American Elephants


A Steady Decrease In Numbers of People Who Have Interactions With Police by The Elephant's Child

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In 1994, Congress passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. The law mandated that the attorney general begin studying the excessive use of force by police, and reporting on their findings. The Bureau of Justice Statistics developed a series of ongoing statistics that measured police behavior in specific situations and incidents in which police use force—like riots and mob behavior. Much of the data was based on direct surveys of citizens rather than reports by local police departments. These surveys and statistics have provided two decades of information on how the police interact with American citizens and how American citizens interact with police.

If it was presumed that the statistics would provide insight for national debates about the use of force by police, the presumption was apparently wrong. When the grand jury reached its decision not to indict police officer Darrell Wilson, the President of the United States jumped into the Missouri debate and told the nation that “the law too often feels like it’s being applied in a discriminatory fashion.”

The New York Times published stories about communities where minorities get stopped more frequently than whites, completely ignoring the statistics from the Bureau of Justice that show that crime victims identify minorities as more frequent perpetrators of crime. There has also been a steady decrease in numbers of people who have interactions with the police. There has been a drop in crime as well. The numbers of people who report crimes to the police  has fallen from 664,000 in 2002 to 574,000 in a 2010 report. The number of African-Americans who reported that police had used force against them fell from 173,000 to 130,000, for whites the number dropped from 374,000 to 347,000. The situations which caused the use of force were not listed.

President Obama helpfully added to the debate, saying that “bad training” and “a fear of folks who look different” in some police departments has contributed to the  ongoing mistrust between law enforcement and minority communities. He claimed that “this is a national problem that’s going to require a national solution.”

The president has announced a new task force on policing that will examine “how to promote effective crime reduction while building public trust” according to the White House. A task force focused on police behavior is really not what is called for.

Michael Brown and Eric Garner’s deaths are human tragedies, but they are not emblematic of police overreach or abuse. Grand juries, in both cases examined all the evidence and declined to bring charges against the police. Young black men are far more likely to be shot by one another than by a police officer. Jason Riley adds:

There were about 6,300 black homicides in the U.S. last year, according to the FBI, and 85% involved black civilian perpetrators. Police officers, by contrast, were responsible for 3% of deaths, which in most cases resulted from the victim assaulting the officer (Brown) or resisting arrest (Garner). Nor do the data suggest that trigger-happy officers are gunning down black men for minor offenses.

Street protests continue, egged on by professional protesters, and universities like Columbia and Harvard which have encouraged students to work through their trauma from the two cases and postpone exams if they were too upset. Professional  protesters, anarchists, socialist activists and a lot of useful idiots from assorted colleges. The more dramatic protests are in all the usual cities, and “Die-Ins” seem to be the preferred mode. Kind of embarrassing.


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