Police Abuse

Washington Post Undercounts Number of Unarmed Black Men Killed by Cops, Misses Bigger Picture

Solutions to police violence have to focus on systemic problems, not demographic appearances.

|

Alan Cleaver/Foter.com

year ago yesterday, the killing of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson, a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, catapulted the issue of police violence onto the national stage. After Brown's death, subsequent cases of killings by police received more attention than they likely otherwise would've.  

Even killings that happened before Brown's, like that of Eric Garner, who was killed by police on Staten Island last July after being accused of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes, garnered more attention afterward. Garner's death saw protests in New York CIty and around the country on a scale not seen when police shot and killed 18-year-old Ramarley Graham after chasing him into his grandmother's house over a small amount of marijuana. Freddie GrayWalter Scott, and even Sandra Bland subsequently became household names. If their deaths had occurred a few years earlier they would join the thousands of names of people killed by police unknown to Americans, like Graham, or David Lee Turner or Erik Scott or Ernesto Duenez or Bobby Bennett or Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams or even Seth Adams

This year, victims of fatal police violence are counted by the media in a way they never have before. Over the weekend, the Washington Post ran a long piece under the headline "Black and Unarmed" about the 24 unarmed black men fatally shot by police this year, based on their ongoing analysis of their database on fatal police shootings.  The Post does not offer a link to its database itself, but at least one other outlet has its own publicly available database. The Guardian has been collecting news reports of police killings this year and making the database available to the public online as a feature called "The Counted." The Guardian counts 26 unarmed black men fatally shot by police.  

It includes six cases not in the Washington Post's report, those of Denzel BrownSam HolmesKevin JudsonGlenn LewisDemeris Turner, and Andrew Williams, while categorizing four cases in the Post's report as something other than an unarmed black man fatally shot by cops. The Guardian lists Albert Davis' race as unknown and Victor Larosa's armed status as unknown. Lavall Hall and Bobby Gross are listed as "armed (other)" because they were alleged to have been armed, respectively, with a broom stick and a tree branch. The Post says it considers victims of police shootings holding "an object unlikely to inflict serious injury" as unarmed.  

Nevertheless the Post omits 23 other black men shot by police that The Guardian reports were armed with something other than a gun or a knife. The most recent, Darius Graves, barricaded himself in a motel room after being chased for allegedly committing a robbery. Police threw tear gas into his motel room and then shot him when he ran out with a steel pole. 

By focusing on fatal police shootings, the Post missed about 28 other unarmed black men killed by police in some other manner. By focusing only on unarmed black men, the Post can say that the number represents "a surprisingly small fraction of the 585 people shot and killed by police through Friday evening." The Guardian counts 704 people killed by police in the U.S. in 2015—about 83 percent of whom were shot. But less than half of the unarmed black men who were killed by police were shot. Ten died in police custody, including Jonathan Sanders and Freddie Gray. Four were struck by police vehicles—in each case police say it was an accident but in at least two cases, that of Bernard Moore and Bryan Overstreet, the families are questioning the police narrative. Fourteen unarmed black men died after being Tased. 

Of the two black women killed by police this year, one was among four people fatally struck by police vehicles in New Jersey alone, and another, Natasha McKenna, died after being Tased while shackled in a Virginia county jail. While authorities insisted her death was accidental, and that psychoactive medications and her state of "excited delirium" contributed to it, the jail temporarily stopped using Tasers after the incident. 

The Washington Post points out that its 24 fatal police shootings of unarmed black men make up 40 percent of all shootings while black men make up only 6 percent of the U.S. population. But there have been no reports of police shooting and killing an unarmed black woman this year. They make up 6 or 7 percent of the population too, but no one would suggest there's not a problem with policing when it comes to black women. More than 90 percent of the victims of fatal police shootings are men, 

The Post says it found unarmed black men are seven times more likely to be shot and killed by police, an incredible statistic that points to a big racial problem in policing, and the hiring and firing thereof. But were unarmed black men  killed by police at the same rate as unarmed white men, there would still be more than 40 fatal police shootings of unarmed people in the U.S. this year. There have actually been 65—while 85 other unarmed people died in police custody some other way, more from Tasers than any other method. 

