Are cops killing more people than ever?

Here’s a pitch for a procedural: How many cops are involved in police shootings in the United States in a given year? Why should that require any detective work? First, there are currently no national statistics on how many people are shot by police each year—and they are sorely needed—both to protect innocent people mistaken for law-breakers and the police themselves.

In some areas, such as Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia and Massachusetts, police shootings have increased, according to a report in Salon. Whether those numbers can be extrapolated to a national trend is not known, though. Police departments are not required to release data on how many civilians are shot by officers each year and many don’t. That’s a rule that should be pursued and revised by Eric Holder, head of Obama’s Justice Department.

Some observers believe that there are more police shootings than there had been five or 10 years ago. Those who want to hold police accountable are stymied by the lack of nationwide statistics on the issue.

So, we’re left to try to find the information on our own. Jim Fisher tried in 2012. According to his True Crime blog, in 2011, 1,146 people were shot by police, with 607 killed. To come up with those numbers, Fisher scoured the Internet for data about every shooting that year. But sadly that system is not comprehensive.

What statistics there are do show that police shootings often involve racial minorities, those with mental illnesses and sometimes victims who fall into both categories. For instance, there were 57 police shootings in Chicago in 2012, according to the city. Fifty of those shot were African-American. A review of police shootings in Maine by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram showed that between 2000 and 2012, 57 people were shot by police in Maine. Of those, at least 24 of the shootings involved victims with mental health issues.

Police shootings may be on the rise because of state laws that empower more firearm use by citizens. Indiana passed a law in 2012 that allowed people to use deadly force against public servants, including law enforcement officers, who illegally enter their homes. Of course, police have no way of knowing whether the occupant of a home thinks the authorities are there legally and it’s unlikely that an innocent person would do that. But many officers are nervous, i.e., frightened, paranoid or plain murderous. “It’s just a recipe for disaster,” Indiana State Fraternal Order of Police president Tim Downs told Bloomberg News. “It just puts a bounty on our heads!”

Generally speaking, the police have more fire-power with them, and feel more entitled to use it. I believe it’s a “shoot-first-ask-questions-later-mentality,” we see, exacerbated by the general violence seen in the many wars we are currently involved in. More than ever around the United State, particularly in big cities like New York, police are going after innocent people, generally the powerless disenfranchised, including, minorities, people of color, and the mentally ill. I can assure you, the cops are not shooting at Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO and chairman of Goldman Sachs.

The city medical examiner later ruled Erol Garner’s death a homicide, saying neck compression from the chokehold killed him. But the officers involved in the arrest may not face charges if the homicide is found to be justifiable. The Staten Island district attorney, Daniel Donovan, is investigating the case. Good luck.

John Crawford, Beavercreek, Ohio, August 5: Two police officers responded to a 911 call about a man waving a gun at customers inside a Walmart store. According the Beavercreek police department, 22-year-old John Crawford disregarded officers’ orders to disarm before being fatally shot in the chest. Crawford’s gun turned out to be a .177 caliber BB rifle that he’d picked up from a store shelf. Walmart surveillance camera footage was turned over to the police but hasn’t been released to the public or Crawford’s family. “Why did John Crawford, a Walmart customer, get shot and killed carrying a BB gun in a store that sells BB guns?” asked Michael Wright, the family’s attorney, during a joint press conference with the NAACP. “All the family demands are answers.” The Ohio Attorney General’s Office is investigating the case. End of case, which is often when law enforcement gets their hands on them like New York City Police Chief Bill Bratton.

Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer and life-long resident of New York City. An EBook version of his book of poems “State Of Shock,” on 9/11 and its after effects is now available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com. He has also written hundreds of articles on politics and government as Associate Editor of Intrepid Report (formerly Online Journal). Reach him at gvmaz@verizon.net.

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