The persistence of police killings (NYT)

The persistence of police killings

During a six-month span in 2014, four separate police killings of African-Americans grabbed the country’s attention. Eric Garner died after being put in a chokehold in New York, while Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.; Laquan McDonald in Chicago; and 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland were all shot.
The killings sparked a debate about how to reduce deaths caused by the police. In response, more police departments directed their officers to wear body cameras. Some introduced new training programs. Civil-rights activists and politicians began paying more attention to the issue.
Six years later, however, there is no sign of meaningful change, at least on the national level. The number of police killings has hovered around 1,100 every year since 2013, according to Mapping Police Violence, a research and advocacy group. (A Washington Post database shows a similar pattern.)
By The New York Times | Source: Mapping Police Violence
Now the subject is back in the spotlight.
On Monday night, a Minneapolis man named George Floyd died after a police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck while he lay on the ground. The case was the latest in which the official police report presented a different story from a cellphone video that later emerged. In the video, Floyd can be heard saying “I can’t breathe” again and again.
Four officers involved in the arrest were fired yesterday. “Being black in America should not be a death sentence,” Minneapolis’s mayor, Jacob Frey, said. “For five minutes, we watched a white officer press his knee into a black man’s neck. Five minutes.”
What, if anything, might finally succeed in reducing police killings? I thought it would be worth sharing a few suggestions from around the country that I found while trying to make sense of the latest case:
  • Samuel Sinyangwe of Campaign Zero, a group formed after Brown’s death: Restrict chokeholds, train officers to de-escalate conflicts and prohibit them from shooting at moving vehicles, among other steps.
  • A 2019 California law: Change the standard for when an officer can legally use deadly force, from one based on a “reasonable belief” of imminent danger to one in which a later review finds it “necessary.”
  • Jennifer Cobbina, Michigan State University: Implicit-bias training for officers and “frank engagement between law enforcement and the people they serve to address tensions, grievances and misconceptions.”
  • David French, National Review: Acknowledge that “many controversial police shootings are lawful and justifiable” but also stop accepting excuses and cover-ups for those that are not.
  • Chuck Wexler, Police Executive Research Forum: Train officers to intervene when a colleague “may be on the brink of using excessive force,” as Los Angeles and New Orleans are doing.
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