‘Police violence is not situational it is endemic’ – ACLU

Black Lives Matter demonstration in St Paul’s after the police killing of George Floyd

OVER the past few days new police shootings of black men confirmed a warning from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that ‘significant racial disparities in police killings continue despite protests.’

Riots broke out in Wisconsin on Sunday evening after a black man, Jacob Blake, was repeatedly shot in the back – seven times at close range – by police in the city of Kenosha.
Blake is still in a serious ‘but stable’ condition after being flown by helicopter to hospital on Sunday evening.
Footage circulating on social media showed the incident with Blake, who does not appear to be carrying a weapon, seen walking towards a car as two officers follow him with their guns drawn.
As Blake opens the car door, one of the officers can be seen grabbing his vest and shooting him in the back.
Seven shots can be heard followed by the car’s horn continuously beeping.
This shooting followed a fatal shooting of another black man in Louisiana last Friday evening.
Police in Lafayette Tasered then shot Trayford Pelerin eleven times as he walked away from them in the incident captured on video, prompting an angry demonstration that riot police dispersed using tear gas.
Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released its report ‘The Other Epidemic: Fatal Police Shootings in the Time of Covid-19.’
The report finds fatal shootings by police are so routine that, even during a national pandemic with far fewer people travelling outside of their homes and police departments reducing contact with the public so as not to spread the virus, police have continued to fatally shoot people at the same rate so far in 2020 as they did in the same period from 2015 to 2019.
Further, ACLU analysis reveals that ‘Black, Native American/Indigenous, and Latinx people are still more likely than white people to be killed by police.’
Key findings of the report include:

  • As of June 30, 2020, police officers had fatally shot 511 people.

‘From 2015 to 2019, an average of 19.4 fatal police shootings occurred per week during the first half of the year. In the first half of 2020, there were the exact same average number of fatal police shootings per week (19.4).

  • Police in the United States kill an obscene number of people every year. At a minimum, police kill almost 1,000 people annually. From January 1st, 2015, to June 30, 2020, police officers shot and killed AT LEAST 5,442 people.

  • Approximately 46 per cent of fatal police shootings kill white people, who account for roughly 60 percent of the US population. Another 24 per cent of fatal police shootings kill Black people, who account for about 13 per cent of the US population.

‘The findings of this report show that police violence in our country is not situational, but rather endemic to our country’s policing institution. Despite a once in a lifetime public health crisis that has upended societal norms and caused a decrease in physical interaction, police still manage to kill people at the same rate as before the outbreak of Covid-19,’ said Paige Fernandez, policing policy advisor at the ACLU.
‘In order to address the tide of police violence that continues in Black and Brown communities despite a global pandemic, we must transform policing in this country by dramatically reducing police departments’ role, responsibilities, power, and funding. Only then can we truly eliminate unnecessary interactions between the police and community members, thereby reducing violence and deaths.’
Because of stay-at-home orders, social distancing requirements, and police department policies advising officers to initiate fewer investigative contacts, fewer fatal police shootings in 2020 relative to years past might have been expected.
However, this number is consistent with each of the previous five years for which there is data – a surprising outcome given the significant societal disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.
‘The Other Epidemic: Fatal Police Shootings in the Time of Covid-19’ provides a comprehensive set of recommendations centered on reinvesting in community-based services that are better suited to respond to actual community needs and reducing police interactions.
These recommendations include prohibiting police from enforcing a range of non-serious offences including non-serious traffic and minor offences, transforming use of force statutes so that police officers’ use of force against community members is rare, abolishing qualified immunity, which often shields officers from liability for many constitutional violations, and establishing independent oversight structures with teeth that ensure that when officers use force in violation of the law they are held accountable.
The report concludes: ‘These sobering findings suggest that not even a deadly virus – one that has driven people indoors and required social distancing – can curb the American epidemic of fatal police shootings or the disproportionate rate of police killings of Black, Brown, and Native American/Indigenous people.
‘We must take urgent, critical steps to systemically transform policing in this country by dramatically reducing police departments’ role, presence, responsibilities, and funding, and in turn, end the scourge of police violence.’
Recommendations are:

  • Divest from current policing budgets and reinvest in life-affirming alternatives to policing that will keep communities safe.   Significantly fewer police, with a significantly reduced role in communities’ everyday lives, will result in fewer police-community interactions, which will reduce incidents of police violence.

  • Prohibit police from enforcing a range of nonserious offences, including nonserious traffic and minor offences, which should be addressed through mechanisms outside the criminal legal system. Eighty per cent of arrests in the United States are for misdemeanors, and we have witnessed many police killings – Philando Castile, Eric Garner, George Floyd, and more – that arose from enforcement of petty offences. Eliminating unnecessary interactions between the police and community members will reduce violence and deaths.

  • Dramatically transform use-of-force statutes so that police officers’ use of force against community members is rare. Deadly force should only be allowed if necessary to defend against an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or to another person, and only after all other alternatives to lethal force have been exhausted.

‘Whether such force is necessary should involve consideration of an officer’s conduct and decisions leading up to the use of deadly force, including decisions that create unnecessary risks or ignore reasonable and available alternatives to such force.

  • Abolish qualified immunity, which often shields officers from liability for many constitutional violations, including fatal use of force.

  • Establish alternatives to police response for people in crisis. People who are experiencing behavioural health crises should not have to communicate with law enforcement as first responders. Instead, the response to such crises should be sufficiently staffed, culturally competent mental health services.

  • End the militarisation of police. Police must be demilitarised, which requires a reduction in access to and use of militarised weapons designed for the battlefield of war, including assault rifles, grenade launchers, incendiary devices, and armoured vehicles.

‘Further, communities should encourage programmes to mediate conflicts that rely on people who are not police officers, who do not carry weapons, and who work collaboratively within the communities they serve.

  • Create independent oversight structures with teeth that ensure that when officers use force in violation of the law, policies, or training, they are held accountable.

‘Records of misconduct and ensuing accountability must be made available to the public and other police departments, so as not to allow officers who engage in police violence to easily move from one department to another.

  • Ensure training reflects improved statutes and policies. Training may be required to effectively implement policies that prioritise de-escalation and limit use of force. However, the need for such training should not function as a backdoor means of increasing police budgets.

‘Training content and methods used should be scientifically evaluated, and selection criteria should be based on empirical evidence of efficacy. Additionally, the provision of such training is meaningless if it is not supported by clear, enforceable policies.

  • Collect and disseminate comprehensive, publicly available data about police shootings and all law enforcement uses of force, disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, self-reported LGBTQ status, and disability.

‘It is important to note that although the overwhelming majority of community deaths at the hands of police officers are caused by gunfire, the data analysed here do not include other police-caused deaths, such as those of Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, or George Floyd (to name but a few). This research was limited to fatal shootings by police.’