On December 26 The Washington Post reported that police shot and killed 965 people in 2015.
The Post decided to count the number of fatal police shootings following the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014. Brown was unarmed, but was shot after trying to take Officer Darren Wilson’s gun away.
According to WAPO, the of persons shot was “compiled from interviews, police reports, local news accounts and other sources…[and includes] more than a dozen details about each killing, including the events that led to the fatal encounter, whether the slain person was armed, and demographic data on each person.”
They report that “the great majority of people who died at the hands of the police fit at least one of three categories: they were wielding weapons, they were suicidal or mentally troubled, or they ran when officers told them to halt.” After introducing these categories, WAPO quickly shifts to a fourth–instances in which those shot were unarmed–and reports that nearly half the unarmed persons shot by police were black.
WAPO reports, “Although black men make up only 6 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 40 percent of the unarmed men shot to death by police this year.” On the other hand, the paper reported that the “majority” of people shot for “attacking someone with a weapon” or brandishing a gun were white, but those who were shot after doing less than this “were black or Hispanic” 60 percent of the time.
WAPO touched on the role video now plays in officer-involved shootings, explaining that such video can be “damning evidence” against the officer or “a clear defense.” They reported that “police chiefs and politicians like video because in most cases it absolves officers of allegations of wrongdoing.”
One of the examples WAPO used was a video of the officer-involved shooting of David Kassick, an unarmed 59-year-old man who fled on foot after being pulled over by Officer Lisa Mearkle for a traffic violation.
Mearkle tasered Kassick to end the foot chase and he subsequently fell to the snow-covered ground. While lying there, video showed him reach “toward his jacket pocket” more than once. At the same time, Mearkle gave commands which Kassick ignored. Mearkle is convinced that Kassick is reaching for a gun, so she shoots, killing Kassick. In November a grand jury acquitted Mearkle of any wrongdoing.
The FBI is working to put up a real-time tracking system where officer-involved shootings will be part of a “database to be made public by 2017.” The FBI’s Stephen L. Morris said the real-time system is part of the bureau’s response to “outcry” who “want to know what police are doing, and they want to know why they are using force.”
Follow AWR Hawkins on Twitter: @AWRHawkins. Reach him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.