Another Outrageous Killing
Like a lot of Americans I’ve heard about the violent death of Alton Sterling at the hands of two police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. As with Tamar Rice, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, and others, whose names have become familiar through their deaths and the relentless work of many to say their names, Sterling’s death is outrageous. From looking at the shocking and sickening video it seems more apt to call the death a murder or an assassination.
The Death Toll Rises Daily
As of this morning, the number of people killed by police in America is 558. 15 of those in just the first six days of July.
One of my Facebook friends from the UK, Tim Crowhurst, put the numbers into perspective. “In a typical year, US cops kill more than 1000 civilians. In the UK the equivalent number is 2. Accounting for differences in population size, this means Americans are 10,000% more likely than Brits to be killed by those who duty is ostensibly to serve and protect.”
And if you are a person of color and male in the USA the likelihood of violence at the hands of law enforcers increases. The Guardian has a grisly counter of all the people killed by police in the USA. It includes names–when they are known–US state where they were killed, and cause of death–which is mostly gunshot, although some died in custody or from an officer with a taser.
The Disproportion of Black Deaths
All of these deaths are tragic, and I imagine most if not all are completely unnecessary. This year like most years white victims outnumber the people of color who die at the hands of police.
But when we break those numbers down, we see that based on the number of people of color in the USA, they experience this violence at a higher rate. 3.21 Black people per million are killed compared to 1.35 of white people. 3.4 Native Americans and 1.51 Hispanic/Latino people per million are victims of police violence during arrest and in custody.
While the media fixates on what they call riots, I am much more concerned with police departments funded by my tax dollars locally and federally. This is beyond a crisis–this is an outrage–an epidemic of violence, and I help finance it.
Police Violence Denial?
As someone who is a climate advocate, I run across denial and skepticism from people, who even with mountains of evidence still need further proof that our climate is rapidly changing and our pollution is the cause. Similarly I find that fellow whites (some? many?) harbor doubts about the chronic police violence against Black men and other people of color. They cringe at the words racism and white supremacy and systemic racial oppression.
As a white person, I have been raised to trust the police and distrust anyone labelled a perpetrator, particularly non-whites. I have been taught by the media and other white dominated social institutions and in social circles to give the police the benefit of the doubt–to always assume they had just cause and that they are basically good people doing their jobs. That or they are mostly good guys with a few bad apples.
But how can I deny the numbers? Why should I try? And how is it that even if it were just a few bad apples that virtually none of these killings by police end up in a conviction of the officer responsible?
My Taxes Dollars at Work: Financing the Police
My tax dollars fund the police. My tax dollars fund the police violence. My tax dollars fund the racist police violence.
They, the police and police departments in all of our towns and cities and states, are accountable to tax payers and non-taxpayers–children like Tamir Rice and those who do not earn enough to pay taxes. They are accountable to the citizens on the street regardless if they are suspected of criminal activity or not. The police have the mandate to serve and protect–not do disservice to the people of color and the destruction to families.
Be Disturbed enough to Act
You will hear a lot about Alton Sterling. White people may feel disturbed, as we should. We have blood on our hands. We have the responsibility to open our eyes, listen, learn, and work out how we can move beyond being a barely conscious bystander to someone engaged in the struggle to stop this violence.