AG Loretta Lynch has opened her yap and apparently caused something of a stir in the activist community by dismissing the requirement that local police forces maintain and submit records of all the police killings and deaths in custody that happen in their jurisdictions.
No, she proclaims, keeping track of the "minutae" of police-public interactions is less important than "improving" police-community relations...
All righty then.
Statistics on police killings of civilians and civilian deaths in custody have been vastly understated for any number of years. I don't think there's ever been an accurate official count, and the statistics released by FBI are simply ridiculous. That wasn't even noticed beyond a certain community of activists until last year's uproar over the deaths of James Boyd, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and so very many others.
Then a 'national conversation' got underway about the problem of police killings of civilians, and part of that 'conversation' was the lack of accurate and complete official data on the number of civilians killed by police and civilian deaths in custody. Nobody was keeping track because it wasn't required.
Actually it was required. A law was passed in 1996 requiring police departments to report incidents of use of force and deaths in custody, but it was never enforced due to complaints from the field that the costs of reporting were beyond the abilities of many departments to handle. Consequently they couldn't be required to report.
Media stepped into the vacuum, first with a Facebook page called "Killed by Police" begun in May of 2013. This is an effort to track every media report of police killing of civilians and every report of civilian death in custody in almost real time. To date, it is the most comprehensive and up to date listing of civilian deaths at the hands of police in existence. It is not, however, the flashiest, nor is it necessarily the most often cited. That would be the Guardian's "The Counted." In a distant third place would be the Washington Post's data on police shootings of civilians.
I noticed long ago that local media was more than happy to publicize police killings of civilians -- no doubt on the journalistic principle that "if it bleeds it leads". Some of the reports were quite lurid. On the other hand, they almost always stuck with the police version of events, as if there were some Immortal Truth in police statements -- which, of course, always justified their actions in eliminating the threat of yet one more civilian perpetrator.
It became a routine. Someone would be killed by a police officer. Inevitably, their mug shots and criminal history would be promptly released and litany of offenses which led to their death would be read out, almost always including "pointing a gun" or "reaching for waistband" thus causing the officer to "fear for his life and the safety of others" and justifying the discharge of his duty weapon. The suspect/subject subsequently "died" -- exactly how is "under investigation." The officer involved has been put on "standard paid administrative leave."
These reports were sometimes accompanied by dash-cam or body-cam views of the incident, but many times, there was no verification of police reports at all. Media accepted whatever the police said about these killings almost always without question. But that started to change when civilian witness videos became more and more available. Many of these videos showed quite clearly that the police version of events were fraudulent and false. Too many unarmed people, too many innocents were being killed, and police routinely felt comfortable lying about what happened.
Police departments saw this discrepancy as primarily a public relations problem. They did not, at least at first, see any problem with their actions. Killings by police were always justified, and the lies and falsehoods that wound up in reports were merely the result of the "fog of battle" -- or what have you.
Police only killed out of absolute necessity, and only as the last resort. Always.
Videos showed that in many cases, police killed their victims on sight or within seconds of the encounter, without bothering to find out what was really happening; many victims were unarmed; some were surrendering or attempting to obey commands barked by officers when they were shot. Others were clearly having psychological issues that prevented immediate compliance, and so they were shot. Over and over again, police were shown escalating situations rather than defusing them, these escalations leading too often to use of deadly force by police. Too many times, police were shown using deadly force where none was called for, often in response to a 911 call from a concerned family member requesting medical intervention.
And of course these videos exposed a glaring racial disparity in police use of force and killings. Police abused and killed black people at a rate far greater than that of whites. It was plain to see. Black people were being shot and killed by police as a matter of course, whereas white folks would often be treated with kid gloves -- no matter if they were armed or even shooting at police. The discrepancy was stark and obvious. And it wasn't just black people; Native Americans, Hispanics, and mentally ill people of any race were being subjected to lethal force as a matter of course.
The rate of killing by police was much higher than had been previously believed due to the significant undercount annually reported by the FBI. The actual death rate at the hands of police is still unknown because many deaths in custody aren't reported. But just those police involved homicides reported in the media were three times the number cited by the FBI in its incomplete -- actually false -- reports.
Now Loretta Lynch is saying we don't really need accurate statistics on the number of deaths caused by police -- as gaining those statistics might-could be a burden on already over-stressed and under-funded/staffed police departments, and we really want to improve relationships with the communities police patrol rather than obsessing on numbers anyway, right?
Good freaking God. What is the matter with her?
Crime is at a nearly all-time low. There are more people in jail and prison in this country than in any other nation in the world. Well over a thousand people die at the hands of police in this country every year, far more than in any other first world nation, and too often those who die at the hands of police should not have been subjected to lethal force. Yet almost always those homicides are ruled "justified" because police did the killing and there are layers of protections for police when they use lethal force -- whether or not it's objectively justified.
It's a huge problem and it appears to be growing.
Loretta doesn't want statistics, though. She wants "improved relationships." This goes right back to the earlier police departmental idea that the problem of police killings is one of perception -- PR -- not action. In other words, it's about the propaganda, not about the killing.
That Loretta Lynch apparently buys into this bullshit is troubling, yes? Well, it is to me.
On the other hand, I've seen so many consent decrees with various police departments around the country which seem designed to seek better ways to justify the police killings not reduce them.
This convinced me long ago that the DoJ really has no interest in lowering the rate of police homicide. Its primary interest is in coordinating police departments and police conduct to fit a standard of behavior -- and killing -- that will be "more professional" and gain greater public confidence and respect.
Community relations under those circumstances really are more important than statistics on police homicides.
I'm also led to believe that the FBI director doesn't want to have to bother with more complete/accurate statistics. There are real crimes to fight, after all.
No. This won't do.
We need an outcry, loud and sustained, against this attitude by the Top Cops. Stop the bullshit. End the deceit.