State Murder or Self Defence and Public Protection? Police Shootings in the USA
850 people have been shot and killed in the USA this year by the Police. By the time that you are reading this, the number will be higher. On average 1000 people are shot and killed by the police every year which is a shockingly high number but should we be surprised? The USA is the home of the gun and for gun crime so perhaps this figure is inevitable?
According to estimates, there are an estimated 393 million guns in the hands of private individuals so it is understandable perhaps that sometimes the forces of law and order can b a little jumpy on the trigger?
How many people are fatally shot by the police each year?
On average three people a day are shot and killed by the police everyday. In total, it adds up to approximately 1000 fatal shootings each year. This figure is shocking to people outside the USA. In most European countries the annual total of police shootings is around the same as a daily total of police shootings in America.
Police killings in 2019 were carried out across all the US states in 2019. The highest number was carried out in California which saw 120 fatal shootings. Texas came second with 86 shootings and in third place was Florida with 51 fatal shootings. North Carolina on the eastern seaboard had the highest count of 33 killings but the southern states fared much better with only 18 fatal police shootings in Louisiana for example.
According the 2019 figures, the safest places to live when it comes to police shootings are North Dakota or Wyoming which at the point of writing had experienced zero police killings.
So how many people are killed by homicide?
It’s a sad fact that homicide is also a big problem in the USA. In 2018 there were 1789 murders carried out in California alone out of which guns played a major role. Again Texas scored highly on the murder rate with 1322 murders and Florida with 1107.
These figures suggest that high levels of murder have a correlation with police shootings so it seems likely that the Police are expecting that any incident will lead to someone pulling a gun, so shoot first. But this is only part of the story.
A whopping 40, 000 people were killed by shooting in 2018. These figures include accidental shootings, suicide and homicide.
Who is most at risk from police shootings?
If you ask anyone who is most at risk from police shootings, the quick answer will be African American males. In 2014 the fatal shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson sparked nationwide protests and there have been numerous incidents and riots over police brutality that seems to be targeted at black people in particular.
Some figures suggest that black men are 16 x times more likely to be killed by the police than any other social group. However the statistics do not support the claims that only young black men are at risk from the police.
According to The Black Lives Matter group,” In the five years since Mike Brown Jr was murdered and the streets of Ferguson, Missouri erupted, police across the United States have killed more than four thousand people, a quarter of them African American.”
This is a shocking statistic of course but it shows that although a ¼ of the people killed by the police were African Americans, the other ¾ of police victims were not. It seems to suggest that the true figures may be less racially sensitive than one might imagine.
According to statistics compiled by the Washington Post, the truth is hard to make any type of generalisations about who and why anyone is likely to be shot by the police.
In 2019 up to the time of writing 172 black people were shot and killed by the police. Hispanic people accounted for 138 of the deaths and white people made up the biggest group at 257 people.
So based on statistics and contrary to popular belief, the most likely at risk group is a white male aged 45 and upwards. This is not what we see on the news when police killings can lead to rioting and further disturbances.
Mental illness plays a role too. Mentally ill people make up around 25% of people killed by the police – this figure may be higher because in many cases a mental condition may be undiagnosed. If a mentally ill person fails to respond to a police warning they run the risk of being fatally wounded for no real reason and many people have been killed by the police in this way. With the lack of affordable health care many people in the USA have serious mental illnesses which are undiagnosed.
Women are less likely to be a victim of police shooting. Figures suggest that 5% of victims are likely to be female.
Perhaps we need to look at some criminal statistics to understand what is going on more fully?
Who are the criminals in the USA?
The biggest criminal is without a doubt, poverty. Poverty leads people into committing crimes and getting involved with gangs in the first place. Young people are most at risk of being drawn into gangs. Poverty, a lack of life chances and a lack of education leads people into criminal behaviour and that generally means guns.
According to the US Dept of Justice, African Americans accounted for 52% of murders in 2013 and Whites 45.3% but in truth, studies indicate that deprived areas with low socioeconomic status have the greatest correlation of crime with young and adult males rather than issues of race alone.
Despite the fact that murders are carried out by all races, African Americans used to be disproportionately more likely to be spending time in prison for a wide range of crimes. However this gap has narrowed over the last decade.
How many police officers are shot in the line of duty?
Although the statistics on the number of people that law enforcement officers kill on a daily basis are shocking, it is important to remember that police officers do face dangers in their line of work.
The risk of being fatally shot at work is high. Over a 30 week period in 2019, 39 police officers were shot and fatally wounded. There is no real pattern to their deaths. Some were killed while responding to domestic disturbances or robberies. Some were ambushed.
In 2018 there were 47 police officers killed while on duty, again for a range of reasons and in different scenarios which included, attending traffic violations, investigating stolen vehicles, carrying out drug searches and attending domestic violence calls.
In most cases, especially with traffic violations, the incident turned to violence unexpectedly. The law enforcement officers killed were operating all over the USA in city and in rural locations.
Is arming the police even a good idea?
One problem with arming the police is that everyone knows that you are likely to get shot if the officer decides to shoot you or gets jumpy. And although police officers have been tragically killed in their line of work, this is only a small percentage when compared to the high number of civilians that the police kill every day.
In the UK the British police are unarmed and although some people have questioned this policy, the overriding opinion of serving police officers is that arming the police only escalates the problem and leads to more violence. Since 2018 only four people have been shot by the UK police force.
Since 1945 only 250 serving police officers have been fatally shot. That is 250 too many of course but is a drop in the ocean when compared to the statistics in the USA.
Since the rise in terrorism, there is an increased number of specialist armed policemen but in general the police are happy to remain unarmed.
Are there too many guns in the USA?
Police shootings are only part of the problem in the USA. The problem lies at the heart of the culture and the Nation’s obsession with guns. Every year there are thousands of accidental shootings that take place under a range of scenarios.
One issue that has captured the imagination of the world is the phenomenon of toddler shootings, where a pre school child finds a loaded gun and shoots someone, often mom, dad or another family member.
“Toddler shoots Mom in car “is a sadly common headline. It takes place whenever a loaded gun has been left in the car and the child uses it. This has happened all across the USA on a regular basis in states including Indiana, Idaho, Florida, Pittsburgh, Louisiana. In many cases it has led to fatalities.
If you live in a country where even the toddlers are armed, it is hardly surprising that that police shootings are also common.
Shootings are so common in the USA that there are even specialist cleaning companies which make a living out of clearing up sites and removing blood and guts after a shooting has taken place.
The USA was built on an idea of freedom and the right to bear arms and this has never changed. When you consider just how many guns are out there in the hands of the public – an estimated 339 million, it is surprising that there are not more shootings.
Guns are a fundamental part of American culture and history. Gun ownership is written into the constitution as a right. The second amendment reads,
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a Free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”
On a practical level, it would be impossible to remove all the guns. With tighter gun control all that would happen is that law abiding people would hand in their firearms leaving the guns in the hands of the criminals.
And if another gun was never sold in a store there are still 339 million guns in the country, laying around in drawers, locked away in cabinets and in some cases forgotten about but perfectly capable to be used at any time.
When it comes to police shootings we all need to keep calm. The job of a law enforcement officer is dangerous and although you may know that you are not going to shoot the officer when you are pulled over for a minor traffic violation, the officer does not know that. There have been some shocking mistakes it is true but it is also important to remember that many officers are killed each year, often when attending non threatening incidents such as traffic violations. CWP
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