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Police Killed vs. Killed by Police: a Statistical Perspective

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(not Norman Rockwell, by Anthony Freda)

Underlying the convictions of reflexive proponents and/or apologists of police killing citizens is often the assumption that being a cop is sincerely fraught with the danger of death in the line of duty.  Even here at FDL I’ve read a few comments that say if a cop is facing ‘an armed person,’ he should shoot, never mind that many of the alleged weapons often turned out to be cell phones, rather obvious toy guns, once even a spoon, a wallet, or in the case of John Crawford, an unloaded BB gun he’d taken off the Beavercreek Walmart shelf and was holding while chatting on his cell phone.  Many of the victims killed by cops in the past several years indeed had weapons of some sort, but were not ‘brandished toward police’ as so many cops testi-lied in their reports.

Sure, being a cop can be a dangerous profession, but far less dangerous statistically than most people imagine.  Consider the flip side: that cops’ abject fear of blacks, Latinos/Latinas, and the mentally ill (read: the other), often leads to completely unwarranted executions in far too many cases.  It’s the same reaction of rage over a person being either unwilling, or more importantly, unable to follow police orders that has led to so many summary executions.  An email friend who’s been involved in several states with police brutality and assassinations over multiple decades posits that perhaps 90% of recent episodes did not have to result in death of a ‘suspect.’  Whether or not that number is correct, clearly it’s closer to the truth than law enforcement would ever admit.

Two nights ago in Ferguson, MO, two cops were injured by gunshot; one claimed to be investigating a robbery at a local community center when one of two suspects ran away, and one turned, and shot him in his upper arm (AP had reported earlier that the cop was a female).  The story is evolving, and now it’s turned out it was only one alleged would-be thief, who has yet to be apprehended.  So, we’ll see if they recover bullets, see if his lapel camera was on or off, or what.  Missing evidence implicating police culpability or accountability is so prevalent that it seems baked into the system by now.

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