Friday, November 13, 2020

Armed, Sometimes Dangerous

As in the cliche, there is a lot to unpack here:

Climate change is a matter of science and of fact. However, problems with policing go well beyond unarmed citizens being killed and is subject to interpretation- and misinterpretation- of data.

The videos do indeed rarely tell the whole story. And so it should be helpful to learn that The Washington Post in 2015 started recording the more than 5,764 incidents that have occurred by an on-duty police officer of a fatal shooting by an on-duty police officer. It found 3,344 victims were armed by a gun, some others with any combination of gun, knife, vehicle, toy weapon, or "other." It listed 169 cases as "unknown" and 366 as "unarmed."

As extensive as is the data presented, we cannot determine whether the number of unarmed individuals killed by a police officer has declined or increased in recent months or over the period of the (ongoing) study. However, we do know not only that the vast majority of victims has been armed but we do know of the demographics of the victim, as well as the annual number and circumstances of the killings. The Post explains

... the FBI in 2015 committed to improving its tracking and last month launched a system to track all police use-of-force incidents, including fatal shootings. The new system, however, is still voluntary...

The Post’s reporting shows that both the annual number and circumstances of fatal shootings and the overall demographics of the victims have remained constant over the past four years.

The dead: 45 percent white men; 23 percent black men; and 16 percent Hispanic men. Women have accounted for about 5 percent of those killed, and people in mental distress about 25 percent of all shootings.

About 54 percent of those killed have been armed with guns and 4 percent unarmed.

“We’ve looked at this data in so many ways, including whether race, geography, violent crime, gun ownership or police training can explain it, but none of those factors alone can explain how consistent this number appears to be,” said Geoffrey Alpert, a criminologist at the University of South Carolina who has studied police shootings for more than three decades.

Year to year, the statistics have remained relatively constant. It being Twitter, when Fang stated "police killings of unarmed have rapidly declined," he did not specify what time frame he was using, nor note that many of those armed lacked a gun. But if Fang was trying to make the point that most victims of police shootings are armed, he was being accurate. Moreover, killing a civilian is not justified merely because the victim was armed or even armed and threatening. and statistics never bring back the dead.

Nonetheless, one thing is clear. When a police officer shoots an individual, the odds that he (or she) is armed with a weapon of one sort or another is very, very good.  Often lost in the swirl of emotions and the appeal of identity politics, it is a fact is no less significant than it is inconvenient.



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