The US Government Could Count Those Killed by Police, But It's Chosen Not To

The figures presented in the Guardian's new expose, The Counted, illustrate how disproportionately black Americans, who make up just 13% of the country's total population according to census data, are killed by police. (Composite: Guardian Design)

The US Government Could Count Those Killed by Police, But It's Chosen Not To

We’ve had the authority to collect and publish data on law enforcement’s use of force for 20 years. We can’t wait another 20 for transparency or accountability

For centuries, black communities in America have faced physical abuse and unjustified deadly force at the hands of law enforcement. Modern policing even originated in slave patrols and night watches that captured people who tried to escape slavery. According to the most recent FBI data, local police kill black people at nearly the same rate as people lynched in the Jim Crow-era - at least two times a week. The Guardian's latest count for the first five months of 2015 puts that number at around once per day.

But the verifiable impact on black lives of racially discriminatory policing remains largely unknown. Despite federal law authorizing the US attorney general to collect nationwide data on police use of force, there remains no federal database on how often police kill civilians, let alone abuse their authority.

According to Guardian's The Counted, police killed 464 people in the first 5 months of 2015, including 135 black people. Their data shows that, in 2015 so far, the black people killed by the police are twice as likely to be unarmed as the white people. According to a recent Washington Post analysis, at this rate, police will fatally shoot nearly 1,000 people by the end of year. The federal government has no way to confirm or disprove this data, though they've long had the authority to compile it themselves.

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In 1994, the US Congress passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which authorized the attorney general to collect and publish nationwide data on police use of force. In 2000, Congress passed the Death in Custody Reporting Act, which required states to report any individual who dies in police custody, but lacked proper enforcement and expired in 2006. In December 2014, a new version of the latter act passed again, requiring the attorney general to eliminate federal funding for police departments that fail to comply.

And just last week, as part of President Obama's executive order to limit the types of militarized weapons the federal government can transfer to local police, he expanded police data collection of police uses of force, pedestrian and vehicle stops, officer involved shootings and more. But the executive action fails to address the scale of today's policing crisis or make the data collection mandatory: of 18,000 police departments in the US, only 21 are participating in the new initiative.

We cannot afford to wait another 20 years for comprehensive, public data on how often local, state and federal police use force.

Read the full article at The Guardian.

© 2023 The Guardian