While we digest the news out of North Charleston - which didn’t really become news until a video of the shooting was released yesterday - there are other things we need to keep in mind.
The State newspaper looked at 5 years of data in South Carolina and found that police officers had used their guns 209 times - but that not once was an officer convicted, not even the handful who actually faced criminal charges:
26 years and doubts an officer has ever been convicted. “I really cannot remember any,” he said. “Certainly, there’s been a lot of shootings.”
O’Leary can recall two cases in which officers went to trial. Neither was convicted. However, many cases turn into civil lawsuits, he said.
Johnny Gasser, a prosecutor in Richland and Kershaw counties for 15 years and now a Columbia defense attorney, can’t recall the solicitor’s office formally accusing an officer – until last year.
“I don’t think we ever charged anybody during the time I was there,” said Gasser, who left the office in 2002. “We ruled all the shootings were justified – and we looked at dozens and dozens of them.”
The State newspaper examined five years of data because of the keen public interest here and nationally in how often shootings occur as well as whether police fire too often and too quickly.
In particular, critics complain about how rarely police are held accountable and who makes those decisions.
According to SLED data, the North Charleston shooting is the 11th of the year, but with one big caveat: those are only the ones reported to SLED. Departments are not required to report shootings to SLED, and SLED isn’t required to report shootings to the FBI, though SLED reports any way.
Let me repeat that: We simply don’t know how many times police officers shoot citizens, or even shoot at them. If nothing else changes, that must.
It’s criminal that we don’t know that basic data.
More things to think about:
Maybe an average of 3 people are killed by police every day:
Last week, we wrote about the fact that the U.S. government doesn’t track how many people are killed by the police. The FBI tracks “justifiable” police homicides, which it reports to be about 400 per year, but that tally is an undercount.
Given this vacuum, attention has recently turned to some excellent nongovernmental attempts to compile this data, including the Fatal Encounters database, the recently created Gun Violence Archive and a new database created by Deadspin.
But one recent effort stood out for its apparent comprehensiveness: The Killed By Police Facebook page, which aggregates links to news articles on police-related killings and keeps a running tally on the number of victims. The creator of the page does not seek to determine whether police killings are justifiable; each post “merely documents the occurrence of a death.” He told FiveThirtyEight that he was an instructor on nonviolent physical-intervention techniques and that he prefers to remain anonymous.
Killed by Police had listed more than 1,450 deaths caused by law-enforcement officers since its launch, on May 1, 2013, through Sunday. That works out to about three per day, or 1,100 a year.
Young black males in recent years were at a far greater risk of being shot dead by police than their white counterparts – 21 times greater i, according to a ProPublica analysis of federally collected data on fatal police shootings.
The 1,217 deadly police shootings from 2010 to 2012 captured in the federal data show that blacks, age 15 to 19, were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police.
One way of appreciating that stark disparity, ProPublica's analysis shows, is to calculate how many more whites over those three years would have had to have been killed for them to have been at equal risk. The number is jarring – 185, more than one per week.