• Isaac Vitorino

Ignorance or Hypocrisy: A tale of Racially Motivated Police Brutality

Updated: Jul 25

In this piece, I will be focusing on the narrative that racism is the driving force behind most cases of police brutality in the United States, analyze the data available to either support or discredit this claim, and finally, reflect and what I believe to be a shocking level of misinformation surrounding this whole topic and the toxic environment it has created.

On January 18th 2016, Daniel Shaver was shot dead by US police, whilst on the ground and pleading the officer not to kill him, in a very similar fashion to what allegedly happened to Michael Brown. Michael Brown’s story, however, was proven to be fake . Daniel’s story, however, was very real, as one can see by the police footage that was released after the officer responsible for his murder was found NOT GUILTY.

In August of the same year, also in the US, Tony Timpa, a 32-year-old man called 911 claiming he needed help due to coming off his medication for schizophrenia and depression. The “help” Timpa received came in the form of three police officers who restrained him forcefully in such a manner that lead to his death, in a very similar way to the one which resulted in George Floyd’s death, as once again as the video evidence shows.

As with the first case, the charges were dismissed. At the time, there was no outrage, no large gatherings or an angry civil society movement calling for justice for either Shaver or Timpa, as there was for Michael Brown or there is today for George Floyd. In those cases, it was not about anti-racism or anti-police brutality. It was business as usual.

In order to talk about police brutality, there are two key aspects to analyze: violent crime and how often extreme measures, such as shooting people, are used by police. Agressive police response to violent crime is usually considered normal, but if there is data to confirm officers are more agressive towards African-Americans, or any other minority group in particular, especially in an environment where they will feel less judged by the use of extreme measures, then surely the statistics should reflect this.

Starting with the raw numbers, here’s a graph that shows the number and ethnicity of people shot by police in the United States in the past four years:

This graph alone does not support the common idea that African-Americans are shot more than any other demographic, even though there might be some questions raised around the nature of the shootings regarding the ‘unknown’ section. Obviously, one could make the case that this graph does not reveal the whole picture, as the demographics of the United State show a majority white population, and so keeping that in mind, African-Americans would be overrepresented in that graph anyway.

However, it’s not as simple as this. A report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, taking data collected from 2018, shows that there is a disproportionate amount of offenders of Black Ethnicity compared to whites, particularly in violent crime. To quote the report, “the percentage of violent incidents involving black offenders (22%) was 1.8 times the percentage of black persons (12%) in the population. In contrast, the percentage of violent incidents involving white (50%) or Hispanic (14%)offenders was about four-fifths (0.8 times) the percentage of whites (62%) or Hispanics (17%) in the population, and the percentage involving Asian offenders (2.5%) was about two-fifths (0.4 times) the percentage of Asians in the population (6%).”The complete table is as follows:

Out of the 996 people shot by police in 2018, 209 at least were black, which means they account for 20.98 % of all people shot by the police, which is a slightly lower percentage than the rate of violent crime attributed to their own demographic. Furthermore, other reports regarding total fatalities at hands of police between 2009 to 2012, claim the fatality rate for blacks at the hands of police would be at around 32%. These not only do not register an increase that is enough to justify a whole narrative of racially motivated police brutality, but also point out that blacks are more likely to be armed than any other ethnic group, which could also help explain the slight discrepancy.

Either looking at the numbers of people shot or the fatality rates, while there are sensible differences, neither show the systemic racism that many have been claiming to be present in the way police officers deal with black offenders, especially in situations where the excessive use of police force can come across as justified. While this does not cover the situations that led to the unfortunate deaths of Tony Timpa, Daniel Shaver, Michael Brown and George Floyd, it is a good indicator to try to figure out if there is a racially motivated aggressive behaviour by police.

