"The first step in this process should be to start keeping proper and comparable statistics, which would allow us see where the problem is most severe, how the numbers are trending, and where police departments are doing a particularly good job, so that they might share best practice. "Not that this doesn't make perfect sense, it's just puzzling to note how little numerical perspective is available or given out in the relentless coverage about obviously unacceptable levels of violence. But informing the public isn't the motivator, enraging the public is, and that public is hungry for outrage and not too discriminating about its validity either. We'll take it where we can get it and we will resist having it taken away once we've made our minds up -- and once we have, facts become the enemy.
While events around the world seem to be increasingly frightening, with ignorant armies clashing day and night and loose cannons rolling about the Kremlin, it feels like major events are increasingly ignored when we find some local outrage to obsess about. I have to wonder why this case and why now? Is there a crisis in police shootings, an increase in questionable use of force? Is police racism and judicial system racism on the rise or are we being mislead?
It's hard to say and why that might be is hard to understand. Back in the 60's when I would enumerate the atrocities of law enforcement, the retort was "if you're a crime victim, who are you going to call, a hippie?" Neither our national sanity level or sense of humor has progressed much since, in my estimation. Perhaps we ought to replace e pluribus unum with non sequitur on the coinage.
I've been arguing that the police in the US are trigger happy and overly aggressive for longer than half the country has been alive, but is it getting worse or getting better? If I can believe the Officer Down Memorial Page shooting deaths of policemen is up 65% for 2014. That's astonishing. Has there been a corresponding change in civilians killed by police? You would think that if there had been, that data would be readily available. But it's not and that lack would be suitable for street demonstration, if statisticians did that sort of thing. What do we want? INFORMATION. When do we want it? NOW.
Nobody seems to know although some FBI figures would suggest the number is essentially static at about 400 per year. That's the last thing a newcomer to the US might suspect from looking around. How many of those are unavoidable? It depends entirely on whom you ask: his politics, age, ethnic identification, experience, occupation and what newspaper he reads.
Wouldn't you like to know why the US seems to have such a high level of police shootings instead of attributing it to one motivation? Of course there are more weapons here, but we have far more mentally ill people on the street and I'm guessing a large proportion of them are unable to find or afford medical care. You would think there would be an ocean of numbers readily available, but there aren't and that serves the interests of anyone selling solutions for their own reasons. I'm going to stick my neck out and suggest that there are people and corporations who make a living explaining and exploiting our social ills.
Without knowing the numbers, I remain puzzled and while of course I recognize that although mistakes happen and I recognize that restraint and caution are devoutly to be wished for, today's atmosphere of fear isn't helping. If the police have a legitimate and increased expectation of being shot or stabbed or run over (and yes, a large number are killed by cars) we've identified a factor in the equation. It would indeed be interesting to identify factors other than the difficult to illustrate presumption of universal racism. Interesting since I don't think there's any denying that certain minorities are more often on the wrong end of police weapons than the average. Of course that data isn't too meaningful unless we could get unbiased numbers about crime in different segments of the population and no, I wouldn't want to be part of conducting that survey!
And there's the rub. Looking for data and the ability to understand that comes from having it, is a bit like looking for the writings of Marx and Engels was back in the '50s - an indelible mark. Now as it was then, we will have witch hunts and character assassinations, slogans and suspicions until some other obsession takes its place and we can resume not giving a damn.