Shaun King: Where Are We On Police Brutality Now?

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“Police brutality in the United States is not worse. Phones and social media just make it feel that way.”

I see and hear some version of that thought pretty much every single day.

It’s a lie. It sounds good. I wish that was what we’re dealing with right now. But it’s not.

See, some things are hard to measure.

Racism itself is sometimes difficult to measure. We can measure hate crimes – which is absolutely an indicator. We can measure reports of discrimination. We can measure the number of times hateful words are being used across the internet. Those things all help us measure racism, but it can sometimes be nebulous. Some of the most destructive forms of racism – like being denied for a home loan or being passed up on a job where you are the most qualified candidate – those things are hard to measure in real time.

Police brutality is not that.

We can measure it. We can track it. In fact, every single day of the week I study every single case of every single person who was killed by police.

Each case is uniquely different. I know they seem to all blend and blur together sometimes, but each victim, each story, each city, each cop, each police department, each circumstance is unique.

But the one thing I can measure with absolute certainty is whether or not the number of people killed by police in this country is rising or falling. That’s not esoteric. It’s not theoretical.

And when people say things like, “Police brutality is not getting worse, social media and cell phones just show it more,” I know why they think that.

Social media and cell phones have indeed taken what was the secretly lived reality for people in this country – it’s taken that horrible reality and made it mainstream.

Truthfully, until 2014, when police killed Eric Garner and Mike Brown and John Crawford and Tamir Rice, most stories of police brutality lived in the shadows. Most of us would struggle to name a single person killed by police in 2011 or 2012 or 2013. So yes, it’s true, cell phone cameras and social media makes police brutality more known, but I am here to report to you the painful fact that the problem is actually getting worse.

As we stand right now, at the time of this writing, 2018 is on pace to be the deadliest year ever measured for the number of people killed by police in the United States. That means the problem is getting worse. It doesn’t just feel worse. It’s not just the cameras and the hashtags. It’s actually getting worse.

And it’s important for us to acknowledge this reality because I think it actually feels like it’s getting worse. And it’s important for us to know that horrible feeling is actually backed up by measurable facts.

On the heels of the racist murders of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, we entered 2014 with our nerves already frayed about what was going on in this country. When police in New York, Ohio, and Ferguson then killed Eric Garner, John Crawford, and Mike Brown – three unarmed black men – in a span of three weeks in the summer of 2014, a movement was sparked.

And so it may feel like 2014 was the worst year for police brutality because in that year we became activated to how serious the problem was and we learned more of the names and stories, but 2015 was actually the worst year ever measured.

By April 15th of 2015, 350 people had been killed by American police. By the end of the year, the number increased to a staggering 1,222 people killed by American police – a record high.

But this year is worse. We’re up to 376 people killed by April 15th. We are now on pace for this to be the first year where we will have over 1,300 people killed by police in the United States.

It was my long-held belief that police brutality would increase in the Trump administration. He had already signaled to police that he was in their corner and had made remarks that he didn’t really mind a little police brutality here and there when he encouraged officers to injure suspects. The Justice Department had already signaled that they wouldn’t be spending their resources holding corrupt police departments accountable when they ended a DOJ program that scrutinized them. Now a recent decision from the conservative Supreme Court has doubled down on protections for police who use force even in situations where it was not called for.

These actions each have a trickle-down effect and it appears we are now living in that effect. In spite of previous police rhetoric claiming that they no longer felt comfortable using lethal force, they clearly do. The Ferguson Effect was a lie. Police are using force more than ever. It hasn’t slowed down, it has sped up.

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