Policing in America By the Numbers

Let’s talk about statistics. Cold, hard, indisputable numbers. Last year, in Germany, an unusually large number of people for that nation were killed by police: 17. In the UK, last year’s number was 3. In Australia in 2016 and 2017 total (the most recent year we have data for), it was 4. In Japan in 2018, it was 2.

Last year, in the United States, the number of people killed by the police was 1,099. Let that sink in for a moment.

Now, I know what you are thinking: the United States just has so many more people than Germany, the UK, Australia, and Japan. And you are right! So, let’s look at per capita. In Germany, .2 people in every 1 million were killed. In the UK, it was .05 in every 1 million. In Australia, it was .16. In Japan, is was .02.

In the United States, 3.4 people in every million were killed by police.

I know those numbers can be hard to gauge. That disparity between the US and those major nations is HUGE. The orders of magnitude difference is crazy. And the point is this: the number of people – of any race, age, gender, or socio-economic status – killed by police is unimaginably high. It is the kind of number you expect to see in third word authoritarian and dictatorial states. To add some perspective, think about this: in 2016, the Philippines elected an authoritarian dictator named Rodrigo Duterte. Duterte ran as a strong man, promising during this campaign that he would kill drug sellers and users across the nation, and urging his supporters to commit extrajudicial killings themselves. Upon election, Duterte in essence launched a war on his own citizens, unleashing the police to commit untold extrajudicial murders of all sorts of “undesirable people.” The country in the four years since has been a human rights disaster. From June 2016 to July 2019, over 5,000 people were killed by the police without any kind of trial or due process.

Last year alone, the United States killed a fifth of as many people. Over a similar three year period, we put 2/3 as many people to death with due process as a despotic, authoritarian dictatorship.

If you value democracy, liberty, and being a beacon for morals and values in the world, this should bother you. If you are a decent human being, this should bother you.

Let’s dig deeper. Out of those 1,099 people killed by police last year, 259 of them were black. That’s about 24%. Meanwhile, the US population is about 12% black. In the same year, 406 white people were killed by police. That’s more people! And, as a percentage, 37% of all people killed were white. Still more! The nail in the coffin for Black Lives Matter, amirite?!

The US population is 72% white. We white folks make up ¾ of the people in this country, but only about a third of us were killed by police last year. What this means is, if you are black in the United States, you are 2.5x MORE LIKELY than a white person to be killed by the police.

Well surely, I hear you ask, this was the case because those black people were committing more dangerous crimes, right? I mean, that’s a logical assumption to make, isn’t it? But its just not the case either: blacks victims of police death were 1 ½ times more likely than whites to be unarmed. Again, think about that: black victims were more likely than whites to be unarmed, but also more likely to be killed.

All in all, whites and blacks made up a similar amount of total crimes committed in the US last year. That tells us that, in a world free from racial prejudice, victims of police brutality should also be similar among whites and blacks. But they aren’t. Blacks are, again, 2.5% MORE LIKELY to be victimized, despite not committing crimes at a similarly higher rate than whites.

Oh, and one last thing on these numbers: in 99% of cases, the police officers committing murder against those in police custody were not charged with any crime. Let me say that again: 99% OF POLICE WHO MURDERED UNARMED SUSPECTS NEVER FACED A CHARGE OF WRONGDOING.

Again, these numbers should bother you. No, wait, they shouldn’t just bother you. They should terrify you. They should devastate you. They should piss you off, send you into the streets, make you demand better from those we charge with protecting, serving and leading our nation. These numbers are simply UNACCEPTABLE.

