Statics of Silencing: The Facts Behind Police Brutality

Originally published at on August 15, 2016.

In these times of unrest many are reminded of Martin Luther King Jr. and his work during the civil rights movement. As protests breakout across the United States of America, some have even called upon this quote for reference, “I think we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard and what is it that America has failed to hear?” Now that the real question has been posed, what exactly have we as a nation failed to notice? Looking to our television screens to see the coverage of the Milwaukee riots and listen to former governors like Mike Huckabee of Arkansas argue that “more white people have been shot by police officers this year than minorities”, how can one discern between fact and fiction to conclude whether America has really ignored the pleas of millions?

Racial tensions are at the forefront of our media coverage and, to help us understand the disparity that exists in our criminal justice system, here are some comparable facts relating police violence against people of color to that against white people in the U.S. First and foremost, Huckabee’s statement is true to an extent. In 2015, The Washington Post found that 1,502 people have been shot and killed by on-duty police officers since Jan. 1, 2015. Of them, 732 were white, and 381 were black (and 382 were of another or unknown race). However these statistics have not been adjusted for population causing them to be inconclusive. White people make up roughly 62 percent of the U.S. population but only about 49 percent of those who are killed by police officers, while black people account for 24 percent of those fatally shot and killed by the police despite being just 13 percent of the U.S. population. When corrected these data points translate to the fact that black Americans are 2.5 times as likely as white Americans to be shot and killed by police officers. This fact on its own showcases the need for reform in our justice system as racial profiling comes to light.

Now that we’ve established that U.S. law enforcement agencies have ignored the implicit bias towards black Americans, what can be seen from their interactions with other people of color? According to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, people who identify as indigenous (or Native American) account for 1.9 percent of police killings although they make up only 0.8 percent of the U.S. population. This means that they are about 3 times as likely as white Americans to be fatally shot by the police, a number devastatingly higher than that of police brutality cases against black communities. Considering the amount of media coverage these murders have seen, it is obvious that we have been very absent in taking action or even notice of the problems affecting the indigenous community.

In the Latino community, an estimated 94 people have been killed by police in 2016 alone meaning that Latino Americans already account for 16 percent of the 585 police-involved killings. The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) stated that this places them right behind black communities in the rate of police brutality cases, many of which most of us are unaware.

Reviewing this data and the lists of victims that police brutality has claimed makes the answer to that deafening question all too real. We as a nation have refused to listen to the pleas of millions and now we’ve hit a boiling point in the fight for racial equity in our criminal justice system. The point of the “Black Lives Matter” movement is not that the lives of black Americans matter more than those of white Americans, but that they matter equally, and that historically they have been treated as though they do not. Choosing to stay silent, choosing to be neutral only allows for tension between people of color and white people to grow, hatred to manifest, and the death toll to increase. Do not let this be the case, speak out.