Can We Take the Cops to Sesame Street?

Many of us know by now that law enforcement agencies are not required by law to file reports on when the police kill someone. This under-reporting translates into the FBI data that is collected from the police departments to be inaccurate.

But other organizations that I’ve mentioned before like Fatal Encounters and Killed by Police also monitor the deaths of individuals at the hands of police. But while these organizations are valuable they are also very informal and largely independent. So it’s worth cautioning that the statistics gained from organizations like Fate Encounters and Killed by Police are by no means the final word.

They are, at best, a nice starting point to getting better statistics.

And in line with getting better statistics, the Washington Post recently published the results from a (sadly not yet public) study they did. The study concluded that there have been almost four-hundred deaths at the hands of police in the US in 2015 alone. It’s worth noting that these deaths are just the results of shootings and do not include death due to overuse of tasers or deaths that occur in police custody.

The Verge‘s Lizzie Plaugic puts this in perspective by pointing out, “That’s more than two people per day, and more than double the amount of police killings on record for the last decade.”

Also worth noting, though hardly surprising, was that the Washington Post found that, “Overall, blacks were killed at three times the rate of whites or other minorities when adjusting by the population of the census tracts where the shootings occurred.”

The unaccountability mentioned throughout this article is so bad that it has gotten democrat Senators Barbara Boxer and Cory Booker calling for reform. The recently introduced Police Reporting of Information, Data and Evidence Act aims to increase the accountability of the police by legally requiring “…states to report to the Justice Department on any incident in which a law enforcement officer is involved in a shooting, and any other instance where use of force by or against a law enforcement officer or civilian results in serious bodily injury or death.”

But how far would these reforms actually go?

Back in April, the Washington Post determined that while in very blatant cases some officers are prosecuted, most still aren’t convicted. These blatant cases, by the way, often include video of the incident or testimony of a cop against another cop for example. So given the lack of conviction rates that still remain even in these situations can we really expect a legal reform to substantially improve things?

No doubt that more accountability and transparency for police shootings can only be a good thing. But whether the bill gets passed or not these two things are just the first step in many ways. Eventually these things should start translating more and more into the police being recognized for what it is: An ugly, outdated and often unaccountable institution that needs to be replaced or burned to the ground.

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