In order to get a clearer glimpse on this matter, a much more comprehensive study conducted by David J. Johnson, Trevor Tress, Nicole Burkel, Carley Taylor, and Joseph Cesario, analyzing the year of 2015 and the ethnicity of both the fatalities and the police officer involved, found to be no racial disparity in terms of the death of the people shot by police officers. The conclusion that one can draw from this research, which compiled information over 900 different fatal shootings in the United States in that year, is that police officers tend to fatally wound offenders of their own ethnic group; again, these findings seriously dent the credibility of those who want to make this a racial issue. To directly quote the report, “White officers were no more likely to fatally shoot Black or Hispanic civilians than non-White officers” and the same went for every other demographic.

The difference between this report and all of the other studies that claim African-Americans are more likely to have encounters with police, or even get shot and killed more often than other groups by police, is that this report was the only one conducted at a national level that took into account the ethnicity of both the officer and the fatality. Despite claims that some minority groups might be more likely to have unpleasant encounters with police, you cannot label the police racist unless you look at the ethnicity of the police officers themselves (seeing as, obviously, being a policeman is not a race), and again according to this study, it is proven that a white police officer is more likely to shoot and kill a white criminal; that a black police officer is more likely to shoot and kill a black criminal; and the same equation for all other demographics. Once more, it is difficult to paint the picture that the current social climate seems to derive from. Judging by the data alone, this is, once more, not a question of racism. Just, arguably, police brutality.

The social and political climate that followed George Floyd’s death is one of revolt; and one could say, rightfully so. However, to go as far as highlighting the peaceful protesting and completely disregard the rioting and looting that has taken place is of huge irresponsibility: to distance oneself from that sort of behaviour, while failing to condemn it, be it through believing it is impossible to fully comprehend the anger and pain within the African-American community right now, or simply ignoring it altogether due to its uncomfortable nature, is to actively support the environment that allows the worst people in society to come out and take advantage of the situation.

Another recurrent theme is that it seems as if one cannot criticize the rioting these days. Immediately, responses along the lines of “you care more about businesses being vandalized than black lives being taken” are immediately thrown around in an attempt to discredit people who do not feel the need to go out of their way to justify the unjustifiable. Anyone who replies in such a manner, showing such contempt for the businesses that put food on the table of various families, including black families, is bathing on the privilege that they feel so compelled to protest against.

Furthermore, innocent lives have been lost beyond that of George Floyd. Over 20 people have passed away in both the protests and the riots, in instances that go from acute respiratory issues caused by police use of tear gas, such was the case of 22-year-old Sarah Grossman, to officer David Patrick Underwood shot in a drive-by incident, and retired captain David Dorn, also shot by looters while attempting to protect a pawn shop. Both men were African-American, which goes to show that if one allows aggressive behaviour to feed off of a political message, even one of protecting black lives, the chaos it creates will eventually disregard even those whose lives it claims to protect.

Unless new data comes to light, that either further proves or disproves the data I have reviewed on this piece, I do not intend to write any more articles on this topic, for the environment surrounding it is too toxic to be able to even attempt to have any sort of level-headed debate about this. However, and after reviewing the video of the deaths of Daniel Shaver and Tony Timpa, I cannot help but point this out: You did not care when it was happening to others. You did not care when it was not the “right kind of victim”. That’s what perpetuates police brutality: when you do nothing about it. Perhaps your outrage around “Hands up don’t shoot” would have served best in a case where it actually happened. Perhaps if there had been this level of outrage around Tony Timpa, there would not have been a George Floyd. And finally, if a person often dies at the hands of a police officer of the same race, then how can one claim this is a matter of systemic racism? Does someone suddenly become racist against their own race when they become a police officer? If it is proven that a police officer commited a racially motivated murder, justice must be served. However, to assume isolated cases of racism justify a whole narrative of racially motivated police brutality, especially when there is data to contradict such a narrative, is pure idiocy at best and politically motivated at worst.

In the grand scheme of things, I am led to the same conclusion that I was led while reviewing the different components that made this article. No, the climate that allowed this chaos to develop after George Floyd’s death was not caused by an anti-racist movement. It cannot claim to have been caused by police brutality, seeing as that’s only a problem when the narrative supports it; it was caused by either ignorance, for you were unaware of police brutality cases that did not relate to black lives being taken; or hypocrisy, for you willingly decided to ignore other victims so you could push a narrative. Pick one.

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