What most of these cases have in common, across race, gender, and age, is that the officers involved get away with it. Cases like Freddie Gray's and Walter Scott's, where police officers were charged criminally, are the exception. Police officers across the country enjoy a wide array of privileges "civilians" involved in homicides don't. Even in the case of Freddie Gray, where the police officers had 10 days to speak to investigators about what happened, the six cops facing charges related to Gray's death all remain on the payroll of the Baltimore Police Department.  

Police officials and police unions complain that the new national mood is turning police officers into targets, on the streets and in the courts. The Washington Post points out 18 cops have been shot and killed in the line of duty—but not that this is a 25 percent decrease from last year, or that police work is getting safer. And where police unions and officials argue there's a problem of overprosecuting cops—setting aside for a moment the absolute absurdity of this argument when most cops don't face charges after killing someone—the employment protections they've carved out for law enforcement have contributed to the problem. In many jurisdictions it's almost impossible to fire a cop absent a criminal conviction. All six Freddie Gray officers, again, are still employed. A lack of meaningful accountability for homicidal misconduct helps create an environment where such misconduct will of course continue. 

The fetishization of the racial aspect of police violence at the expense of any other factors by much of the mainstream media means those systemic problems, and others, that contribute to police violence are ignored. The case of Zachary Hammond, an unarmed white teenager shot during a sting over 10 grams of marijuana, for example, illustrates the drug war's role in police violence. Many police shootings, of people of all races, armed and unarmed, are drug-related. Drug-related violence, state or otherwise, is almost entirely fueled by the government's classification of drugs as illegal substances. Hammond was white, so he's not on the Post's list. But The Root covered Hammond's case last week, pointing out that the "All Lives Matter" crowd had not drawn attention to Hammond, while police reform activists operating under the banner of "Black Lives Matter" had. Hammond's attorney complains the case has not received as much attention as its controversial nature deserves because the dead unarmed teenager is white.  

As Jacob Sullum notes, the main lesson in Hammond's case is the depravity of the drug war, and the support that war continues to enjoy. Sullum highlighted one quote from a resident responding to the fatal shooting: "We're so thankful here in Oconee County that our police departments and sheriffs and things like that, that they're on top of the drug problems and trying to eliminate all drugs and everything." There is a statement that is pretty typical of the white community. The All Lives Matter crowd The Root refers to isn't one that's interested in police violence as it applies to all races, but one that tries to downplay state violence because of the lives the state saves by, say, throwing people in jail for the things they put in their bodies. Eliminating "all drugs and everything."  

The mainstream media's narrow interest in police violence as a racial problem misses a police violence epidemic that crosses racial and class lines. Hammond's cases is pretty close to what Toni Morrison said would be an indicator of the end of racism—an unarmed white teenager shot in the back. And Hammond isn't the first unarmed white teenager killed by cops who got away with it. It doesn't mean racism is over. Just as if police killed unarmed people of all races at the same rate—even if that rate were the one they currently kill unarmed white people at—there would still be a police violence problem. 

Until cops can be fired for displaying malicious tendencies—even before they kill—until cops are no longer ordered to go into largely poor communities to zealously enforce petty laws meant at raising revenue, until the community-police relationship is really treated as one of master-servant, in that order, there will continue to be plenty of names to count and talk about.

NEXT: California City Pays People to Stay Away From Guns

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. subsequently became household names. If their deaths had occurred a few years earlier they would join the thousands of names of people killed by police unknown to Americans

    Not entirely true. The media has a long history of highlighting black men shot in questionable circumstances. Amadou Diallo, for instance was mentioned regularly on NPR back in the day.

    http://www.nydailynews.com/new…..-1.2095255

    1. And even today cops can’t identify threats correctly.

  2. Just as if police killed unarmed people of all races at the same rate?even if that rate were the one they currently kill unarmed white people at?there would still be a police violence problem.

    The people who are complaining aren’t complaining about police violence in principle. They’re complaining that it is applied disproportionately towards minorities. If the cops killed unarmed people of all races at an equal rate, or killed whites at a disproportionately high rate, then the only people complaining would be bitter clingers who, as we all know, don’t matter a whit to anyone.

    1. Medal of Freedom honoree Toni Morrison recently admitted as much, “I want to see a cop shoot a white unarmed teenager in the back,” the talentless cunt said, “And I want to see a white man convicted for raping a black woman.”

      http://dailycaller.com/2015/04…..ll-em-too/

      1. Well, open your eyes then, racist beeotch.

      2. because neither of those things ever happened. Good grief; it is only in America that someone like Toni Morrison is possible.

