In today’s America, mass shootings are a very unfortunate reality. Each event a tragic stain on our history, it can be difficult to fathom exactly how to solve the problem. A pattern follows, and the country begins a discussion of solutions involving gun control, which some empirical data suggests will not work. Even then, however, we’re missing a critical cause of American deaths that kills even more people than mass shootings do: police brutality.
Occasionally, stories of police brutality do reach the spotlight enough to cause national outrage. The 2014 Michael Brown killing in Ferguson, Missouri, for example, sparked weeks of attention. However, much of this was due to the mass riots that followed. In reality, despite receiving relatively little media attention, police brutality kills far more people than mass shootings.
2018 Mass Shootings
Again, mass shootings are certainly a major issue. But put into perspective, the scope of them is actually quite small. Going by the common definition of a mass shooting, in which four people, not including the shooter, must die, there were 20 of such tragedies in 2018. Of these 20, 14 involved the exact minimum of four fatalities; setting the cutoff at five would reduce the total to six in a year.
In total, there were 116 deaths that resulted from these shootings. Obviously, this is still a serious issue to address. In the six tragedies involving more than the minimum number of deaths, 60 people lost their lives.
These figures are actually down more than 50% from just one year prior. In 2017, there were 42 instances in which four or more people lost their lives in a shooting (the database used a looser definition of a mass shooting, in which four injuries, not deaths, were necessary. This increased the results dramatically, but is not generally regarded as the definition). Of these 42 events, 31 of them involved the minimum of four deaths, while another five involved five deaths. Altogether, 264 people lost their lives in mass shootings in 2017. Compared to police shootings, though, even this figure is low.
Police Brutality Statistics
In 2018, United States police officers killed 1,165 citizens; this is an astonishing 10 times the number of people that died in mass shootings. The shootings were generally fairly spread out, occurring on every day of the year except for 23 of them. In the months of March, May, and November, police fatally shot at least one citizen every day.
Looking at how many days the police force killed four or more people, the discrepancy becomes even more clear. On 144 different days throughout the year, police brutality led to the deaths of at least four American civilians. Three lost their lives on Christmas. Another four on New Years’. Three more celebrated Independence Day with a cop’s bullet taking everything from them.
Two particularly striking periods are the week of April 8-14 and the month of July. In the former, police killed at least four people every day of the week. In the latter, they killed three or more on every day of the month except for eight.
These statistics, unlike those for mass shootings, are fairly constant from year to year. In 2017, police brutality resulted in 1,147 deaths, so the rate has increased by roughly 1.5% from year to year. 92% of these shootings were the result of a gun; the majority of others involved brute force, tasers, or cars. Cops also send an average of 100,000 people every year to the ER with non-lethal injuries.
Every year, the FBI releases data on what they consider to be justifiable homicides, which they define as the killing of a felon by a police officer (or by a private citizen, as the felon is committing a felony). Many people feel that this definition is too loose, as the normal penalty for many felonies is far less than death.
Looking exclusively at the justifiable homicides, it appears that a majority of police killings do not fall under this category. Though information is not yet available for 2017 and 2018, the five-year average for 2012-2016 is 448.8 instances. Even a liberal estimate of 450 and a conservative estimate of 1,150 total police killings, there are 700 that the government itself cannot account for; this is more than 60% of all incidents.
Despite this, 99% of police shootings in 2015 did not lead to a conviction. In 97% of situations, there wasn’t a charge, either. Many believe that this is a sign of a militarized police force.
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