Police, Guns, and Shootings

The group 53 Hours has posted a video that shows police officers being attacked while in the line of duty.  The group’s name “53 Hours” comes from the reported average that one police officer is killed every 53 hours in the United States.  In 2014, that total was 104.

I am not aware of aware of anyone denying that police work is dangerous.  No one denies these numbers.  We track and report police deaths carefully and it is always treated seriously.  But this video is produced in a Us versus Them way that troubles me.  It is one of those “you’re either with us or against us” tropes that squelch criticism and accountability.

In recent months this country has seen a lot of protests directed at the police.  Even at the highest levels of public office concerns have been raised about the violence that occurs between police and the public.  To raise these concerns is not to dismiss the risks and responsibilities that police officers face every day.  In fact, you might argue it is just the opposite if trust and respect is valued in our police forces.

A count of the people killed by police each year is a fuzzy number.  Unlike most other crime statistics, this number is not uniformly tracked and cataloged.  However, from known numbers it appears that police in the United States kill citizens at rates 100 times higher than other developed countries in the world.  That’s an amazing number, isn’t it?

Maybe that just says we are a more violent society — which might be true — loaded to the gills with guns and bad people ready to use them.  If that’s the case, then we have deeper problems to address…and perhaps we do.

But to dismiss protest and criticism out of hand is ridiculous and irresponsible.

The Washington Post is tracking the number of people killed by police this year.  By the end of May, their count was at 385 known cases.  At that rate the total nationwide at the end of the year will approach 1000.

Certainly many defensive police shootings are justified, probably the majority of them.  What upsets people are the cases that don’t seem justified.   We have all seen these cases.  People are shot fleeing police, while sitting in their cars, while at home.  Some will argue that these are the exceptions.  Perhaps they are.  But that doesn’t change the fact that these cases happen.  And to be alarmed by them does not need to be disrespectful of police officers and the work they do.

A cavalier acceptance of these unfortunate events bleeds into our communities in the form of so-call Stand Your Ground violence where people are given a green light to shoot and kill anyone under the cover of fear.  People talk about it as matter of factly as they might talk about shooting a rabid dog.

We’ve got problems here.  Real problems.  It starts with a careless attitude — literally a care less attitude — about violence overall.  Everyone, police included, should be open to scrutiny when violence occurs.



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