        1. Exceptionalism!

      3. Another link on that article involves charges against a man who burned a memorial to a slain police officer. But police are free to destroy memorials to the people they’ve killed.

      4. Toni Morrison has some fucked up sexual fetishes.

      5. She got her wish with that kid from South Carolina.

    2. They’re complaining that it is applied disproportionately towards minorities.

      This is why the issue is becoming an ever-increasing yawner to me, at least in contemporary context. We’ve gone from serious questions about police practice, to the Bernie Sanders rally in Seattle this past weekend.

      The Professional Minority bunch have hijacked this for another cheap spotlight with no rhyme or reason (indeed, the one most clearly justified shooting in all of these incidents was Michael Brown in Ferguson – yet it remains the locus of the ’cause’ whatever that is), and the establishment will acquiesce and perform the appropriate Kabuki shit (check Hillary out at the Urban League). We will probably get some exceptionally shitty laws out of this, and lawyers will clean up in a couple niches, and the big wheel keeps turning other than that.

      Boring.

      1. We will probably get some exceptionally shitty laws out of this, and lawyers will clean up in a couple niches, and the big wheel keeps turning other than that.

        Yep.

    3. Exactly. SJWs hate the sort of people who call themselves “colorblind” because they have the exact opposite problem: they have no concept of right and wrong unless the situation can be perceived in the context of the progressive stack.

      If gun wielding Muslims murder a group of white atheist cartoonists for insulting their faith, they can’t say much about it, because it’s outside of the progstack (that is, the victims were “punching down”). Had they been murdered by white Christians, it would be an atrocity, because white atheists are somewhat higher on the stack (though not much).

      If a white cop murders a black man, that falls in range of the narrow moral illumination provided by the progstack. If an asian cop murders a white man, that does not. A major part of the problem is that, as its roots are in Marxism, the state itself is simply taken for granted — despite a cop being more privileged than most members of society, there is no “cop versus civilian” aspect of the progstack.

      1. Principals, not principles.

        (yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s old and tired, but that doesn’t make it untrue)

        1. it’s tired for a reason. A good reason.

      2. A major part of the problem is that, as its roots are in Marxism, the state itself is simply taken for granted — despite a cop being more privileged than most members of society, there is no “cop versus civilian” aspect of the progstack.

        Beautifully said, and a perfect summation of why the Left cares about state violence only when it affects one of their preferred demographics.

      3. “Had they been murdered by white Christians, it would be an atrocity, because white atheists are somewhat higher on the stack (though not much).”

        As a white atheist, my experience, and history prove this statement to be false, at least in the US. Atheists are considered lower than whale shit, particularly in law.

        1. Even by SJWs? I mean, I get that even with them, you’re pretty low on the list (it is a religion, after all, with a god of sorts), but I assumed that animosity toward Christians kept you off the very bottom.

  3. Good Post, Ed, well sed.

  4. Referring to the Diallo case above, please find this gem:

    Referring to the officers, Police Commissioner Howard Safir said last night, “I’m hoping they’ll come forward and tell us what happened, but at this point it’s very hard for me to make a judgment because I have very few facts.”

    This of course weaves into the irrefutable fact that cops are held to lower standards than the general public.

    Imagine if I were involved in a questionable shooting. Can you imagine the Police Commissioner hoping that I would “come forward and tell him what happened” because he was left with precious “few facts”?

    1. I don’t know about that. I can remember police chiefs, after some altercation in an area where residents (for good reason) don’t trust the police, saying something to the effect of “I’m hoping that members of the community will come forward and tell us what happened.” The difference of course is that cops have a duty to do so, while we peasants do not.

      1. You’re talking about something else entirely.

        Referring to the officers, Police Commissioner Howard Safir said last night”.

        I’ve re-read the article twice to make sure I haven’t misunderstood. The commissioner is referring to the officers who fired the weapons. You’re referring to distrustful people in a neighborhood who may or may not be witnesses.

        When do the police hope that the shooter comes forward to explain his side of the story?

        1. I got the impression that the officers in question were witnesses, not participants. My bad.

          1. One neighbor said he looked out his window and saw one cop with his gun drawn, screaming an obscenity. Another neighbor said she saw a cop throw his cap down in disgust.

