“Without A True Count, There’s Even Less Accountability”: How Many People Are Killed By Police? We’re Only Beginning To Find Out
Amazingly, although people are killed by police virtually every day in the United States, there is no government agency, no bureaucracy, and no database that counts them all. Nor is there any national prayer wall or shrine where images of the dead and their stories are collected in an effort to portray them as individuals.
Last week, almost simultaneously, The Washington Post and The Guardian US unveiled large-scale journalistic projects that tried to supply a comprehensive, independent accounting of citizens killed by police since the beginning of this year. Same story, similar journalistic standards. So far, The Guardian story, with its interactive database linking to photos and stories of the dead, has come closest to filling the shameful gap.
In what Lee Glendinning, the new editor of The Guardian US, called “the most comprehensive public accounting of deadly force in the US,” the site launched “The Counted,” an interactive database of those killed by police since January 1 that includes the names, locations, background, race, means of death—along with, when possible, photos and stories of the dead.
Combining traditional reporting and “verified crowd sourcing,” Glendinning said the idea was to “build on the work on databases already out there,” most of which, she said, “are largely numbers and statistics. We wanted to build on these by telling the stories of these people’s lives, over a whole year, every day, and update them every day.”
Most Americans probably assume that some agency keeps track of the people who have been killed by police, but no such authoritative clearinghouse exists. There are partial counts by various bureaucracies, as well as by organizations like KilledByPolice.net and FatalEncounters.org, but none are complete.
“You could tell me how many people, the absolute number, bought a book on Amazon,” FBI director James Comey himself complained in a speech last month. “It’s ridiculous, I can’t tell you how many people were shot by police in this country last week, last year, the last decade.”
Some of the difficulties in keeping count are due to the reluctance of local police departments to file reports when they kill someone. But, as Tom McCarthy wrote at The Guardian, “The structural and technical challenges to compiling uniform data from the 18,000-plus local law enforcement agencies in the US far exceeds the reporting problem, in some cases.”
Without a true count, there is even less accountability. “A counting is a prerequisite,” Glendinning said, for any kind of “informed public debate about the severity of the problem.”
The Guardian didn’t attempt to determine whether the deaths were justified or unjustified. But they did find some disturbing trends and alarming sloppiness:
- In the first five months of 2015, 464 people were killed by law enforcement—that’s twice as many as calculated by the US government’s official public records. (The FBI “counted 461 ‘justifiable homicides’ by law enforcement in all of 2013, the latest year for which official data is available.”)
- Of those 464 killed, 102 people were unarmed.
- Black Americans are more than twice as likely to be unarmed when killed during encounters with police as white people: “32% of black people killed by police in 2015 were unarmed, as were 25% of Hispanic and Latino people, compared with 15% of white people killed.”
- Fourteen of the fatalities occurred while the victim was in custody, including the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore.
- The analysis revealed five people killed by police whose names have not been publicly released before.
A day before the Guardian story broke, The Washington Post came out with similar trends and numbers based on its own in-depth investigation of police-caused fatalities. (“We knew they were working on something, and they knew we were,” Glendinning said, but she believes the timing is coincidence.) One big difference between the two projects is that the Post limits its data to death by police shootings, which, it found, have amounted to 385 so far this year. The Guardian’s 464 police-caused deaths in the same period, however, also include those by Taser (27), vehicle, and other means. Hence, Eric Garner’s death while the NYPD held him in a chokehold wouldn’t be included in the Post tally. (Mother Jones compares some of the two publications’ findings here.)
It was probably the one-two punch of the Post and Guardian investigations that led to an uncharacteristically quick political response. Within 48 hours after the pieces appeared, senators Cory Booker and Barbara Boxer proposed a plan to “force all American law enforcement agencies to report killings by their officers” to the Department of Justice.
Another difference between the two projects is that, while both will collect data through the end of the year, the Post’s database—and any photos, stories and interactive bells and whistles that might accompany it—won’t go public, it said, until “a future date.”
