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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Column: Michael Brown case not an outlier

    The story of Michael Brown dominated Thanksgiving table conversations last week, but Americans have largely ignored the stories of other unarmed black men who were killed by police around the same time.

    There’s John Crawford III, a 22-year-old black man shot in Ohio on Aug. 5 while walking around a Wal-Mart carrying a BB rifle he picked up from a store shelf. Crawford was standing in an aisle, gun at his side, when he was shot by police.

    Another was Darrien Hunt, also 22 years old, who was killed in Saratoga Springs, Utah, on Sept. 10. Hunt was cosplaying with a 3-foot-long decorative sword. He was shot multiple times in the back while running away.

    And on Nov. 22, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was sitting in a Cleveland park with a toy gun when a police car pulled up. Police barely hesitated, shooting him within two seconds.

    These three shootings are part of a harrowing pattern: Black men are disproportionately killed by police officers, even when they aren’t posing a threat to police.

    The FBI’s 2012 Supplementary Homicide Report shows that of the people not attacking anyone who were still killed by police officers during an arrest, 39 percent were black. This was despite the fact that black people make up only 13 percent of the population. The same report showed that black teens are 21 times more likely to be killed during an arrest than white teens.

    The FBI’s report is also a gross underestimation of the true problem, since the data is voluntary.

    Rice’s shooting especially highlights how police officers in the U.S. treat black people. Surveillance videos show that Rice was shot before the driver of the police car could even exit the vehicle.

    Supposedly, the officers shouted at Rice to show his hands three times from the car while pulling up, but even then, Rice wasn’t posing a threat — there was no reason for him to be shot. The person who originally called 911 said the gun might be fake, but somehow this tidbit of information was not deemed important enough to be passed on to the officers.

    The officers then failed to give Rice first aid for almost four minutes — far longer than they waited before shooting him. Another detective and an FBI agent then arrived on the scene and started giving Rice medical attention, but it was too late.

    And, of course, when white people walk around with guns — real or fake, in stores or parks — or cosplay with swords, they are not shot by police officers.

    So why are black people, including children, so heavily targeted by police officers even when they are unarmed and not committing a crime?

    A 2005 study by researchers from Florida State University found that a group of mostly white police officers were more likely to shoot unarmed black suspects than armed white suspects. It doesn’t help that according to The New York Times, minorities comprise only about 25 percent of police forces in the U.S. and that white people are overrepresented in hundreds of police departments compared to those departments’ communities.

    A study published in February by the American Psychological Association showed that black children are likely to be viewed as older than they actually are and less innocent than children of other races. The officers who shot Rice radioed in that he appeared 20 years old.

    The defense of police officers, and the defense used in Brown’s case by officer Darren Wilson, is that when officers perceive themselves as being in danger, they are justified in shooting. However, if black people are inherently viewed as more dangerous regardless of the threat they pose, then they will be killed more often for no reason — and police officers will continue to get away with it.

    Police officers have a duty to uphold the peace, and that means making sure that they are less likely to shoot innocent black people. It’s possible to give psychological tests to prevent hiring racists, and police departments should represent the community they serve.

    More importantly, the “perceived threat” defense needs to be eliminated. Police officers should have to be in actual danger to use deadly force, and if they weren’t and they killed anyway, they deserve to be charged. If the officers aren’t sure or need to make a quick decision, they can incapacitate a suspect instead of shooting to kill. Officers can still use force to protect their own lives but can’t sentence a suspect to death without trial.

    When cops racially profile and assume black people are dangerous because of their race, innocent people get killed for no crime other than being black. Police officers are meant to serve and protect people. It’s time they start serving and protecting black people, too.


    Ashwin Mehra is a physiology senior. Follow him on Twitter.

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