            “The police don’t have any reason to shoot someone so many times,” said Demba Sanyang, 39. “We need an explanation. We are ready to pursue this to the highest levels.”

            Referring to the officers, Police Commissioner Howard Safir said last night, “I’m hoping they’ll come forward and tell us what happened, but at this point it’s very hard for me to make a judgment because I have very few facts.”

            I dunno man, this seems like typical union shenanigans. Police officers involved are off-limits to investigators until they get their stories straight:

            Steven Worth, a Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association attorney, said “a full explanation will reveal that the officers acted properly.”

            A full explanation WILL REVEAL… stories straight, they take time in getting.

            1. Disgusting. In a just world they would all be held in separate cells, being interrogated by manipulative liars. Oh, wait. THEY are the manipulative liars. Never mind.

            2. Charges were filed to keep NYC from burning. Then the case was moved to Albany County where the county prosecutor is a fucking pussy who sucks cops.

  5. Washington Post undercounts number of unarmed black men killed by cops

    So what is their count of unarmed white men killed by cops? Did they undercount that too?

    1. They didn’t count it at all. And why should they? White people don’t count.

      1. What about puppies? Where’s the puppy count? Aren’t PETA going to join us libertarians on this one and demand the puppy count?

        1. You kidding? Those cops are only setting those poor animals free from their criminal masters!

  6. Washington Post Undercounts Number of Unarmed Black Men Killed by Cops

    Well, no wonder. As some, um. one indicated in the AM Lynx, the Post probably is not counting people who self-identify as Black.

  7. I propose a reform: any pig who discharges his weapon on duty is fired, no questions asked. Or if that’s too harsh, how about he’s fined 25% of his annual salary? You’d be sure that cops would only kill people when they actually feared for their lives then, at least.

    1. Hold them to the same standards as the peasants who serve them and I’d be satisfied.

      1. Works for me.

      2. Never gonna happen when the holders and the holdees are pals.

        1. Of course it will never happen. Which is why I set my expectations very low. Otherwise life would be a constant state of disappointment.

      3. Hold them to the same standards as the peasants who serve them and I’d be satisfied.

        This is way for progtards to get their ‘common-sense’ gun control passed – if such shit applied equally across all civil society. I’m only allowed to have .38 snub is it? Then that goes for the fuzz, the DEA, the FBI, the ATF, etc.

        Think progtards are for that though? Fuck no. Such a political situation contrived to force progs telling us why that’s a bad idea would help 2nd Amendment rights more than any NRA ad-buy.

        1. Can I buy you another drink?

        2. I once attempted to argue with the loons on AlterNet that we should arm ourselves to defend against corrupt, murderous cops. Their response was that since cops are now so heavily armed it would be suicide to oppose them with our legal weapons. So, we should just give up all our weapons and hope for the best.

          1. Yeah.. the even more so heavily armed U.S. military whipped ass in Iraq, and Afghanistan in putting down inferior equipped and trained insurgents.. except for when they didn’t.. The police agencies would go apeshit, and shoot their wads for the first couple of days of a popular uprising against them. Then.. they would start thinking about their own safety.. and that of their own families that live in those hostile communities… Kids got to go to school, wife/husband to work, and.. they all gotta go home.. sometime..

        3. +1 The Outsiders

    2. Realistically, here’s what would happen: “You fired your gun while on duty with the Dallas PD? We’re not worried about that here in Ft. Worth. Welcome aboard.”

      1. Realism?

        *checks URL*

        *checks again*

        …Realism?

      2. You forgot “Oh, and we’ll reimburse you for the time you spent between jobs. It’s not our money, what do we care?”

    3. How about disarming cops British style?

      1. Everyone should go armed almost everywhere, cops included. On second thought, hat’s actually a good idea. No duty gun but let them carry as private citizens. Cops would be barred from using a firearm offensively to force compliance.

        1. Cops on duty would have to beg armed citizens for assistance. Not many people will assist a cop beat down for selling loosies.

        2. The idea of personal carry for the fuzz would be interesting social development.

    4. I don’t think it’s fair to fire someone or fine them five figures for defending themselves. Sometimes cops have perfectly legitimate reasons for shooting. But make it, say, $100 per bullet. That way it’s worth the money if the situation really requires it, but is still some sort of a disincentive. At least they’d be less likely to empty their magazines if it cost them $1000.

