A recent investigation from the New York Times has unveiled startling, yet unsurprising news regarding police force in the United States. Over the last five years, police officers have killed more than 400 drivers or passengers who were not holding a gun, wielding a knife or under the pursuit of a violent crime. Furthermore, more than 400 deaths over the span of five years equates to at least one death per week.
Making matters worse, an overwhelming majority of the officers responsible for these deaths were not convicted of a crime. The report explains that less than 0.1% of those killings resulted in the conviction of a police officer. In many cases, taxpayers were held responsible for these police shootings. The New York Times reports that local governments have paid at least $125 million to resolve more than three dozen wrongful death lawsuits.
“Prosecutors and courts give more leeway to officers’ decisions to use force at vehicle stops, as a result of the exaggerated concern about the potential for officers getting hurt,” former Justice Department prosecutor Michael Gennaco told the New York Times.
“Officers would likely kill fewer drivers if there were deterrence.”
After digging deeper into the data, investigators found that “many stops began with common traffic violations like broken taillights or running a red light.” Across the board, the report found that these minor infractions led to Black motorists being killed at a disproportionate rate. In recent memory, a number of Black motorists like Philando Castile, Daunte Wright and Ronald Greene were all killed during or shortly after a traffic stop. Not to mention, instances in which a Black person is found dead shortly after a traffic stop, à la Sandra Bland, were likely not even included in the figure of 400 or so deaths.
Statistically speaking, officers do not face the same threat during a traffic stop. The report indicates that 280 officers have been killed on duty since late 2016. Of those 280 deaths, motorists were responsible for approximately 60 of them. Excluding accidents, two studies cited in the New York Times report found that there is a one in 3.6 million chance that an officer would be killed in any stop. For common traffic stops, the odds are even slimmer. Professor Jordan Blair Woods of the University of Arkansas found that there is a one in 6.5 million chance that an officer would be killed in a common traffic stop.
Reading about Black trauma can have an impact on your mental health. If you or someone you know need immediate mental health help, text “STRENGTH” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor. These additional resources are also available:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
The National Alliance on Mental Illness 1-800-950-6264
The Association of Black Psychologists 1-301-449-3082
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America 1-240-485-1001
For more mental health resources, click HERE.