And so in terms of emotional impact, The Guardian has the jump. In fact, “The Counted” reminds me of the Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times project, “Portraits of Grief,” which ran more than 1,800 capsule biographies, with photos when possible, of those killed on 9/11. “Portraits” was a daily feature, filling one full page, sometimes two, and ran through New Year’s Eve 2001. Like today’s police killings projects, “Portraits” began, the Times wrote, “as an imperfect answer to a journalistic problem, the absence of a definitive list of the dead…”
The portraits, now archived online, were based on a phalanx of reporters’ interviews with families and friends of the dead, and gave more personal snapshots (like “Taking Care of Mozard: Maria Isabel Ramirez”) than either the Post or Guardian have the resources to muster today.
The Guardian stories are presented almost Facebook-style in a photo mosaic of faces. You could find yourself, as I did, clicking on faces to see whether they fit or explode the stereotypes you might have of someone who would be killed by the cops, all the time overwhelmed at the scale of the problem.
Beyond the database, The Guardian is running almost-daily features on how police violence affects various communities, including deaths of the mentally ill, women, Latinos, and the elderly (“about six elderly people a month,” it finds).
By the way, that figure of 464 people killed by police in the first five months of 2015 has climbed, as of today, to 489.
By: Leslie Savan, The Nation, June 8, 2015
“Ted Cruz, Christian Warrior Supreme”: Hell-Bent On Outhustling Everybody For Allegiance Of Evangelical Crackro-Americans
Even as we learn that on at least one occasion the scion of the Ultimate WASP Family, Jeb Bush, identified himself as “Hispanic,” an actual Hispanic proto-candidate for president, Ted Cruz, seems hell-bent on outhustling everybody for the allegiance of conservative evangelical Crackro-Americans. Per a report from Politico‘s Alex Isenstadt, Cruz ran the first campaign ads of the cycle over Eastern Weekend on programs (especially the latest biblical docum-drama, A.D. The Bible Continues, which premiered last night) with special appeal to Cruz’s fellow Southern Baptists. Cruz’s staff was very open with Isenstadt about their candidate’s dedication to Bible-thumping:
Ted Cruz’s aggressive pursuit of the evangelical vote began with a deliberate choice of venue for his presidential announcement two weeks ago: Liberty University, which bills itself as the largest Christian university in the world.
The Texas Republican senator’s strategic play for Christian conservatives comes into even sharper focus this weekend as he rolls out the first television ad of the 2016 race. Titled “Blessing,” the commercial is aimed directly at evangelical and social conservative voters in early voting states, timed for Easter weekend and slated to air during popular Christian-themed programming.
It’s an exercise in narrowcasting that telegraphs exactly how Cruz intends to win the GOP nomination against better-funded and better-known rivals. His advisers say the Liberty University backdrop, the TV ads and even his recent two-day tour of Iowa are all part of a detailed blueprint designed to tap into the power of two distinct GOP wings — evangelicals and the tea party movement.
Since probably about 80% of these two “wings” overlap, it’s an even narrower casting than Isenstadt’s account indicates. But there’s no question the Texan doesn’t have the luxury of being able to rely on any subtle dog-whistling. Mike Huckabee, after all, is an ordained Southern Baptist minister who’s been working this particular audience for eight years. Rick Perry has deep Christian Right roots. Rick Santorum is an accomplished veteran of the campaign to build counter-cultural ties between conservative evangelicals and “traditionalist” Catholics. And Bobby Jindal’s tongue has been lolling out for about a year now in his relentless pursuit of the mantle of the Christian Right’s very best friend.
So Ted’s got to just come right out and say things others may just imply. One indicator of how it’s going may well be the extent to which he deploys the powerful but perilous weapon of his deranged father, the Rev. Rafael Cruz. In “Blessing,” he plays the bit role of a drunken would-be deadbeat dad saved by Jesus. If Rafael starts speaking in his son’s ads, Ted’s campaign to become the Christian Warrior Supreme is either going really well or really badly.
By: Ed Kligore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 6, 2015
“Rights Not Safeguarded Can Be Eroded Or Lost”: Nation’s Voting Rights Laws Headed In Wrong Direction
One of the most painful scenes in Ava DuVernay’s film, Selma, about Martin Luther King Jr.’s protest marches in Selma, Ala., shows nurse Annie Lee Cooper, played by Oprah Winfrey, being turned away from registering to vote because she can’t name the state’s 67 county judges. Such ploys to block black people from voting were used in the South even after the 1964 Civil Rights Act. They ensured that unequal laws and systems endured, since elected officials were answerable only to the whites who had elected them. It took the Voting Rights Act in 1965 to make that civil right binding. Yet today that victory that legions of volunteers fought for is under attack.
