If you don’t ask the right questions; you cannot find the right answers.
Half to a small majority of people killed by police are white, depending on when you look at the numbers. The recent numbers, in the chart, show just under half. Meanwhile, black people killed by police are a minority at less than 1/3.
Yet, about 90% of all coverage and conversation of the police killing people are about police killing black people. When the police kill a black person, on camera, there is nonstop news coverage and riots. When they kill a white person on camera, not so much. One notable exception was the killing of Kelly Thomas but Kelley was a homeless man and that separates him from the rest of us in some way too.
It’s to the point where I would guess that the average person, probably thinks that police primarily kill black people, to the exclusion of other people. That the entire issue of police killing is a racial issue. This is why we have movements like Black Lives Matter. I’m sure there are racist cops. I’m sure that some people have been killed for racist reasons. Yet, the problem of police killing people is much larger than the problem of police killing black people. It’s 333% larger, if you want to put a number on it.
Now comes the obligatory proportionality debunking. The moment you bring up the point that people other than black people are 70% of those killed by police, someone mentions proportionality. Someone has to bring up that only 12.3% of the total population is made up of blacks, so that they are killed at a disproportional rate. It’s tempting to counter that with some statistics about crimes committed by black people and the percentage number of police encounters per person, being higher among them, for that reason but this is leading the conversation off track. At best, it would show that there are a handful of racism based killings, out of the 1200 killings that happen each year. Where does that get us?
Would it make everything better if the proportion of people killed by police exactly matched their proportion of the population. Would it solve the problem is 63% of the people killed were white, instead of 49%? Would it solve the problem if 17% of the people killed were Hispanic instead of 19%? Would it solve the problem if 5% of the people killed were Asian, instead of 2% and 12.3% of the people killed were black instead of 30%? Is that really the issue?
Does discovering a few people were killed by racists solve the problem of the rest of the people being killed? No. Is there a way that we could solve both the racist killings and the vast majority of other killings, with the same effort? Maybe. Maybe not. but doing so, would require us to examine what the actual problem is. This hyper focus on the killing of black people, with the occasional exception for a homeless white guy, or a disabled person, ignores main problem of police violence, in general. Why are the police so violent?
When we look at police in other countries, we can see that not all police are this violent. Some police are far far less violent than American police. In the US, the police kill more people in one month, than UK police killed in the 20th century. The article linked to there focuses on one month but any month will do. There are YouTube videos of police in other countries, who we would say had a clear justification for killing, yet they don’t kill. They find a way to not kill. Iceland had it’s first police shooting and killing of a man for the first time in its history, in 2013, and the whole country mourned the person killed. Here, there are many cases, where police outright murder people, yet the investigate themselves and find that they have no wrong doing.
So, if it is possible to not kill, so often, as other countries have demonstrated, why does it happen so much here? Without asking this question; as Black Lives Matter does not; we can never get to the solution. As long as we focus on a minority of police killings, say it’s a racial issue and exclude the majority of the population from feeling vulnerable, nobody will ask the right questions and the problem will never be solved. That’s right, one of the reason why black people get so angry is they feel vulnerable, while healthy, white middle and upper class people do not feel vulnerable.
There is a misconception that only the black people and the homeless or backwards people are being killed–that these people are law breakers and all one has to do is be clean and not break the law to be safe. The reality is that anyone can be a victim of police brutality and/or harassment, and that the problem is far worse than the 1200 people killed every year. The number of beatings, false arrests (kidnappings), intimidations, unreasonable and invasive searches (persons and property invasions), highway robberies (dollars of which outnumber all other robbery) and gun-waving incidents far outnumber the killings. Any and all of us can be a victim. Without a sense of vulnerability there is not enough anger to motivate people to act on this. Black Lives Matter is not helping by keeping the focus on black people. They are playing into the state’s hands.