These numbers don’t exist in a vacuum, either. To understand why people are so angry, why #BlackLivesMatter is taking off, why people are demanding real change and meaningful police reform in this country, you have to view these statistics in the context of American history. These numbers are happening in a nation that once enslaved these same black bodies. We first created professional police forces to hunt and return runaway slaves. Then, after we were forced by four years of bloody war to no longer enslave them, our country spent the next one hundred years constructing and maintaining a state-sponsored, outright system of discrimination, segregation, and terror against these same black bodies. We lynched hundreds, destroyed the livelihoods of countless others, and refused to let them exercise the full rights, responsibilities and obligations that are their birthright as American citizens. We turned the police into the tool of public repression and discrimination, using dogs and batons and water hoses and jail cells and a convenient blind eye to keep blacks in line and in their place. Then, when we were forced to dismantle that as well, we turned around and built a New Jim Crow, to quote Michele Alexander, predicated on housing and financial discrimination and the use of judicial and police power to disproportionately punish, imprison, and kill black bodies. We have elected a series of “law and order” political leaders who used the levers of legislative and executive power to twist sentencing and judicial guidelines against black bodies. We have, in short, literally done just about every imaginable thing we could come up with throughout our history to oppress and kill black people. And, in a democracy, these things have been done in YOUR name.

And you can’t figure out why black people are done with this shit? You can’t fathom why they are so damn fed up?

These appalling numbers cannot be separated from this shameful history. And that vital link is why we are marching in the streets today. Enough is enough. 400 years of history is too much. These numbers – indisputable, scientific, hard facts – are too much. Things must change. They have to change. Our future as a nation depends on it. And frankly, these numbers tell me this: if we don’t do better, maybe we don’t deserve to stick around much longer. The injustice may just be too much for our nation, already so divided, to bear.

One last note:

I wanted to take a second to break some of these numbers down by state, too. I’m going to look at six states/territories that jump out on this map: Washington D.C., New York, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, and my own home state, Oklahoma.In D.C., the population is 50% black, yet blacks make up 88% of those killed by police.In New York, the population is 16% black, with 37% of police deaths being black.In Illinois, those numbers are 14%, and 53%, respectively; in New Jersey, 13% and 46%; in Maryland, 30% and 50%. And finally, right here in Oklahoma, only 8% of our state’s population is black. Yet, blacks make up 40% of those killed by police in our state. FORTY PERCENT! That’s insane!






Presidential Arson

This is from a Facebook post I put up last night:

“Blessed are the peacemakers,” declared Christ, “for they will be called the children of God.”

Today, the man who has claimed the title of President, made a few different kinds of declaration. First, in a phone call with governors of states who are affected by the protests and demonstrations for justice, he urged them to “dominate” peaceful protesters, saying they would be seen as “weak” if they didn’t do so. Then, disregarding the entire judicial branch and any sentencing guidelines that may be on the books, he told them he favored 10-year prison sentences for anyone arrested while exercising their First Amendment right to protest.

Then, this afternoon in the Rose Garden, he declared his intention to use the power of the state against its own people exercising their rights, saying he would send the US military in to states that didn’t “dominate” protesters in the way he sees fit. Specifically, he said he would deploy “thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel and law enforcement officers” to bring order.

This, of course is illegal. It is also a declaration of civil war, and a scary step towards an authoritarian, totalitarian military state.

Finally, he ended his day, not by cowering like he did last night, but by having protesters forcefully removed with tear gas and rubber bullets and violence, and proceeded to walk to a local church (St. John’s Episcopal Church, where he brandished a Bible like some sort of totem, and proclaimed, “We have the greatest country in the world,” as if the Church somehow condones this form of national self-aggrandizement and narcissism, much less the disgusting and deplorable militarism and oppressed seen in our nation over the past days, weeks, months, years, and decades.

Our country is facing a moment unlike any other in history. We have a deadly pandemic sweeping the world, with 104,000 dead in the United States over the last three months (that’s more than double the total number of American deaths in Vietnam, if you need a little perspective.) Our unemployment rate is higher than ever. Millions of businesses are on the brink of collapse. Tensions with the rest of the world are higher than ever. And now, another unjust death of a black body at the hands of the state has set alight centuries of frustration, anger and despair, and our streets are seeing blood and violence like few other times in history.

This is the kind of time that a leader stands up, with the intention of unifying and calming. This is when we need a leader to declare that our pain is heard, that injustice is unacceptable, that the right of the people to gather and assemble, to make their voices heard, is an important Constitutional and human right, that things may look bleak and dark now, but that together we can make a better future for all people. It is a time for a leader to remind us that change is hard, that sacrifices are needed, that justice is a necessity, that this work is possible but far from assured. This is a time for leadership.

