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Brief # 14 Social Justice

Police Use of Deadly Force : Something Must Be Done 

By Erika Shannon 

May 1, 2021

The police use of deadly force  in America is a plague; the Washington Post reports that cops kill around 1,000 people per year, a number that has remained steady since 2015. There is an even bigger problem with the police use of deadly force – they disproportionally target black Americans in deadly force incidents, and this issue is unfortunately nothing new.

The numbers are alarming in cities across America. If we take a look at Minneapolis, where ex-police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd, Minneapolis Police use force against black people seven times more than against white people. Since 2015, there were 11,5000 instances of force documented in Minneapolis; at least 6,650 of those instances involved black people. While white people make up 60% of the population in Minneapolis, force was only used against them 2,750 times. These numbers are similar to the rest of the country, where black Americans are twice as likely to be killed by police as white Americans. The Washington Post reports that police will kill 36 out of a million black Americans, while police will only kill 15 out of a million white Americans. The statistics are troubling, considering that black Americans only make up 13% of the population, yet account for so many instances of police-involved deadly force.

Over the past several years, stories of police killing unarmed individuals have skyrocketed. This especially rings true in the black community, where many of the deadly force incidents are shocking and uncalled for. We often see the police shooting at people who are running away and no longer pose a threat to the officers, which sounds  backwards. Police are supposed to apprehend suspects, not slaughter them, and use deadly force only in self-defense, to prevent a serious offense against a person, to prevent the theft or use of nuclear devices/material, or to prevent a person escaping when they have committed one of the aforementioned reasons. Far too often, we see the police using deadly force when a suspect is merely running from the police. Examples of this include Daunte Wright in Minnesota, Jacob Blake in Wisconsin, Walter Scott in South Carolina, David Jones in Pennsylvania, and countless others. While Jacob Blake did not succumb to his injuries, he is paralyzed; the other men mentioned all perished.

It is very clear that something has to change when it comes to policing. Some cities like Chicago have already proposed revising their foot-pursuit policies within their police departments.On a national level, Congress has proposed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in an effort to reform policing in America. The overall goals of the bill are to help increase accountability for law enforcement misconduct, improve transparency within police departments, and eliminate discriminatory policing practices. The bill will create a national registry, called the National Police Misconduct Registry, to collect data on complaints and records of police misconduct. There will also be a framework established to prohibit racial profiling by police at the federal, state, and local levels, as well as an effort to limit the unnecessary use of force and restrict the use of no-knock warrants, chokeholds, and carotid holds.

The bill also facilitates federal enforcement of constitutional violations by state and local law enforcement; it does so by lowering the criminal intent standard to convict a law enforcement officer for misconduct in a federal prosecution, limiting  qualified immunity as a defense to liability in a private civil action against a law enforcement officer, and authorizing the Department of Justice to issue subpoenas in investigations of police departments with a pattern or practice of discrimination. These three main points of the House bill  are geared at punishing officers for using excessive deadly force  or using it  where it may not have been necessary in the first place. Lastly, the proposed legislation would direct the Department of Justice to create uniform accreditation standards for law enforcement agencies and require law enforcement officers to complete training on racial profiling, implicit bias, and the duty to intervene when another officer uses excessive force.

The newest version of the bill was introduced in late February, and passed the house in early March. While it is still not law yet, it is a promising move that could help reform policing in America. While police departments are run locally, federal funds are allocated to many of the 18,000 police departments across America. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act may not result in  immediate change even if it does end up clearing Congress and is signed by President Biden; however, there will be the implication that police departments must make efforts to comply or else they may lose some of their federal funding.

We need accountability for police in America, and federal legislation may be the spark that is needed to foster change at a local level. If no changes are made, the big problems that already exists will eventually spiral even more out of control.. When the numbers are broken down, police in the U.S. kill an average of three men per day. This is a problem, and those who do not believe it is a problem are in denial of what is right there in front of their eyes: police in America have deviated from their job description of “protecting life and property” and moved into a new territory that includes shooting and killing black Americans who are running from them.

ENGAGEMENT RESOURCES

  • Visit the Police Violence Report to see a map of 2020 police-involved killings.
  • To view the FBI’s National Use-Of-Force Data Collection, visit their webpage.
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