By Mili Chizhik, News Editor
*This article has been corrected to reflect that police violence is one of the leading causes of death in young men and not the leading cause.
“You must hate all cops and want the police system abolished,” “Black Lives Matter movement supporters believe that all white people are racist,” or my personal favorite, “the Black Lives Matter movement’s goal is to show that only Black people are important and no one else,” are examples of lines commonly thrown out in response to when I share my thoughts regarding the current sociopolitical unrest. Perhaps “favorite” isn’t the right word … “most frustrating to me” seems more fitting.
I generally don’t like to share my opinion on anything unless I have a solid foundation on the topic, therefore I rely on what the research and statistics show, rather than what someone posts on their Facebook page or Instagram story.
So, what does the research show? It was found that from 2013 to 2015, Black young males were 2.5 times more likely to be killed than their fellow white male citizens. One of the leading causes of death in young men is police violence (Edwards, 2019). So, this is a public health issue, just like controlling a disease or trying to eliminate sexual violence (Edwards, 2019). The belief that Black men are more violent is a catastrophic stereotype that has to be eradicated, otherwise America will have to face the tragic murders of more innocent citizens.
Okay, so we got the statistical data but what if these people were actually dangerous and pose a threat to the communities? Shouldn’t the police detain them and do what they must and not be penalized for doing their jobs?
Well, some might say that according to the sixth amendment, all citizens have a right to a speedy and just trial, therefore the accused policemen will many times be acquitted due to lack of evidence so as not to make a mistake of locking up an innocent citizen. No one can deny these principles, but why is a fair and speedy trial only given to the policemen and not given to the detainee of whom these policemen maimed or killed?
For example, one of the most notorious serial killers in the U.S., Ted Bundy, who killed and raped at least 30 women and escaped prison twice, violently resisted his final arrest and even so, was taken into the custody of the police unscathed. During the arrest, the policemen gave warning shots, chased after and tackled him, and then finally arrested him after him being on run for 5 years (Rule, 2008). If this despicable and clearly guilty person was able to stand trial and get the justice he deserved, despite his trail of cruel and tragic deeds, why do so many potential “criminals” not even make it to the judges bench or even to the jail cell?
Let’s take the claim that these people had known criminal histories. Some of these people did have undeniable criminal histories and they are not angels, but why is that even relevant to their deaths? The role of an officer is to maintain order and safety for their fellow citizens, and shooting to kill is not in the job description. If taking the history of these men is so important, then one must also take the history of the policemen into account. According to a study conducted in the Yale Law Journal, policemen who have a history of misconduct or have been fired and rehired are more likely to have instances of future misconduct (Grunwald, 2019). Furthermore, white officers are more likely to use force than their Black colleagues. While the Black officers don’t take more forceful actions based on race and purely on resistance of the arrestee, the white officers are more likely to use force based on race, with or without resistance, specifically when it comes to Black or African American citizens (Paoline III, 2018).
Rather than wasting our breaths and time with biased social media posts denying what the research shows, increasing awareness accurately must be the priority. This does not necessarily translate to defunding or abolishing the police forces, as many believe, but rather to have a better police education curriculum and a stronger vetting screening to recruit the people who we are supposed to look to protect us. The laws and regulations on firing police officers also must be changed because of their protective conditions that prevent officers who had a history of misconduct from being penalized.
Furthermore, the U.S. education curriculum must be modified to educate their students on the history of the U.S. from the lens of all minorities, especially through the devastating and troubling history of Black people in America. Both public and private schools are at fault for not teaching the full American history, thus the majority of the American people have a severe gap in their historical knowledge.
This is not to say that the lives of policemen or anyone who is not Black don’t matter, but there must be an acknowledgement of this public health issue. Approximately 1 out of 1000 young Black men are killed from police violence (Edwards, 2019); that is the same rate as the spreading of COVID-19 in New York City metro area circa mid- to late-March 2020. The lack of awareness or care of this racially specific disease of police violence not only demonstrates the priorities that this country has but its values, as well.
Our lack of knowledge of historical events and of this issue will have a cascading effect: it leads to inaccurate understandings and unethical belief systems and largely contributes to the perpetual systemic racism that is tightly-woven in the foundational fabric of our country, the land of the “free.” But please, do tell me more about how the killing of these victims was unjustified, but they had a criminal history/they were violently resisting arrest/fill-in-the-blank a reason to justify murder.
Edwards, Frank, et al. “Risk of Being Killed by Police Use of Force in the United States by Age, Race–Ethnicity, and Sex.” 2019, doi:10.31235/osf.io/kw9cu.
Grunwald, Ben, and John Rappaport. “The Wandering Officer.” Yale Law Journal, vol. 126, no. 6, 2019, pp. 1676–1783.
Paoline III, Eugene A., et al. “Race and the Police Use of Force Encounter in the United States.” British Journal of Criminology, vol. 58, no. 1, Jan. 2018, p. 54.
Rule, Ann. The Stranger Beside Me: The Shocking Inside Story of Serial Killer Ted Bundy (Updated). Pocket Books, 2008.