      1. “I don’t think it’s fair to fire someone or fine them five figures for defending themselves.”

        That’s exactly what would happen to you or me. We don’t get union paid legal representation when we act in self defense, but cops get it for murder as a matter of right.

        Fuck the “Police Officer Bill Of RIghts.” Fire up the woodchipper.

    5. Suspended without pay in anticipation of termination, pending full review of the circumstances.

      And cop unions should be handled under RICO.

  8. WaPo: blacklivesmatter…

    …to the bottom line

  9. Lenin, Khomeini, Chavez, Castro all had disliked the cops…while they were in opposition that is. Not sure what Hitler felt about cops in Weimar, but I doubt he liked the cops who tried to stop the SA or the ones who stopped the Beer Hall Putsch.

    1. Not sure what Hitler felt about cops in Weimar

      Funny you mention that. Hitler became affiliated with the proto-Nazi party as an informant for (I believe) Bavaria’s internal security service. That guy loved secret-policey shit from day one.

  10. Just as if police killed unarmed people of all races at the same rate?even if that rate were the one they currently kill unarmed white people at?there would still be a police violence problem.

    Not to mention that black cops are perfectly willing to shoot people, including other blacks (isn’t the cop who received the worst charge in the Freddy Gray case black?) even in countries that are not “white-ruled” like Haiti or Zimbabwe.

  11. The Post says it found unarmed black men are seven times more likely to be shot and killed by police, an incredible statistic that points to a big racial problem in policing, and the hiring and firing thereof.

    Why is that incredible?

    The fetishization of the racial aspect of police violence at the expense of any other factors

    You! You, right there! You shut the fuck up, sit down, and feel ashamed of yourself, right now.

    1. The Post says it found unarmed black men are seven times more likely to be shot and killed by police

      Unarmed black men are (at least) multiple times more likely to be shot by…another black guy. Me see pattern with black guys getting blown away in general. I’m sure Black Twitter is on the case.

  12. “Solutions to police violence have to focus on systemic problems, not demographic appearances.”

    But the Progressive Theocracy doesn’t *want* solutions to police violence, they want increasing violence from police and citizens.

  13. Wow, shocking Reason who endorse such a pathetic leftist piece of garbage. Why didn’t the race-hustling author include the number of unarmed white people killed by cops? Furthermore, yes cops are sometimes encouraged to write tickets for revenue generation. However to believe that cops go into dangerous, high crime minority neighborhoods to enforce petty laws in order to raise revenue – proves the author is either profoundly ignorant or a clueless nitwit.

    1. However to believe that cops go into dangerous, high crime minority neighborhoods to enforce petty laws in order to raise revenue – proves the author is either profoundly ignorant or a clueless nitwit.

      My, don’t you look like an asshole now.

  14. Barry Obomber – smoked the reefer in his youth while listening to Rick James’ jam Mary Jane.

    What was he thinking ? Hmmm, when I become President, I will continue the drug war. This reefer is so good it’s bad, real bad.

    Now the drug war is being continued by Barry, he of the chum gang.
    http://www.obamachoomgang.com/index.html

    This drug war is not only a violation of our natural liberty but un Constitution. To add the final dagger, it is racist at its very core.

    And yet this odious drug war has continued for decades because of key support from both major political parties.

    Notable members of the political elite who have supported said war = Joe Biden, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Elizabeth Warren, Chris Christie, FDR

    This vile drug war – I will not rest util it is stamped out, squashed, and obliterated from America.

    Of this I do swear.

    Rockabilly Rick

  15. “The fetishization of the racial aspect of police violence at the expense of any other factors by much of the mainstream media means those systemic problems, and others, that contribute to police violence are ignored. ”

    Which in turn means problem will continue unabated, I don’t think the media cares about solving problems, only exploiting them. Of course it’s not really their job to solve problems. It’s their job to sell stuff. Exploiting racial and other divisions does that. Unfortunately too many people get not only their news and information from the media but their opinions as well.

  16. They got a white guy the other day. Why isn’t that being given roughly 50% of the coverage? Hrmph. My problems are the real ones!

  17. I’m sympathetic to this narrative, but living in a part of the country where a lot of low income black men also live, I am wary that a disparity in outcomes based just on race is enough to draw any conclusions.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.