If anyone needed a reminder that America has a police brutality problem, the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile provided it. Actual numbers on violent police encounters are difficult to come by, but this dearth of data is getting more attention.
New research published in the British Medical Journal demonstrates the danger posed to citizens by the most routine police practice of a “legal stop.”
Researchers analyzed 12.3 million police interventions from 2012 and found that approximately 55,400 people were injured or killed by cops during legal stop and search incidents in one year. Of this number, about 1,000 were killed, with vast majority dying from gunshot wounds. The remaining 54,400 were hospitalized with serious injuries, mostly from blunt objects.
“On average, an estimated 1 in 291 stops/arrests resulted in hospital-treated injury or death of a suspect or bystander.”
Granted, some of these injuries or deaths were justified to protect officers or innocent people from actual violent people, but even the authors of the study conclude that these numbers reflect an “excess exposure” of people to police violence.
In an interview with Vocativ, lead author Ted Miller, of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, pointed out how many shooting deaths in the U.S. come from a police gun.
“In one in 11 cases where someone died because someone else intentionally shot them, a police officer pulled the trigger,” said Miller.
The fact that cops are responsible for almost 10 percent of firearm-related homicides in the U.S.—which already has an extraordinarily high rate of gun deaths relative to other countries—should be enough to cause a serious rethinking of policing across the country.
The new study also confirmed that minorities are targeted for stops at a far higher rate, although the likelihood of being injured or killed during that particular stop was equal for all groups.
“Blacks and Hispanics are much more likely to be arrested when the police stop them than Whites or Asians. This differential may well result from racism,” said Miller. “But once you are stopped or arrested, the likelihood that you will be killed or seriously injured during that police interaction does not depend on your race.”
Data showed “blacks were almost four times more likely than whites to be arrested or stopped by police.” This racial bias in policing has long been assumed, and research is starting to confirm this.
The death of Philando Castile demonstrated how ‘riding in a car while black’ can lead to the ultimate tragedy. Castile, who had been harassed by cops an unbelievable 52 times before, was killed for doing nothing more than reaching for his wallet—after informing the cop that he had a concealed-carry permit for the gun he possessed.
The entire incident started with Castile and his black girlfriend being pulled over for a purported broken taillight. Cops use these petty excuses to pull people over so they can escalate the situation in the hope of searching the vehicle for drugs or other “contraband,” especially when the occupants are blacks or Hispanics.
Even police chiefs are accepting these truisms and, in some cases, making changes within their departments.
Thomas Wydra, the police chief of Hamden, Connecticut, informed his officers that they should not be so concerned with “defective equipment” such as something hanging on the rearview mirror or an attachment on the license plate.
One year later, defective equipment stops dropped from 19 percent to 8 percent of all motor vehicle stops, which resulted in the number of black people being pulled over falling by 25 percent.
Here is one clear answer to the problem of police violence being confirmed through empirical studies.
Stop pulling people over for petty “violations.” Stop pulling people over as an excuse to look for drugs. Extend this to people walking, riding a bike or otherwise going about their own business.
Just leave people alone unless they are actually causing harm to another person, and maybe the extraordinary rate of cops injuring and killing people could start falling. There is a way to address police brutality if only we look at the numbers and implement the basic solutions they suggest.