Last year the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Texas law to require voters to show photo ID cards. The law had been challenged by the U.S. Justice Department and struck down by a federal judge who said 600,000 registered voters in Texas had no government-issued ID, and that African-Americans were thrice as likely as whites to not have one. But the law was upheld by a federal Court of Appeals. Texas found ammunition in a 2013 Supreme Court ruling, Shelby County (Alabama) v. Holder, striking down a section of the Voting Rights Act that had required states with a history of voter discrimination to get federal approval before changing voting procedures. Various states have responded with new voting restrictions.
“If you live in rural Mississippi, and you have no license, you have no ID,” says Patti Miller, who just completed a documentary about the role of Iowans in the 1964 Freedom Summer. She noted that Hispanics in urban areas face the same problem.
Iowans Return to Freedom Summer, depicts five young white people, including Miller, who grew up in overwhelmingly white Iowa and answered a call from the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee to aid desegregation efforts in Mississippi. They were among 700 college students from around the country who flocked to Mississippi to help register black voters, teach black children in Freedom Schools and organize community centers. The experiences were life changing.
“I’m not sure if that sense of purpose has happened since,” reflected Miller at a preview of her film Monday. “It affects everything you do, your attitudes and outlook on life.”
For Marcia Moore, one of the Freedom Summer volunteers, seeing how hard Mississippi fought to keep black people down brought tough reckonings about her own country. Richard Beymer (who subsequently played Tony in West Side Story) found that summer a joyful time, even though “we were at war, in a sense.” He lived with seven other civil rights workers in a rented house without indoor toilet or shower, all resolute about confronting racism. Stephen L. Smith never fully got over a severe beating at the hands of Mississippi police. Yet he remained politically active, becoming the first American to burn his draft card. All reflect on their experiences in Miller’s film.
There were disagreements within SNCC about including white students, Miller recalls. “A lot felt it should be only blacks. But whenever white people were involved, the press covered it.”
The white students’ activism also “lit a fire” that prompted black people to start protesting, observes Lenray Gandy, a black Mississippi native, in Miller’s film. The movie depicts a Mississippi that didn’t just force blacks and whites to use separate drinking fountains and waiting rooms, but where black people weren’t allowed to try on shoes at the shoe store. A black man couldn’t walk down a street where a white woman was walking. Blacks couldn’t sit in the front of a bus and were expected to keep their eyes downcast when addressing whites.
But the deprivation that ensured all the others stayed in place was being unable to vote. Registrars would use a 95-question test to reject prospective black voters, according to Shel Stromquist, now a professor emeritus from the University of Iowa who took part in Freedom Summer and appears in the film.
Miller formed the Keeping History Alive Foundation because, as the saying goes, those who can’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it. But remembering may not be the problem for politicians enacting current voting restrictions. More likely they see some political advantage to suppressing the minority vote. So the question is whether fair-minded Americans will insist that Congress pass legislative fixes to ensure all qualified Americans have their voices heard.
Miller will forever be affected by the power of committed black and white people living, cooking, eating, working and risking their lives together. She went on to work with King’s organization in Chicago. So it’s disheartening for her to visit college campuses these days and see black and white students self-segregate in dining halls.
It’s easy to get complacent about battles won long ago. But rights not safeguarded can be eroded or lost. Celebrating King’s birthday, as we do this week, shouldn’t just mean reflecting on how far we’ve come, but on where we’re going, and what it will take to stay on track.
By: Rekha Basu, The National Memo, January 21, 2015
“Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round”: Beyond Selma – Writing The Next Chapter In American Civil Rights History
In November 2012, I worked with the Obama campaign’s anti-voter suppression efforts in Florida. I was shocked when I saw that voters in largely Hispanic and African-American areas were forced to wait hours and hours to vote by design. The state had cut early voting from 14 to 6 days and added 11 constitutional amendments to the ballot (some written out in full) to make it more time consuming to vote such that one legislator compared the ballot to the Book of Leviticus. I also was told authorities did not deploy all available ballot boxes.
