We Cannot Know How Many People the Police Kill
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The killing of the unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, by the Ferguson police officer, Darren Wilson, last month, has sparked a national conversation about the epidemic of police brutality and extra-judicial killings in the United States. One of the questions that has consistently been raised in this conversation since the shooting of Michael Brown is why can't we, as a public, find out how many people are killed by the police? There are no national database records that show the number of unarmed victimes killed by police officers.

An activist, demanding justice for the shooting death of teen Michael Brown. (Photo:Reuters)

On a monthly basis, the FBI collects data from local and state law enforcement as part of their Uniform Crime Reporting system. This data is placed in the FBI's database of “justifiable homicides,” to which local law enforcement are not required to report, but they can do so voluntarily. According to the FBI, a justifiable homicide is, either, “The killing of a felon by a peace officer in the line of duty” or “The killing of a felon, during the commission of a felony, by a private citizen.” A felon, in these cases, is defined by the FBI as “A felon in this case is someone who is committing a felony criminal offense at the time of the justifiable homicide." FBI records say that there were 426 "felons killed by police" in 2012.

In other words, if a police officer kills someone because he “felt his life was in danger” and later the police department agrees with his assessment that he thought his life was in danger, then it is reported as a “justifiable homicide.” According to the FBI, the victim is now reported as a “felon,” no matter if he was or wasn't a criminal or would have been found innocent if he had been allowed to live.

There is a high likelihood considering these reporting processes, that Michael Brown would have been classified as a 'felon' after police officer Wilson killed him, if Wilson claimed that he felt Brown was a danger to the officer.

According to the FBI, approximately twice a week, a white police officer killed a black person in the past seven years. These killings are self-reported by police departments. According to the report, Operation Ghetto Storm: 2012 Annual Report on the Extrajudicial Killings of 313 Black People by Police, Security Guards, and Vigilantes, by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, “every 28 hours in 2012 someone employed or protected by the US government killed a Black man, woman, or child.”

Some of the names we know of people who were unarmed and killed by the police, most of whom were black, in the past month are as follows, Dillon Taylor, Dante Parker, Omar Abrego, Jacinto Zavala, Diana Showman, Michelle Cusseaux, Joshua Paul, Kody Roach, Joseph Jennings, Guillermo Canas, Marlon Horton.

In the past month since the killing of Brown, we cannot account for every unarmed person who was killed by the police. We cannot know how many black people have been killed by law enforcement either. We know only a few of their names, a few of their stories. What we do know is that most of them would have been considered felons, their inability to speak for themselves in the wake of their killing, legally being used against them.


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