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The toll of police violence and the moral cost

The toll of police violence and the moral cost

Who are the most likely to be killed in an encounter with police and what is the moral cost of police violence? These are questions being asked in light of law enforcement related deaths in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York.

Last August, Eric Males, at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, looked at which ethnic group is more likely to die in an encounter with law enforcement.

While recent killings by police in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City receive national attention, the fact is that from 1999 through 2011, American law enforcement officers killed 4,531 people, 96 percent by firearms and 96 percent of them men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.* The rate of police killings of African Americans has fallen by 70 percent over the last 40-50 years, but their risk remains much higher than that of Whites, Latinos, and Asians.

The five states or jurisdictions where a person is most likely to be killed by law enforcement are New Mexico, Nevada, District of Columbia, Oregon, and Maryland. California ranks sixth from the top. Alabama, North Carolina, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New York are the safest (or, perhaps, the worst at reporting).

The major counties and urban jurisdictions with the highest rates of law enforcement killings are Wyandotte County (Kansas City); Denver County, Baltimore (city), Norfolk (city), and Anderson County, South Carolina; interestingly, Harris County (Houston) has the lowest reported rate. Fresno, Riverside, Kern, San Bernardino, and San Diego have the highest rates in California; Contra Costa has the lowest.

The racial group most likely to be killed by law enforcement is Native Americans, followed by African Americans, Latinos, Whites, and Asian Americans.

Native Americans, 0.8 percent of the population, comprise 1.9 percent of police killings. African Americans, 13 percent of the population, are victims in 26 percent of police shootings. Law enforcement kills African Americans at 2.8 times the rate of white non-Latinos, and 4.3 times the rate of Asians.

Latinos are victimized by police killings at a level 30 percent above average and 1.9 times the rate of White, non-Latinos.

Terrence McCoy writes in the Washington Post about what this violence has done the USA’s moral standing around the globe.

“Ferguson also struck a blow to America’s image as the global standard-bearer for equality, human rights, and opportunity,” wrote Stephen M. Walt, a Harvard professor of international affairs. “The treatment of black Americans has long tarnished our national mythology of the ‘melting pot,’ and with it the smug belief that American is the ideal model for the rest of the world,” he wrote in Foreign Policy. “This latest episode reminds us that the country still does not live up to the ideals that it likes to preach to others.”

This is a point that has not gone unnoticed among many countries who appear to be experiencing more than a little schadenfreude at America’s comeuppance. Take, for instance, the Chinese. It dispatched numerous reporters to Ferguson, some of whom were reportedly robbed at gunpoint late last month. At one point in its months-long coverage of the protests, state-run Xinhua published a searing analysis of the drama, highlighting what it described as American hypocrisy.

“The Ferguson incident once again demonstrates that even in a country that has for years tried to lay the role of an international human rights judge and defender, there is still much room for improvement at home,” Xinhua writer Li Li concluded. “In its annual human rights report issued in February, the United States assaulted almost 200 countries across the world for their so-called poor human rights record. … Each country has its own national conditions that lead to different social problems. Obviously, what the United States needs to do is concentrate on solving its own problems rather than always point fingers at others.”

Posted by Andrew Gerns.


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Melissa Bear

You fail to mention in your article the 2199 law enforcement officers that were killed in the line of duty during the same time period or the 107 officers that have been killed this year alone. I would think that police officers would be even more of a minority than the populations you’ve mentioned in your stats.
It seems that you’re not as “all inclusive” as you claim to be.

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