Unless you never turn on the television or go on the internet, then you likely know American police kill hundreds of people every year with impunity. 1,127 — that is the number of lives brought to an end by "peace officers" in the land of the free in 2020. One-thousand, one-hundred, and twenty seven lives taken by the bullets, tasers, vehicles, fists, and knees of American cops.
If the governments of other countries were killing their citizens in such large numbers, the United Nations would have declared it a humanitarian crisis. But in the land of the free, it's policy. Of the 1,127 deaths carried out at the hands of US cops, just 16 officers were charged in 2020.
According to a recent analysis of police killings in 2021, carried out by the folks at PoliceViolenceReport.org, the majority of police killings involve calls in which there was no crime or that the suspect is only suspected of a non-violent offense.
"Most killings began with police responding to suspected non-violent offenses or cases where no crime was reported," the report states.
It gets worse.
Of the 1,127 people killed by police in 2020, only 277 of them were suspected of a violent offense. The majority, 658 were suspected of a non-violent offense or no crime at all, while another 121 were killed over a traffic violation.
These shocking numbers highlight a major problem when it comes to how police are policing. For starters, police have proven their incompetence in dealing with mental health issues. Since 2015 alone, police in America have killed over 1,400 people during a mental health crisis. Many of these folks were never accused of a crime prior to police arriving on the scene.
This inability to resolve mental health issues without using deadly force is the impetus behind programs like the Support Team Assistance Response (STAR) program in Denver.
As TFTP has pointed out, even cops who voluntarily attend Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), have shown that they are quick to the trigger when dealing with the mentally ill.
The list of unarmed and often completely innocent mentally ill people killed by police is immense. TFTP archives are full of tragic stories in which police were called to help someone in a crisis and end up murdering them. People are killed even when they aren't in a crisis and simply act differently like Elijah McClain, who was on his way home from buying groceries and was murdered by police because he was an introvert and wore a ski mask.
This is why some municipalities have begun removing cops from the situation entirely.
On June 1, 2020, Denver began the Support Team Assistance Response (STAR) program, which sends a mental health professional and a paramedic to some 911 calls instead of cops. When we first reported on the program in October 2020, their results were fantastic. Now, it seems that departments who continue the old way are doing a disservice to the mentally ill.
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According to their latest data, STAR has responded to more than 2,500 calls to 911 in which police would have normally been sent out. The STAR team — armed only with experience and compassion — has never once called police to back them up and no one was ever arrested.
They have settled every single call without killing someone, beating them, ruining their lives, or using violence. Imagine that.
Another type of encounter which turns deadly all too often is the traffic stop.
While most everyone in America commits these same traffic infractions designed for revenue collection instead of safety, most of the people targeted by police for these crimes are the poor and minorities. Often times, officers treat these stops as gateways to fish for drug activity or other victimless crimes. While ending the drug war would have a much more profound effect, some municipalities have kicked around the idea of removing traffic stops from the mission of police officers.
Traffic stops in the land of the free, are a means of bolstering the prison industrial complex by extracting revenue from those who can pay and incarcerating others who cannot.
For those too poor to pay their tickets, routine traffic stops end up in repeated imprisonment due to mounting fines. Cities across the country are running a de facto debtors' prison this way.
When cops aren't routinely extorting and locking people up for petty traffic offenses, they are killing them.
Walter Scott was pulled over for a broken taillight. Scott—unarmed—ran away from the police officer, who pursued and shot him from behind, first with a Taser, then with a gun. Scott was struck five times, “three times in the back, once in the upper buttocks and once in the ear — with at least one bullet entering his heart.”
The list of folks killed over traffic stops is as long as it is infuriating.
This is why the City of Berkeley, California has proposed ending police traffic enforcement. The effects of such a radical shift in policing could be massive.
Though it is a step in the right direction, because government relies on revenue generated from traffic stops to fund itself, this proposal stops short of actually ending the practice of extorting citizens.
Instead, according to the report, Berkeley's City Council will vote on a proposal to create a Department of Transportation and use employees in that department to make traffic stops instead of Berkeley Police officers.
If the effects of this move are anything close to the STAR program, we could be well on our way to revamping the role cops play in the United States. And, the thousands of dead bodies over the last several years, is evidence enough that it is high time this happens.