Police shootings of unarmed citizens remained in the national spotlight as 2015 concluded. The Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) reported that a review of police shootings in Georgia revealed that 184 persons were shot and killed from 2010 to 2015. Of these, approximately 50 percent were either unarmed or shot in the back. Yet, according to the AJC, each shooting was ruled lawful.
The review, which was a joint investigation conducted by the AJC and WSB-TV, concluded that blacks were more likely to be shot in the back or when unarmed than whites. The review also revealed that 78 percent of the officers involved in the shooting were white.
The Washington Post published its own findings from a similar review of national data. Post reporters found that 55 police officers across the nation who killed someone while on-duty in 2015 had been involved in fatal shootings previously.
Media organizations began looking more closely at this data after the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown’s death, and the subsequent decision by a grand jury not to indict the police officer who shot him, sparked the Black Lives Matters movement and protests around the nation. (Click here to read about last month’s protests regarding the Tamir Rice case in Cleveland, Ohio.
Yet, with all that has happened in the last year or so, data about police shootings is hard to compile.
“It’s a national embarrassment,” criminologist Geoffrey Alpert told The Post. “We don’t even know how many times cops pull their triggers.”
The frustration of experts such as Alpert and the general public has only increased as more shootings have occurred. In Chicago, a graphic video showing teenager Laquan McDonald being shot by a police officer raised more questions and sparked public outrage. McDonald, who was killed in November 2014, can be seen walking away from police officers in the video. Yet, he was shot 16 times including while he laid on the ground either unconscious or dead.
The December shooting deaths of 19-year-old college student Quintonio LeGrier and his 55-year-old neighbor Bettie Jones – who Chicago police said was shot accidently – have raised concerns about whether or not policing is conducted differently in black communities than in white ones. The decision by police to use lethal force at the scene of the incident involving LeGrier, who has been described as “emotionally troubled”, has been criticized by LeGrier’s family and law enforcement experts.
“Where was the Taser?” Cheryl Dorsey, a retired Los Angeles police sergeant, asked during an interview with CNN. “Why didn’t they deploy a Taser? Deadly force should have been used (by police) as a last resort and not a first resort.”
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, as much a target of public criticism as police tactics have been, announced last month that all Chicago police officers on patrol will have a Taser.
“Just because you are trained that you can use force, doesn’t mean you should,” Emanuel said during a December press conference.
Even with the issuance of Tasers to Chicago police officers, it may take some time to change the perception that there is inequity in policing. A survey by Gallup found that only 35 percent of blacks believe that they are treated the same as whites by police. And analysis by the Post found that unarmed black men were seven times more likely to be killed by police than white men.
An old saying states that perception is reality. But when it comes to policing and race, reality includes not just perception but of some very disheartening facts.