Protesters in New York rally against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd. Picture: Jeenah Moon/Reuters
Protesters in New York rally against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd. Picture: Jeenah Moon/Reuters

Black Lives Matter Part 1: Police killings outnumber violent crimes in US

By Shannon Ebrahim Time of article published Jun 2, 2020

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The despicable murder of George Floyd has shocked the world. But the greater tragedy is that the killing of young black men in America has become so commonplace that the odds of dying at the hands of the police are higher than dying in a motorcycle crash.

The problem is the deep-seated systemic racism that pervades the social fabric and establishment in America. When the US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien says he doesn’t believe systemic racism in the police exists, it is evidence that racists have permeated the top echelons of the US administration.

The killings are unlikely to stop unless action is taken. The reality is that 99% of police officers are not charged following their killings of African-Americans. In the case of the officer Derek Chauvin who killed George Floyd, he had 18 complaints of police brutality against him. Only two resulted in a letter of reprimand.

Having been involved in shootings and death, the most that happened to Chauvin is that he was put on paid administrative leave in 2006, pending an investigation into the shooting of Latrell Toles. Five years later, he and other officers shot a Native American and were again placed on paid leave with no further consequences.

A peaceful protest in Denver against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd. Picture: Alyson McClaran/Reuters

The officer, Tou Thao, who was complicit in Floyd’s murder and participated in pinning him down while he pleaded he couldn’t breathe, also has a history of brutality with six complaints against him. All but one case, which remains open, was closed without disciplinary action. In 2017, Thao and another officer were sued for the use of excessive force against Lamar Ferguson who said the officers used “cruel and unusual punishment” against him when they beat him in 2014.

Ferguson had been walking home with his pregnant girlfriend when he was approached in a police car by Thao and another officer. He was handcuffed, thrown to the ground and beaten. Thao had lifted Ferguson’s head by his hoodie while the other officer kicked him in the mouth. He was so badly hurt they were forced to take him to hospital, but they threw his discharge papers and prescription painkillers in the garbage.

These are the sick policemen who prey on African-Americans in Minneapolis and keep getting sent back on to the streets, no matter what crimes they commit. No wonder the city went up in flames after the most recent atrocity, which was captured on video for all to see.

In 27 of the 50 largest US cities, the rates of police killings are higher than the rates of violent crime. Surely that makes the police the biggest part of the problem?

In Kansas City, Missouri and in Columbus, Ohio, police killings are double the rate of violent crime. While the Governor of Minnesota Tim Walz may acknowledge that systemic racism is a problem, it doesn’t change the fact that in his state African-Americans, who make up 5% of the population, comprise 20% of those killed by police, and they are five times more likely to be killed than white Americans.

If there is the necessary political will to change this trajectory of violent death, there are measures that could be put in place to restrain the police and ensure prosecution. The Police Use of Force Project found that chokehold and stronghold bans in some areas in the US had reduced police killings by 22%.

As New York mayor Bill de Blasio said on Sunday, the US has to change the way policing is done. He has called for the repeal of Bill 15A, which inhibits transparency when it comes to police behaviour.

Demonstrators march in Oakland, California, protesting the death of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man in police custody in Minneapolis. The message from protesters around the United States is that George Floyd is the latest addition to a grim roster of African Americans to be killed by police or white civilians. Picture: Noah Berger/AP

He has also said the approach to risk management needed to be speeded up so that the police officers who shouldn’t be in their positions need to be removed. He said there has been a history of tension between the African-American community and NYPD members.

As De Blasio has said, it’s time for the politicians to listen to community leaders.

* Ebrahim is the group foreign editor for Independent Media. This column is the first in a 3-part series.

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