Instead, what we have is an abdication. Instead of a leader in a time of crisis, we have a man who has made a career and a life out of dividing and demonizing, a man who is so self-absorbed and dangerously narcissistic that he can’t even begin to discern how to do anything but try to twist every moment to his own sad, pathetic little view of the world. We have a man who only knows how to play to the worst of the worst in this country, whose only play is to bluster and scream and stomp and Tweet until he gets his way, or destroys everything around him trying.

Ezra Klein wrote eloquently this morning (link in comments):

“When we elected Donald Trump, we elected a political arsonist. The sole consolation of his presidency, in its early years, was that there was surprisingly little dry tinder. The economy hummed along, seemingly imperturbable. We faced few foreign crises. Domestic divisions remained mostly digital. This is not to dismiss real disasters or excuse cruel policies — from children thrown into cages to toxins dumped into our streams to the lethal mismanagement of Hurricane Maria — but it could have been worse.

Playacting civil war on Twitter, as the president often did, was never the nightmare scenario. The nightmare scenario was the social fracture and violent crises of the 1960s layered atop the political and media system of the 2020; the tests of presidential leadership that have defined past eras demanded of this leader, in this era. We weren’t there, and then, all of a sudden, we were.

We are.”

Our nation is at a turning point. There is no going back to normal after the events of the past weeks and months. A large group of Americans has reached a breaking point when it comes to injustice and oppression and the demons of this nation’s past and present. Another, very small group has decided that, as the country grows in a direction they don’t like, that they would rather burn it all to the ground, and in the words of Klein, managed to elect “a political arsonist” to do just that. And in doing so, he will use any weapon, any word, anything deemed important or sacred or holy to achieve the task, no matter the damage done.

This afternoon, when he stood in front a church wielding a Bible in an attempt to invoke the power of God behind his own actions and words, he revealed (again) how little he, or his followers, know of the demands of Christ. While he stood there, trying to gain holy approval for the terrorism of the state he has demanded, while he invoked the civil religion of this nation in an attempt to coerce God into supporting something as anti-Christian as you can imagine, the words of the prophet Amos came to mind. These are the words of a prophet of God, spoken to a leader who imagines himself and his state as all-powerful and all-knowing, on behalf of an oppressed and hurting people, reminding that leader just what it is this God is looking for from those who would declare themselves favored by God:

“I can’t stand your religious meetings.
I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions,
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
That’s what I want. That’s all I want.”

Lord let that justice and righteousness wash down on us now. We need a good cleansing. Amen

A Story (of Tweets) About America

As things have been happening across our country in response to the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police in Minneapolis last week, I have been sharing my thoughts on Facebook. I have decided to share them here, as well, going back a few days. Here is what I posted Friday:

Some tweets this morning that tell a story about what is happening in Minneapolis right now, and about how you, my fellow white friends and family, should be reacting to events.

To begin with, Peter Dauo’s tweet: the reason things are happening in Minneapolis is because, first, of the actions of police officers bringing state power into George Floyd’s life, and killing him over something that doesn’t even come close to justifying capital punishment (as if anything ever could justify that kind of injustice, but that’s a post for another day), and second, because of the decisions of those in power in Minneapolis to justify the actions of those officers by refusing to hold them accountable. This is the same story that has been happening across our country for the better part of 400 years: the use of state violence to keep black and brown bodies in submission and constant fear of death. Those in the streets of Minneapolis, and those of us who stand with them, are over that shit.

So they marched last night, and yesterday, and the day before that, and four years ago in Baton Rouge #altonsterling, and five years ago in Ferguson #michaelbrown, and six years ago in Cleveland #tamirrice, and eight years ago in Sanford Florida #trayvonmartin, and 50 years ago in Watts and Harlem and Memphis and Selma, and a hundred years ago in the ruins of Black Wall Street right here in Tulsa, and so many countless other times that I know I’m missing, but Jesus there are so many to try and remember and honor and mourn. They marched because injustice happened, and as Dr. King reminded us, where injustice happens to one, it happens to all. They marched because it is their democratic right to do so, to hold their leaders accountable, to demand equal treatment under the law, to remind the state it doesn’t get to have unlimited life and death power over us, whom it derives its very power and authority from.

