Police Shootings: Perception and Reality



A recent spate of killings of police officers has people on the attack against the #Black Lives Matter movement. Despite the fact that, with the possible exception of the death of the Texas sheriff’s deputy, there is no evidence that race played a role in the murders of these officers, this movement is somehow being blamed.

Certainly the recent killings of Darren Goforth, Lt. Joe Gliniewicz, and Abilene officer Don Allen are horrific tragedies, and we should all hope and expect the perpetrators to be apprehended and punished to the full extent of the law. But the idea that it is open season on law enforcement officers conflicts with reality.

According to Shaun King of The Daily Kos, the number of police officers shot and killed in 2015 (26) is down from previous years. Race also doesn’t seem to be a motive in that half of those officers were black. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, police work does not even make it into the top 10 deadliest jobs in America. (Blake Fleetwood, “How Dangerous Is Police Work?”, Washington Monthly)

This does not negate the reality that police officers are the only professionals that need to fear being murdered on the job. Still, the murder rate for police is less than that of the general population. It’s important to keep that perspective lest we approve even further militarizing our police force and giving the OK to questionable tactics to keep the peace.

The #Black Lives Matter movement is about something else entirely. It’s about the reality of how law enforcement disproportionately abuses people of color. In contrast to the 26 officers who have been killed so far in 2015, police have shot and killed more than 600 people. Interestingly, the number of whites killed is almost double that of the number of blacks, partly due to the larger white population in America. The difference is that of the 64 unarmed suspects who were killed by police, only 19 were white and 44 were black, Hispanic, or “other.” (source: Washington Post data)

So white suspects are usually killed by police when they are wielding a deadly weapon while people of color are more often perceived of as dangerous even when unarmed. To be sure, unarmed whites have also been killed by officers. Recently, an unarmed white teen named Zach Hammond was shot and killed by police in South Carolina. Who blew up the Twitterverse in solidarity with Zach and his needless death?  #Black Lives Matter members.

It’s important to respect and support our men and women in uniform. A member of my own family is on the police force. Of course I would never want any harm to come to him. The #All Lives Matter response to #Black Lives Matter is simply stating the obvious. Who among us does not believe that each life is equally valuable?

What #Black Lives Matter is trying to do is get us to face the ugly truth of how prejudice can have harmful, and even deadly, consequences. As Atticus Finch famously states in the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Until we can do that with each other – black, white, officer, civilian – we will perceive others as threats, and there will be no end to violent death.


2 thoughts on “Police Shootings: Perception and Reality

    • I agree, Carol. Most people are decent and kind and want others to be treated fairly. I think the 24 hour news cycle and the constant internet barrage of news are responsible for our skewed viewpoints on some issues.


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