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Adding Up Eric Garner

The argument you hear a lot is about not taking one case — Eric Garner for us now — and extrapolating too much from it. A cop killed an African-American man. That is one case, with its own unique circumstances, so you can’t claim it is just another example of a broad pattern of racism. Or, racism aside, that police violence and deadly force against citizens has become unmanageable.

Maybe. At least until you add it all up. Here are some numbers, so as they say, you do the math.

The New York police officer who killed Eric Garner has been sued three times for allegedly violating the constitutional rights of other blacks he and fellow cops arrested.

A 2013 federal court lawsuit alleges that Daniel Pantaleo and other officers subjected Darren Collins and Tommy Rice to “humiliating and unlawful strip searches in public view.” They said Pantaleo “slapped and tapped” their testicles. The officers insisted they acted reasonably and exercised their discretion, but the lawsuit was settled last year for $30,000.

Rylawn Walker’s 2012 lawsuit alleged Pantaleo and other officers falsely arrested him for marijuana. The charges against Walker were dismissed.

A third suit involved Kenneth Collins, who alleged Pantaleo violated his rights during a 2012 marijuana arrest, including “a degrading search of his genitals” (disposition unknown)

59 Pages

A 59-page report released by the United States Department of Justice on Thursday reveals widespread, excessive use of force by police officers in Cleveland. Cleveland is the city where cops recently killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice while he was carrying a toy gun. Before that, Tanesha Anderson died in police hands when cops were supposed to be transporting her for mental health treatment.

In another incident from the report, a 300-pound officer sat on a 13 year-old boy and punched the boy in the face repeatedly while the boy was handcuffed in the back of a police car. In another incident, police used their stun gun on a juvenile suspect, despite the fact that the boy was being held on the ground by two officers. In a third incident, an officer fired upon a man who fled after repeatedly asking the officer to produce his badge in order to prove that he was, in fact, a cop. The cop did not do so.

The overarching conclusion of the report is that Cleveland police “too often use unnecessary and unreasonable force in violation of the Constitution,” and that “supervisors tolerate this behavior and, in some cases, endorse it.”


More than 550 homicides by police officers between 2007 and 2012 were missing from the federal statistics or not attributed to the law enforcement agency involved, the Wall Street Journal reported.

This makes it nearly impossible to figure out how many people cops kill — justifiably or not — every year. To compile the report, the Journal looked at the internal figures of killings by police from 105 of the nation’s 110 largest police departments. Five declined the request for access. The internal records show at least 1,800 deaths during the aforementioned timeframe. That is about 45 percent higher than the FBI’s tally of 1,242. Some law enforcement agencies are not reporting all the police killings that happen on their watch.


Young black males in recent years were at a far greater risk of being shot dead by police than their white counterparts – 21 times greater, according to a ProPublica analysis of federally collected data on fatal police shootings.

One way of appreciating that stark disparity is to calculate how many more whites would have had to have been killed for them to have been at equal risk. The number is jarring – 185 – more than one per week over the three year period the statistics cover.

ProPublica’s risk analysis on young males killed by police supports what has been an article of faith in the African American community: Blacks are being killed at disturbing rates when set against the rest of the American population.

Details matter. Did police always list the circumstances of the killings? No, there were many deadly shootings where the circumstances were listed as “undetermined.” 77 percent of those killed in such instances were black.

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Peter Van Buren

Peter Van Buren

Peter Van Buren has served with the Foreign Service for over 23 years. He received a Meritorious Honor Award for assistance to Americans following the Hanshin earthquake in Kobe, a Superior Honor Award for helping an American rape victim in Japan, and another award for work in the tsunami relief efforts in Thailand. Previous assignments include Taiwan, Japan, Korea, the UK and Hong Kong. He volunteered for Iraq service and was assigned to ePRT duty 2009-10. His tour extended past the withdrawal of the last combat troops.

Van Buren worked extensively with the military while overseeing evacuation planning in Japan and Korea. This experience included multiple field exercises, plus civil-military work in Seoul, Tokyo, Hawaii, and Sydney with allies from the UK, Australia, and elsewhere. The Marine Corps selected Van Buren to travel to Camp Lejeune in 2006 to participate in a field exercise that included simulated Iraqi conditions. Van Buren spent a year on the Hill in the Department of State’s Congressional Liaison Office.

Van Buren speaks Japanese, Chinese Mandarin, and some Korean (the book’s all in English, don’t worry). Born in New York City, he lives in Virginia with his spouse, two daughters, and a docile Rottweiler.

Though this is his first book, Peter’s commentary has been featured on TomDispatch, Salon, Huffington Post, The Nation, American Conservative Magazine, Mother Jones, Michael, Le Monde, Daily Kos, Middle East Online, Guernica and others.