Dangerous Protectors

Once again, a black man has been shot by a police officer. Due to a cell phone video there’s been an arrest. That isn’t the rule.

Yet again, an unarmed black man has been shot by a police officer in the United States, this time in North Charleston, South Carolina. The circumstances of the crime were recorded so clearly on a cell phone video that the prosecutor’s office had no choice but to arrest the police officer and to prepare a murder charge. It’s the video and its publication that’s made this a major event, but this isn’t the only — or even the most recent — incident.

On the same day that 50-year old Walter Scott died in North Charleston, police in Illinois shot 17-year-old Justus Howell; in California, 31-year-old Paul Anthony Anderson died from bullets fired by police; in Oklahoma, 33-year-old David Cody Lynch succumbed to injuries caused by a police Taser; and in New Mexico, police shot 34-year-old Ethan Noll.

All this happened last Saturday. Since then at least nine more people have died in the U.S. as a result of police violence. Nearly 300 people have died already in 2015; last year there were around 1,100.

There are usually no videos of these incidents, and as a general rule the police claim to have been threatened or attacked with a weapon. This isn’t implausible per se in a country where the gun lobby defends the right of every person to carry a weapon. Six police officers have been shot to date in 2015. Nevertheless, a police force that is so poorly trained and so trigger-happy that the situation results in this many deaths is not fit to protect the citizenry — and it is not only incidents like this recent one in South Carolina that expose the police as a threat to the lives of African-Americans in particular.

In North Charleston, there’s been an immediate arrest and indictment. That is not the rule. If no videos exist, incidents typically are not thoroughly investigated, and most police officers can rely on their colleagues to remain silent after such an incident. Impunity for crimes committed in office erodes trust in the rule of law. It’s in the interest of all Americans to initiate reform as soon as possible.

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