Amidst the pandemic and toxic political environment, there is a national reckoning involving law enforcement. The choking death of George Floyd set off riots across the country and around the world, but there have been 135 fatal shootings by law enforcement of unarmed blacks in just the last five years.
Now National Public Radio (NPR) has looked into the shootings to identify patterns amongst these deaths. While many officers will go their entire career without ever shooting their gun outside a gun range, there are consistent troubling details regarding the fatal shootings:
- At least six officers who shot black citizens had troubled pasts that included domestic violence, a dismissal, and two forced to leave other law enforcement agencies.
- Several were convicted of crimes while on the force, including battery, resisting and obstructing.
- Two dozen officers received citizen complaints about the use of force, including one officer who had 82 complaints but was never found in violation.
- Several officers had violated department policies or been cited for ethics violations.
- Nineteen of the officers involved in the shootings were rookies (one was on the job for just four hours).
- More than a quarter of the killings occurred during a traffic stop.
- Eighteen percent of those shot had a mental illness.
There were countless examples of these officers avoiding accountability for their actions. Even the criminal justice system refused to prosecute the officers, which put them back on the street.
Detroit officer involved in 5 shootings
One particularly troubling example cited was Detroit Police officer Jerold Blanding. He was involved in five shootings, three while on duty and two off duty during a 24-year career. He also had a long list of other violations and misbehavior, yet this officer, who was known for his temper, kept his job. Blanding made the news on several occasions, including when he fatally shot a man in 2017.
No one is above the law
Many of the officers involved in the shooting were doing their duty by protecting and serving their communities. But it seems that some lost their way or should never have gone into law enforcement. Inexperience and a history of violence can make bad situations worse.
Municipalities need to hold their law enforcement accountable for their actions. Even when the shootings were not fatal, and the treatment of citizens is abuse, this is a gross misuse of power. Policy changes, better hiring practices, and more accountability can help change the community’s relationship with law enforcement. This can then usher in a new day for law enforcement and the community.