Why is the Police Using Deadly Force against Black People?

Considering the spate of recent incidents involving what in some instances was the unjustifiably death of black men by the police, it would be an understatement to say that law enforcement has a serious problem.  Even if this is an understatement, this serious problem cannot be over emphasized.

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The abuse of black people by the police is certainly not anything new.  There is a long history of police abuse of black people that includes, profiling, false arrest, planting evidence on suspects, police brutality, and disregarding their constitutional rights.  What is new, however, is the increasing frequency of quick trigger response in shooting black people.

Starting with the shooting death of Michael Brown in Fergusson, Missouri last August, there has been at least six police shooting deaths or the use of excessive force that resulted in the death of black men.  This number does not include several other cases that did not receive TV coverage.  Some of these incidents caught on cell phone video by witnesses, provide disturbing evidence that the actions by the police seem unjustified.  That appears to be the case with Eric Garner when Staten Island, NY police took him down with a chokehold.  Then just recently, the media showed footage of police dragging a limp Freddie Gray of Baltimore, Maryland to a paddy wagon.  Gray later died from the injuries he sustained.  The most blatant use of police brutality occurred when the police fatally shot a fleeing Walter Scott in the back eight times.

The reaction of the media to the incidence of black men being killed by the police is to repeatedly cover everything (including any actual videotape footage) while not saying anything about the factors that are contributing to these problems.  Two factors that have become obvious are that the lives of black people are not important to the police and the training of police officers needs to be evaluated and revamped.

Why do I say that the police act as if the lives of black people don’t seems to be important to them? The simple answer is that the deadly force the police use and black people is clearly unnecessary and in some cases unjustifiable.  When unarmed black men are fatally shot by the police or brutally beaten up by more than one police officers then that is an indication that there is some deficiency in their training.

Several reasons seem to support the idea that the lives of black people are not important to the police.  Walter Scott who was shot in the back eight times white fleeing the police.  The dragging of the limp body of Freddie Brown to the paddy wagon by two police officers while he was in obvious pain is another example.  Eric Garner who yelled out to the officers who pinned him to the ground “I can’t breathe” eleven times are all incidents that indicate that the police don’t care about black lives.  If they did, they would have recognized that these men need quick medical attention and responded by calling quickly for such assistance.

While the media speculates about various things related to the death of black men by the police, they do not speculate about what is behind these frequent tragic incidents. Racism cannot be ruled out as a motivating factor. The history of police abuse of black people makes it easy to conclude this. Additionally, we do not see in the media white men being killed by the police.  FBI statistics show that significantly more whites are arrested than blacks at a ratio of 3:1.  Based on this statistics it is interesting to note that whites rarely experience police brutality like blacks do.

There is also another alarming statistics related to black and white treatment by the police.  According to a Huffington Post article, 1,217 deadly police shootings from 2010 to 2012 captured in the federal data show that blacks, age 15 to 19, were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police.  So, does this substantiate the claim that there is a racial component to the police use of deadly for on black people?  Based on the history of police abuse on blacks, we cannot dismiss race as a factor.

The stereotyping of black people by the police as suspects, criminals, and thugs contributes to the negative perception in the psyche of the police.  With this kind of psyche, the police do not use reason when they interact with black people who they automatically brand as suspects.  With the absence of reason, the police react with deadly force and, this results in the shooting incidents or the use of deadly force that have become national headlines in the media.

Because of the controversy involving police brutality and the use of deadly force against black people, there has been a call for police officers to wear body cameras.  While this will help shed some light on what transpired during an encounter between the police and black people it will not stop the deadly shooting or use of deadly force on unarmed black men. Another problem is that if there is no voice recording then the camera alone will not give the complete story.

The solution to these incidents of police brutality and use of deadly force must begin with training.  Training that emphasizes the treatment of all people (even “thugs”) with professionalism.  Training that will help to prevent police officers from acting on whatever racial prejudice they have against black people.  Like doctors who take the Hippocratic Oath to save the lives of people, the police should take a similar oath during their training to not only serve and protect the public but to save lives of people.  Police training should include disabling unarmed individual by shooting them in the leg and not in the head or body to kill them.

If race is not the driving force in the use of deadly force by the police on unarmed black people, then whatever the reason is it needs to be prohibited.  It serves no good when an unarmed black man or anyone is killed by the police in a situation that is not justifiably or could have been avoided – not the public, not the relatives and friends of the victims, and certainly not the police officers involved who must live with their conscience.