Tasked with encouraging voters to wait for over 3 hours until 10:30 p.m. on a Saturday, I was struck with how little needed to be done. They knew why they were waiting and that only made them more determined to vote. I was reminded of the song “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round” and the voting rights marches in Selma during the Civil Rights era and thought how sad it is that here we stand nearly 50 years after Selma and African-Americans still had to fight for their right to vote.
The next year, the Supreme Court gutted the enforcement provisions of the Voting Rights Act that enabled the Justice Department to block discriminatory voting restrictions in Shelby County v Holder. The Act had been reauthorized in 2006 without a single vote of opposition in the Senate, but in the Obama-era a bill to revive the provisions got nowhere last year despite bipartisan support.
The struggle in Selma is now on movie screens across America for viewers to relive the brutality of Bloody Sunday and the ultimate triumphant march that drew Americans from all races and faiths from across the nation to take a stand for freedom and against bigotry and hate.
In March, however, the world’s attention will once again return to the Edmond Pettus Bridge for the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. It will be a tempered celebration because it has been a difficult two years for race relations in America. Obama’s reelection victory unleashed a torrent of racist hate across social media, then came the killings of Treyvon Martin in Florida, Michael Brown in Missouri and Eric Garner in New York and the divisions their cases brought.
More importantly, throughout the period we have steadily moved backwards on voting rights as states across the south and elsewhere took advantage of the Shelby County decision to enact a number of restrictive voting measures that are designed to suppress the African-American vote.
I have one resolution for 2015 — I’m going to Selma.
As a child of Generation Jones, we always looked up to our Baby Boomer brethren who marched for civil rights when we had no need to for the victory had been won. That victory is in jeopardy. I’m going to Selma.
James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner among others were killed for this most fundamental right — the right to vote. They cannot cry for justice, instead it is the duty of the living to do so for them. I’m going to Selma.
I do not expect a House of Representatives that has no shame over having a white supremacist in its leadership to listen to our pleas for action on voting rights legislation. I’m going to Selma.
Martin Luther King once said, “[h]istory will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” Similarly, Benjamin Franklin said that “[j]ustice will not be served until those who are as unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” I’m outraged and I’m going to Selma.
We are a generous nation that has come together to help those in need as we did after Katrina or to take a stand that we are one as we did after 9/11. The story of civil rights in America is not relegated to our history books or a movie but is still being written today. It is time to write the next chapter for civil rights in America. Once again we are called to take a stand for freedom and against bigotry and hate. I’m going to Selma.
By: Bennet Kelley, The Blog, The Huffington Post, December 31, 2014
The year 2014 will be remembered politically for many things, among them the Republican Party’s impressive victories in the midterm elections. But as much as anything, the year was a reminder of the depth of racial tensions and divisions in America.
Killings of unarmed African Americans by police officers in several cities brought demonstrators into the streets in many more cities. Then came the fatal shooting of two New York police officers by a black man who apparently targeted them for murder, an attack that shocked the sensibilities of people of all races and worsened strains between the city’s police union and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The final days of the year have seen another racial controversy arise. This time, it was over the 2002 appearance by Louisiana Republican Steve Scalise, who is now the House majority whip, before a white-supremacist group founded by David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Duke was a frequent candidate for political office in Louisiana two decades ago.
The Scalise episode, as my colleagues Robert Costa and Philip Rucker wrote, is more than a case of one politician and one event. It is also a reminder of the complexities of race and politics in the Old and New South as that region has made a long transition from one-party Democratic rule a generation ago to today’s one-party Republican dominance.
President Obama is a symbol of the racial progress this country has made and of the distance yet to go. When he was first elected president, he said he believed that his race was as much an asset as a liability in that victory. For every person who cast a vote against him because of his race, he said, there was probably someone who voted for him because of it.
In the weeks after his 2008 victory, he told me that, based on his experience in Illinois, he was confident when he started the campaign that the country had moved far enough on racial issues for race not to be a major obstacle to winning the presidency.
Yet some of Obama’s detractors have made him the target of racially charged criticisms. His allies say that were he not the nation’s first black president, he would not be subjected to such disrespect and venom.
