The Washington Post reports that police officers fatally shot 965 people this year. One can’t draw any important conclusions from these numbers alone, since they don’t tell us anything about the circumstances and/or justification for the police conduct.
However, the Post presents some additional information. It says that cases in which white officers killed unarmed black men represent less than 4 percent of fatal police shootings. This statistic doesn’t quantify the number of cases in which the police acted improperly (Michael Brown was unarmed, but Darren Wilson didn’t act improperly, in my view and in the view of the grand jury). However, it’s clear that only a very small number of unarmed blacks are being shot by the police.
The Post also says that “the great majority of people who died at the hands of the police fit at least one of three categories: they were wielding weapons, they were suicidal or mentally troubled, or they ran when officers told them to halt.” Thus, if blacks lives mattered to “Black Lives Matter,” the protesters would be focused on discouraging people from wielding weapons in the presence of police officers and encouraging them to halt when officers tell them to. They might also be seeking to help the suicidal and the mentally ill. And, of course, they would be trying to do something about the epidemic of black-on-black killings in communities across the country.
Instead, Black Lives Matter is urging that police officers be “fried like bacon.”
Meanwhile, some police departments have decided to rewrite the rules on chasing suspects who flee. Officers are called upon, instantaneously and under pressure, to apply what the Post calls “complex matrices” before deciding to chase. If their application of the matrices is second-guessed by folks with hours to spend on the task, they can lose their job and face criminal charges.
Meanwhile, criminals will escape. The Post reports that Cynthia Lum, a criminologist at George Mason University, reviewed 33 studies of pursuit policies. She found, not surprisingly, that tightening the rules on pursuing suspects led to more crime.
This represents an aspect of the Ferguson effect. We are expected to tolerate more crime because an element in our society is unwilling to obey basic rules.