Opinion » Note

Property Over People

What police violence says about what police protect


The Washington Post on May 30 reported there had been 385 police killings in the United States during the first five months of 2015. The Guardian, meanwhile, counted 464 killings during the year. If that trend continues, between 937 and 1,122 people will have died at the hands of U.S. law enforcement from 2015-2016.

There is one chilling way to look at it: According to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime compiled by online news outlet Vocativ, police in the U.S. are on track to shoot more people each year than die in all firearms-related homicides in 19 of the 34 countries that belong to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That includes England, France, Germany and Italy. Put bluntly by Vocativ, "American cops kill more people than most countries' criminals."

Efforts to track the number of people killed during interactions with police have intensified since summer 2014, when a string of fatal shootings by police touched off months of unrest around the country. The fact that the most high-profile killings involved black men has linked them in the tense conversation surrounding their deaths, but they shared something else in common: Their supposed crimes were minor or related to property. Eric Garner was accused of selling loose cigarettes; Michael Brown was suspected of shoplifting; Walter Scott was shot following a traffic stop because of a broken taillight; Freddie Gray was arrested and beaten to death on suspicion of possessing an illegal switchblade.

Comes now the sickening video of police officers wading into a pool party in McKinney, Texas, on June 5, brandishing flashlights as cudgels, violently bringing a bikini-clad 14-year-old girl to the ground and, at one point, pulling a handgun on two teenagers who flee for their lives. The offense: Someone who lived in the gated community believed the high-schoolers were not allowed to use the communal pool. That virtually all of the kids at the party were black has led to allegations of racism, and reports suggest that racist comments made by white pool goers precipitated the chaos. No one was seriously injured, but the McKinney incident takes its place in the trend of violence leveled by police in defense of property at the expense of people—and especially black people.