It’s no secret that the United States has a gun violence problem. It’s also no secret that the United States has a problem with police killing civilians. The following charts put the whole issue of police violence, and American gun violence, into perspective. It’s not a pretty picture.
According to the Washington Post, as of the end of May, police had fatally shot 385 civilians. That’s an average of over two per day, and it means that if that trend continues, by the end of 2015, police will have fatally shot almost 1,000 people. The overwhelming majority of victims of police shootings are male, and most are white, as shown in this chart.
The Post says that the vast majority (over 80 percent) of those shot by police were in possession of some sort of weapon. But 16 percent were either unarmed, or were carrying a toy weapon. The oldest police shooting victim was 83. There were eight who were under 18.
The Guardian started a database of U.S. police killings, which puts the number even higher. They count 470 civilians killed at the hands of police as of June 3. The most dangerous state to encounter police is Oklahoma, which ranks number one per capita, with 22 police killings so far this year. The safest are North Dakota, South Dakota, Rhode Island, and Vermont, where no one has been killed by police in 2015 so far.
We’re number one! We’re number one?
As sobering as it is to think about 400 or more people being killed by police in the first five months of this year, this is even more depressing. American police are killing more people than are most foreign criminals. Take a look at the following chart, with data from the United Nations Office On Drugs And Crime (UNODC).
When the chart is rearranged to show the number of gun homicides per 100,000 population, American police come out somewhat better, but the United States still leads the overall list.
Let that sink in. American police kill more people per capita than the total gun homicide rate in most western European countries. They kill at a higher rate than the murder rate in Israel, in the middle of the war torn Middle East. Why?
Some say the police are outgunned. In fact, Vice President Biden made that claim when calling for a new assault weapons ban. The Huffington Post called that claim into question, with a chart that shows that the trend in on the job police officer fatalities, as well as the trend in shootings of police officers, has generally been moving downward since 1990. But run a search using the term “police outgunned,” and you will find a number of stories about police claiming that they need more and more lethal weapons to counter the weapons they are facing. So, whether or not police are actually outgunned, they think they’re outgunned. Which puts civilians who encounter police in a dangerous situation.
What’s the solution, then? Fewer guns? That’s unlikely to happen. Better police recruiting and training? That would be a start. Ending the “war on drugs” would be a step in the right direction, as well, as many civilian encounters with police occur over minor drug possession issues.
Many Americans were rightly concerned over the more than 4,000 soldiers who were killed in Iraq. When do we become equally as concerned about our fellow Americans who are killed by our police? As recent events have shown, not everyone who meets his or her death at the hands of a police officer is guilty of a crime, or is a threat to the safety and wellbeing of that officer, or other citizens. Something has to change.
Feautred image via Stan Wiechers/Flickr