Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Armed and Dangerous? an Examination of Fatal Shootings of Unarmed Black People by Police

Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Armed and Dangerous? an Examination of Fatal Shootings of Unarmed Black People by Police

Article excerpt

The aforementioned five words were the last ones uttered by a young unarmed Black male that died at the hands of police. Since police officers who come face-to-face with armed and dangerous suspects are trained to "shoot to kill"(Danyiko, 2014), it is imperative that scholars critically examine circumstances surrounding the deaths of unarmed African Americans. This topic is significant for four reasons. First, compared to other developed countries such as England, Australia, and Germany, the United States has a significantly higher number of civilians shot and killed by police (The Economist, August 15, 2014). According to a recent report, American police killed more people in March 2015 than the entire United Kingdom police have killed since 1900. Specifically, a total of 111 people were killed by police in the United States in March of 2015. Since 1900, in the entire United Kingdom, 52 people have been killed by police (King, April 1, 2015).

Second, the number of Blacks killed by police has reached epidemic proportions Chaney & Robertson, 2013; Cush, 2013; Fletcher, 2014; Gabiddon, 2010; Gabbidon & Greene, 2013; Huff Post, 2014; Kane & White, 2009; Karenga, 2010; Mitchell, 2014; Police Brutality Statistics, 2011; Robertson, 2014; Staples, 2011, Tonry, 2011). In a report on the extrajudicial killings of Black people by police, security guards, or self-appointed law enforcers, the Malcolm X grassroots organization found that from January 1 - June 30, 2012, one Black person was killed by law enforcement or someone acting in such a capacity every 36 hours, representing a total of 120 persons. Moreover, while five percent of the Blacks killed were women, the bulk of those killed have been Black men like Rodney King. Perhaps more alarming is that 46% of those killed were unarmed (just like King) and 36% were alleged to have weapons by police, including a cane, a toy gun, and a bb gun (Operation Ghetto Storm, 2012). Sadly, while the murders of Black men by police are well-known, incidents in which Black women are murdered by members of law enforcement receive far less attention (Dionne, 2014). Even Black children are not immune to being victims of police violence. One study found Black boys as young as 10-years old may be seen as less innocent than their white peers, are much more likely to be mistaken for being older and to be perceived as guilty, and face police violence if they are accused of committing a crime (Goff, 2014).

Third, the increasing number of incidents in which police have used excessive force or killed unarmed Blacks (or other persons of color) has resulted in increased local and national scrutiny of law enforcement agencies (Aguilar, 2012; Boyer, 2001; Clifford, 2014; Crochett, 2015; Desmond-Harris, 2012; Elicker, 2008; Hassell & Archbold, 2010; Kumeh, 2010; Lozano, 2012; Rafail, Soule, & McCarthy, 2012; Stuart, 2011). The DOJ (Department of Justice) has investigated over 17 police departments across the country and has monitored no fewer than five settlements involving four police agencies since 2010 (Gabbidon & Greene, 2013). The recent findings of the Department of Justice's (DOJ) investigation of the Ferguson Police Department confirmed the cries of many Black men and women that have made complaints about police.

In particular, the DOJ found the Ferguson Police Department frequently engaged in "implicit and explicit racial bias" and "routinely violating the constitutional rights of its black residents" (The United States Department of Justice, Wednesday, March 4, 2015). As a result of the DOJ's findings on the Ferguson Police Department, greater attention has been given to simultaneously protecting members of law enforcement whose mission is to protect and serve as well as protecting members of the citizenry from being harmed by police.

Finally, this paper will critically examine the circumstances around the deaths of 78 unarmed Black males and females by police in various parts of the United States between 1999 and 2015. …

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