New Journal and Guide
There have been at least 385 persons shot and killed by police nationwide during the first five months of 2015, more than two a day, according to a fact-finding analysis recently released by The Washington Post.
That is more than twice the rate of fatal police shootings tallied by the federal government over the past decade, a count that officials concede is incomplete.
“These shootings are grossly underreported,” said Jim Bueermann, a former police chief and president of the Washington-based Police Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving law enforcement.
“We are never going to reduce the number of police shootings if we don’t begin to accurately track this information.”
The Post report said:
• The vast majority of victims – more than 80 percent – were armed with potentially lethal objects, primarily guns, but also knives, machetes, revving vehicles and, in one case, a nail gun.
• Forty-nine people had no weapon, while the guns wielded by 13 others turned out to be toys. In all, 16 percent were either carrying a toy or were unarmed.
This report surfaces during a national debate and concern about police use of deadly force, especially against unarmed African-American men.
To understand why and how often these shootings occur, The Washington Post is compiling a database of every fatal shooting by police in 2015, as well as of every officer killed by gunfire in the line of duty. The Post looked exclusively at shootings, not killings by other means, such as stun guns and deaths in police custody.
The researchers, according to the Post, used interviews, police reports, local news accounts and other sources.
The Post tracked more than a dozen details about each killing through Friday (May 29), including the victim’s race, whether the person was armed and the circumstances that led to the fatal encounter.
The result is an unprecedented examination of these shootings, many of which began as minor incidents and suddenly escalated into violence.
The Report’s key findings:
• About half the victims recorded in the report, were white (171), Black (100), Hispanic (54). For women, it was white (9), Black (5), and Hispanic (3). But the demographics shifted sharply among the unarmed victims, two-thirds of whom were Black or Hispanic.
• Overall, Blacks were killed at three times the rate of whites or other minorities when adjusting by the population of the census tracts where the shootings occurred.
• The dead ranged in age from 16 to 83. Eight were children younger than 18, including Jessie Hernandez, 17, who was shot three times by Denver police officers as she and a carload of friends allegedly tried to run them down.
The Post analysis also sheds light on the situations that most commonly gave rise to fatal shootings. About half of the time, police were responding to people seeking help with domestic disturbances and other complex social situations: A homeless person behaving erratically. A boyfriend threatening violence. A son trying to kill himself.
Ninety-two victims – nearly a quarter of those killed – were identified by police or family members as mentally ill.
In Miami Gardens, Fla., Catherine Daniels called 911 when she couldn’t persuade her son, Lavall Hall, a 25-year-old Black man, to come in out of the cold early one morning in February. A diagnosed schizophrenic who stood 5-foot-4 and weighed barely 120 pounds, Hall was wearing boxer shorts and an undershirt and waving a broomstick when police arrived. They tried to stun him with a Taser gun and then shot him.
The other half of shootings involved non-domestic crimes, such as robberies, or the routine duties that occupy patrol officers, such as serving warrants.
Nicholas T. Thomas, a 23-year-old Black man, was killed in March when police in Smyrna, Ga., tried to serve him with a warrant for failing to pay $170 in felony probation fees. Thomas fled the Goodyear tire shop where he worked as a mechanic, and police shot into his car.
Although race was a dividing line, those who died by police gunfire often had much in common: poor and a history of run-ins with police over mostly small-time crimes, sometimes because they were emotionally troubled.
Of the cases resolved, most officers were cleared or acquitted.
In all three 2015 cases in which charges were filed, videos emerged showing the officers shooting a suspect during or after a foot chase.
A highly publicized recent case, caught on video, is in South Carolina, where police officer Michael Slager was charged with murder in the death of Walter Scott, a 50-year-old Black man, who ran after a traffic stop. Slager’s attorney declined to comment.
In many other cases, police agencies have determined that the shootings were justified. But many law enforcement leaders are calling for greater scrutiny.
This story is based on excerpts from the Washington Post and other internet wire services reports.