On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown was killed by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. His death began an uprising in the city of Ferguson that lasted for over two weeks. On August 14, 2014, a National Moment of Silence (#NMOS14) (organized online by activist Feminista Jones), a vigil which honored Brown and the victims of police violence, took place in 96 cities and towns across the country. It was a significant moment in our country’s history which forced us to confront racial inequality and police brutality directed at black Americans head on. Though it wasn’t exactly a new issue, the Ferguson protestors as well as other activists for the Black Lives Matter movement demanded that we no longer ignore this critical conversation.
Three years have passed since Mike Brown was killed. And sadly, thousands more people have been killed by the police in that time.
According to Fatal Encounters, a nonprofit database that tracks deaths caused during police interaction, as many as 2,902 people in America have been shot and killed by officers since Brown’s death. There is some possibility that there may be more or less deaths than Fatal Encounters has listed in their database. The organization tracks killings by compiling public law enforcement records of shooting deaths by cops and verifies them through news reports. And some of the data doesn’t include information regarding a victim’s age, race.
Since no one is holding the police accountable for reporting this information directly, we don’t really have a full sense of how many people have been killed. But we do know that in 2016, police killed at least 309 black people and have killed at least 178 so far this year. Of course, this is not just an issue facing black people in the United States. The majority of people killed by police are white people. However, blacks are three times as likely to be killed by police than whites. In 2014, 69 percent of those people were unarmed and not suspected of violent crimes.
Moreover, there is virtually no accountability for these killings when they happen to black bodies. Police officers routinely get to keep their jobs or fail to go to jail when they kill unarmed blacks. Meanwhile in Minnesota, after Justine Damond (a white Australian woman who was unarmed) was killed by a police officer in July, the police chief was asked to resign. This type of response is the exact reason why we need serious reform and accountability for police officers.
Fundamental differences exist between how black and white lives are regarded in policing and the criminal justice system.
In October 2015, then-FBI Director James Comey told the House of Representatives that it was “embarrassing” and “unacceptable” that the agency didn’t have better documentation of incidents.
“People have data about who went to a movie last weekend, or how many books were sold, or how many cases of the flu walked into an emergency room. And I cannot tell you how many people were shot by police in the United States last month, last year, or anything about the demographics. And that’s a very bad place to be,” he said.
Three years later and we are still doing the same wretched song and dance. In 2016, the Justice Department announced its intention to keep track of police shootings and “violent encounters sparked by officers’ engagement with civilians.” Police departments were supposed to self-report these incidents. Needless to say, it never happened. And under a Trump presidency, it most certainly will not. At this point, it’s up to us as citizens to remain vigilant, continue speaking out and demanding change, and keep pushing for local laws that require greater transparency and accountability in order to protect lives.