And instead of hearing and recognizing the pain and anguish and anger present in those marching, those in charge doubled down, and began attacking peaceful protestors, with rubber bullets and tear gas and batons and pepper spray. Let me say that again: they attacked PEACEFUL PROTESTORS less than a month after armed white terrorists marched on various state capitols around the country because they couldn’t get a haircut and got fawning coverage on Fox News and got called “some good people” by our President and didn’t get attacked or stopped or hardly even acknowledged by police and the powers that be. But some peaceful protestors tried to get the state’s attention and asked for justice, and all they got was pepper spray and the abuse of the police. You didn’t even have to be protesting to get that abuse either; just ask S. Lee Merritt, whose black body made him a target regardless of any actions he was or wasn’t taking. “Keeping the peace” my ass.

And so, as Tomi Lahren had to have pointed out to her by a real hero, by a powerful woman of color, when peaceful protesting didn’t result in change, but instead resulted in more state violence, the people responded in kind. They began burning and destroying property because, and the Hampton Institute reminds us, in a world where the only thing power understands is the commodifying of every damn thing, where stuff if much more important and valuable than people (and if you don’t think that’s true, just think back to the “thousands of deaths are the price we must pay to reopen the economy” crowd), then you start destroying commodities. Oh, hey. They got your attention now. Lifeless black bodies didn’t do it. But a burning television sure as hell did. Welcome to the party.

Now the protestors get accused of “looting” for taking the only actions that would be heard by the state and those with money and power who run that state. But you know what, Warren Gunnels is right: looting isn’t the burning of a Target and the anger of an abused people. Looting is getting rich off the bodies and lives of people. Looting is using pandemics and recessions and wars and fear to vacuum up every last dollar to stick in a bank account somewhere in Majorca, and at the same time, fund disinformation campaigns claiming those who want a decent living wage and basic health care and reliable access to food and water and a roof over their head without constant fear of eviction are in fact “communists” and “free loaders” and “takers”, instead of acknowledging that they are in fact just people who want to raise their children and live their lives and not be robbed from above. Looting is what millionaires and billionaires do to the rest of us every day, while the state stands aside, or even in most cases, helps.

Which brings me to the last tweet. From the man who became our president almost four years ago, who built his own immoral fortune by fleecing and looting and hurting regular, every day people. Who this morning went on Twitter, and called for AMERICAN CITIZENS – you know, those people who he works for (not the other way around), who he serves at the pleasure of – to be gunned down in the streets, because again, property in Minneapolis is deemed more important than human lives. This sad, orange little man who lives on the public dime like the welfare fraud he is, has the gall to look at the people he has made a life and career out of looting, screwing and demeaning, and actually think that he can just have them put down. He can find the ability to praise white supremacists marching in Charlottesville and cospatriots playing solider in Grand Rapids, but the name he gives to people demanding justice and fair treatment under the law “THUGs.” And all of those people who have stood behind every action he has taken for four years, who bend over backwards to justify his every action, no matter how much it may trample everything they once claimed to stand for, will again retweet him and praise him and fawn over him and scream MAGA and call for “thugs” everywhere to be put down like dogs. It’s sickening, and it leaves little hope in my heart for the future of our country, because about 35% has gone way off the deep end and is determined to take us there with them.

I’m angry this morning, in a way I’m usually not, and while usually I would apologize for being this angry and pointed in my language on Facebook, I don’t think today I will. If you are shocked by this, by whats happening, by how angry and upset and rage-filled people are: good. You should be. You should have been paying attention before (God knows you had every chance) and, well, I’m glad to see you are now at least. Support the Americans fighting for their basic rights in Minneapolis today. Join your local “#BlackLivesMatter rally. Resist powers that dehumanize. Stop valuing stuff more than people. Work for a country and world where the rich don’t get to loot the poor and force everyone into poverty in their deranged and demonic drive for MORE. And keep your thoughts and prayers; the only kind of praying we should be doing right now is on our feet.