Where does that leave things as the new year begins? Recent polling shows a huge gap between blacks and whites on perceptions of police treatment of minorities — as well as a significant gap between white Democrats and white Republicans. This is not necessarily new, but it speaks to lasting differences that affect political decisions and party coalitions.
Obama, taking a long view, argues that the country has made significant progress and that this ought not to be forgotten at times of heightened tensions. In a reflective interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep that was released a few days ago, the president said he believes that the country is less racially divided than it was when he took office six years ago.
Obama said that the way the issue of race surfaced in 2014 was likely healthy for society. “The issue of police and communities of color being mistrustful of each other is hardly new,” he said. “That dates back a long time. It’s just something that hasn’t been talked about.”
He went on to say that the attention given to the killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner on Staten Island may make it appear that racial divisions have worsened. But he added, “I assure you, from the perspective of African Americans or Latinos in poor communities who have been dealing with this all their lives, they wouldn’t suggest somehow that it’s worse now than it was 10, 15 or 20 years ago.”
The swiftness with which Scalise and other House Republican leaders moved to defuse the controversy over his appearance before Duke’s group, the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO), shows their sensitivity to being tied to anything that smacks of racially insensitive politics. Acting as quickly as they did, the leaders no doubt hope that the Scalise controversy will have mostly died down by the time lawmakers gather next week, with Republicans celebrating the fact that they now control both the House and Senate.
Still, what remains unclear is why Scalise did not immediately recognize at the time the dangers of speaking to a group whose name suggested its origins and racist interests. His friends and allies contend that he has been adept at avoiding racially polarizing actions or connections that plagued other politicians in the past.
Stephanie Grace, who has long covered Scalise in Louisiana, posted an article Tuesday night on the Web site of the New Orleans Advocate in which she said she never saw any evidence that Scalise endorsed the views of Duke’s organization. She said she has seen him work closely with Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), who is African American, and others in the black community.
She also wrote that Scalise once had said to her that he was like Duke without the baggage. As a result, she wrote, “I also get how the invitation wouldn’t have set off alarm bells, given that Scalise had long since made his awkward peace with the situation. In fact, by 2002, Scalise may have been so used to the idea of dealing with Duke voters that he really considered EURO just another part of his constituency, even if it was a distasteful one.“
That David Duke had a following and a constituency was undeniable, given the support he attracted in his campaigns. Conservatives like Scalise, who came along later, wanted the support of many of Duke’s supporters — even if they rejected his racist politics.
Robert Mann, who has worked for a number of Democratic elected officials from Louisiana and is now a professor at Louisiana State University, made another point in an e-mail message sent Tuesday. “Duke’s racial views were — and still are to some degree — pretty mainstream among a significant percentage of whites here,” he wrote.
It’s noteworthy that Republicans now have a diverse set of statewide elected officials in the South and elsewhere: an African American senator (Tim Scott of South Carolina), two Indian American governors (Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Nikki Haley of South Carolina), and two Hispanic governors (Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Brian Sandoval of Nevada).
Equally noteworthy is the degree to which the Republican Party still struggles to expand its voter coalition to include more minorities. That Democrats still command 90 percent of the African American vote and that Mitt Romney won just 27 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2012 underscores the distance Republicans must travel.
Today, the two major parties highlight the racial gaps that exist in society. Scott Clement of The Washington Post’s polling unit looked at the racial makeup of the two political parties, based on surveys conducted in the past 15 months. In those polls, the percentage of self-identified Republicans who were white averaged 85 percent. Among Democrats, the average percentage of whites was 53 percent.
Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute wrote recently in the National Journal that, with the continuing decline in support for Democrats among working-class whites and the failure of Republicans to attract more support among minorities, “it is possible to see a future where the GOP is clearly and distinctly a white party, while Democrats are clearly a majority-minority party.”
That’s not healthy — for either party or for the nation. Changing this will be part of the challenge for the president in his final two years, for Republicans as they take control of Congress and implement their agendas in states where they have unified control and for those who seek the presidency two years from now.
By: Dan Baltz, The Baltz, Chief Correspondent, The Washington Post, December 31, 2014