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An Examination of Police Violence

In the last few years, the media has had an increased focus upon the police shootings of unarmed victims. The latest in this string of police shootings was the shooting of Justine Dammond, an unarmed white woman from Australia. Mrs. Dammond had called the Minneapolis police on July 15th of this year after hearing what she believed to be a sexual assault. The police were “startled by a loud sound” and one fatally shot Mrs. Dammond. The officers involved have been placed on administrative leave amid the investigation into the shooting. A number of questions have been raised by the shooting, such as why the body cameras the police were carrying were turned off.

Another unarmed white person shot by the police was Daniel Harris, a deaf man from North Carolina in 2016. Mr. Harris had been speeding, but when he stopped and exited the vehicle the police shot him “almost immediately”, according to police reports.

Yet another unarmed white man was shot in North Carolina in 2014. This individual, Keith Vidal, was schizophrenic. His mother called 911 when her son was having a breakdown so that they could subdue him in order to get him to a psychiatric hospital. Instead, an officer shot him within a minute of coming into her home.

Police also shot a wheelchair bound white man, Jeremy McDole, in Delaware in 2014. The man was suicidal and did have a gun. Police shot him when he refused to drop the weapon he intended to use on himself.

These are but four of multiple examples of police shootings of white individuals. While organizations such as Black Lives Matter point out that many unarmed black men are shot, police shootings also affect the white community.

In fact, most shootings of civilians by police involve white victims which makes sense when one considers that the United States is majority white. The numbers of police shootings is, in and of itself, deeply disturbing. This year, there have been 547 police-involved shootings. In 2016, there were 963 police-involved shootings. While more whites are shot by police, blacks who make up 13 percent of the population make up 24 percent of the victims of police shootings. Therefore, proportionally speaking, blacks are more likely to be shot by police.

What is the origin of police violence? Some argue that it is systematic racism. Black Lives Matter argues for this viewpoint. However, this does not explain away the white victims of police violence. Others suggest that the police have become increasingly militarized.

Since 9/11 and the “War on Drugs” police have been given more weapons. Perhaps, this has led to more of a temptation to use those weapons. This is known as the “weapons effect” and does have empirical validation. Maria Haberfield, a professor of Criminal Justice at John Jay College, explains it this way: Military equipment is used against an enemy. So if you give the same equipment to local police, by default you create an environment in which the public is perceived as an enemy.”

Could it be that we now prepare our police as if they were an occupying force over a conquered people rather than keepers of the peace designed to enforce laws agreed upon by the people? What could have led to this change?

Police violence is an issue which affects all Americans and these questions must be answered before the issue can be solved.

 

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