. In the backwoods of North Carolina, police opened fire on a gun-wielding moonshiner. And in a high-rise apartment in Birmingham, Ala., police shot an elderly man after his son asked them to make sure he was okay. Douglas Harris, 77, answered the door with a gun.
The three are among at least 385 people shot and killed by police nationwide during the first five months of this year, more than two a day, according to a Washington Post analysis. That is more than twice the rate of fatal police shootings tallied by the federal government over the past decade, a count that officials concede is incomplete.
“These shootings are grossly underreported,” said Jim Bueermann, a former police chief and president of the Washington-based Police Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving law enforcement. “We are never going to reduce the number of police shootings if we don’t begin to accurately track this information.”
Before we get to the numbers, it’s worth noting one side effect of getting the federal government so deeply involved in a media fueled firestorm such as this and trying to lay a heavy hand on local and state law enforcement. A lot of this interaction has been shuffled off to the DOJ’s Community Oriented Policing Services office (COPS) and their chief was quick to chime in for the WaPo article and let everyone know where his priorities lie.
“We have to get beyond what is legal and start focusing on what is preventable. Most are preventable,” said Ronald L. Davis, a former police chief who heads the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
Police “need to stop chasing down suspects, hopping fences and landing on top of someone with a gun,” Davis said. “When they do that, they have no choice but to shoot.”
Those last two sentences really say it all. The DOJ, at this point, is taking an attitude of telling police officers that they are doing something wrong if they are chasing down suspects and hopping fences. This should come as encouraging news to any armed suspects who are considering making a run for it rather than being arrested and brought to justice.
But as I said above, there are some interesting statistics coming out of the WaPo study. For one thing, the racial breakdown of suspects killed by the police should be easy to guess if you just follow the breaking alerts on cable news. It’s mostly black people being shot by white cops, right? Interestingly enough it’s not even close. The total number of suspects killed by police actually comes in at 171 white to 100 black, with the rest of the dead being comprised of Hispanics, Asians, and “others or unknown.” (The papers still fail to break down how many of the former are just Hispanics or “White Hispanics” since we seem to have trouble wrestling that definition to the ground.)
Further, the common theme in the narrative journalism battle is that cops are constantly gunning down unarmed suspects. The Post is forced to admit that, well… not so much.
●The vast majority of victims — more than 80 percent — were armed with potentially lethal objects, primarily guns, but also knives, machetes, revving vehicles and, in one case, a nail gun.
●Forty-nine people had no weapon, while the guns wielded by 13 others turned out to be toys. In all, 16 percent were either carrying a toy or were unarmed.
Part of the hyperbole angle of the article comes with the thumbnail details provided for many, many instances of police shootings this year. The most prominent one is the young lady mentioned in the lede graf, named Jessie Hernandez. She is described in the article has having been “joyriding with her friends” in a stolen car. Joyriding is such a pleasant sounding word, isn’t it? Of course, in reality it means that she committed grand theft auto and ran from the cops. But that case has it all in terms of media catnip. The deceased is technically a child at age seventeen, female, Hispanic and a lesbian. That’s beyond a hat trick if you’re working on the bad cop narrative. But when you read into the details of the case, the autopsy found that she had alcohol and drugs in her system and the police involved in the incident all reported that she was attempting to use the stolen vehicle to run down the officers in a bid for freedom when she was killed. Now, her family points out that the angle of the bullets wounds and other items call that story into question, so it’s clearly worth a full investigation to find the truth, but it’s hardly some obvious case of deranged, rogue cops randomly shooting up civilians either. This is precisely how the media blows these stories out of proportion and fuels the fires in the streets.
In any event, as I said at the top, it’s a long and actually worthwhile report, so give it a look. At the very least it summons up some hard numbers rather than just interviewing a few activists and condemning all the cops in the nation outright.