On August 30, Shawn Allen Hall became the 26th person to be shot and killed by law enforcement in the state of Oklahoma this year. There were 25 fatal police shootings in all of 2014, according to data collected by the Tulsa World. In nine instances, the victim was unarmed. All but one of the shootings has been ruled justified or is still under investigation. In the case of Eric Harris, an unarmed man shot by a sheriff's deputy during a gun sting, the deputy, Robert Bates, who says he thought he was using his Taser not his firearm, has been charged with second-degree manslaughter.
According to the Tulsa World, the number of police killings in Oklahoma has remained the same or gone up slightly every year snce 2009. The paper talked to the legal director of the state American Civil Liberties Union to ask about the spike in fatal police shootings. The answer:
Sadly, the trend is not surprising to me, just because I think that we've got really a perfect storm for police shootings in Oklahoma," ACLU of Oklahoma Legal Director Brady Henderson said…
"Trust and rapport between law enforcement and many citizens is at an incredible low," Henderson said.
"When citizens start thinking that way, what happens is their behaviors change," Henderson said. "They start behaving differently with officers in ways that become more combative, that become more stressful to the officers, which means what happens, the officers start fearing for their safety and so the hands start going closer to the triggers on both sides," Henderson said.
It's not quite victim-blaming, but the suggestion police are shooting and killing more people because people don't trust the police is disturbing to say the least, leading to a frightening feedback loop of less and less trust and more and more police shootings.
The World also talked to a defense attorney who often represents police officers about the spike in fatal police shootings. His answer involved failings of the mental-health system, a somewhat standard answer in the effort to deflect responsibility from police actions. He also gave another answer that's become increasingly popular as a go-to excuse for police violence:
Recent shootings of police also have contributed to law enforcement officers being in a condition of "extremely high alert," [Scott] Wood said.
"They are in a state of condition red all the time," Wood said. "You can't just pull into the Wal-Mart under a streetlight to work on some reports and think you are going to be OK."
This is the worst kind of primitive, magical thinking, taking rare events, treating them as common, and then adapting your behavior based on that and not the collection of hard facts. It becomes even more frightening considering the ACLU legal director's suggestion—that the police's trust deficit contributes to behavior by victims of police violence that leads to their death—because it creates a negative feedback loop of violence.
As we've written here at Reason, there is no war on cops. There's no evidence police shootings are on the rise, and the numbers are well below the contemporary high of 2007, before there was a national police reform movement and sustained media attention on which to blame the killings.
Yet police apologists are responding to fatal shootings of police officers in a way they never did before coverage of fatal shootings by police officer became somewhat systematic in mainstream media. Police officers are far more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than to be shot and killed in the line of duty. Yet that's not causing any sustained effort to change anyone's behavior.
Perhaps to understand the ridiculousness of their position, police apologists should consider what the "war on cops" mentality would look like in reverse, if communities plagued by police violence were to respond as if police were waging a war on them. Such rhetoric about a "war on cops," and the attempt to use it to support resistance of police reform, is dangerous, because it contributes to a deficit in trust police apologists and even some police reformers say exacerbates the problem of police violence.