A License To Kill

Is anyone surprised at the decision by a Cleveland, Ohio grand jury’s vote not to indict the white police officer who fatally shot Tamir Rice, an African American 12-year-old?

A grand jury declined to indict officer Timothy Loehmann, who opened fire on Tamir less than two seconds after arriving at a park where the 12-year-old was playing with a toy gun on 22 November 2014. Loehmann’s partner, Frank Garmback, will also face no charges, Cuyahoga county prosecutor Timothy McGinty announced at a press conference. [..]

In announcing the grand jury’s decision, McGinty said it was also his recommendation that no charges be brought.

He argued the crucial piece of evidence was an enhanced image of Tamir at the time the officers approached, which he said made it “indisputable that Tamir was drawing his gun from his waist”.

McGinty’s handling of the grand jury process has been heavily criticised by the Rice family and local activists, after the prosecutor proceeded to drip feed the public evidence seen by the grand jury, which included reports from experts concluding that the shooting was justified.

The shooting of a grandmother and a teenager with mental health problems in Chicago early Saturday morning; the year long cover up of the murder of Laquan McDonald by Chicago police officer Justin van Dyke; the refusal last year of a Staten Island, NY grand jury to bring charges against NYC police officer for the choking death Eric Garner over a misdemeanor are just a few of the examples of out of control, trigger happy police officers. The rare instance of indictments is no guarantee that a jury or a judge will convict any police officer for abuse of the power of the badge to brutalize or kill.

According to a study on police violence in 60 large cities, since January 1 and December 15 of this year there have been at over 1500 civilians killed by police officers across the country.

59 of the nation’s largest 60 city police departments killed civilians in 2015. Some killed at much higher rates than others:

Bakersfield, Oklahoma City, Oakland, Indianapolis Metropolitan, Long Beach, New Orleans, St. Louis Metropolitan, and San Francisco Police Departments killed people at the highest rates in 2015.

Rates of police killings differed sharply among police departments. For example, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department killed over 7x more people per capita in 2015 than did Philadelphia Police Department.

Of the 60 police departments reviewed, only Riverside Police Department did not kill anyone in 2015.

The majority of victims have been black:

Police departments disproportionately killed black people, who were 41% of victims despite being only 20% of the population living in these cities.

41 of the 60 police departments disproportionately killed black people relative to the population of black people in their jurisdiction.

14 police departments killed black people exclusively in 2015, 100% of the people they killed were black. For only 5 police departments were 100% of those killed white.

Police violence and community violence are independent issues.

While some have blamed violent crime for being responsible for police violence in some communities, data shows that high levels of violent crime in cities did not appear to make it any more or less likely for police departments to kill people.

Over the past several years, police departments in high-crime cities such as Detroit and Newark have consistently killed fewer people per population than police departments in cities with much lower crime rates such as Austin, Bakersfield, and Long Beach.

Rather than being determined by crime rates, police violence reflects a lack of accountability in the culture, policies, and practices of the institutions of policing, as investigations into some of the most violent police departments in America have shown.

Sam Sinyangwe, a statistician who worked on the Mapping Police Violence project, discussed the findings with Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman.