This Heartbreaking Ferguson Statistic Easily Explains Just How Little Improvement There's Been In The Year Since Michael Brown Died
One year ago, the shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown not only sparked a national movement against racism, but also set into motion major reform that would forever change policing in America. Body cameras and bystander videos have led to indictments, and the national discourse continues to affect further change in the way police deal with the community. However, despite all of this unprecedented change, one statistic compiled by The Washington Post underscores just how little has changed in the year since Ferguson: Black unarmed men are seven times more likely to be shot and killed by police than white unarmed men.
The Washington Post has been compiling comprehensive data on police shootings in 2015, keeping track of factors such as the victim's race and age and whether or not they were armed. The paper found that police have killed a total of 585 people in the U.S. so far this year. Even before we get into the racial specifics and social nuances of these shootings, that figure in itself is shocking. Five hundred and eighty-five people as of August 10 means roughly 2.6 police shootings per day. To say that police shootings are a daily occurrence in this country would be a modest statement.
To put that figure in perspective, a June Guardian report found that police in England and Wales have shot and killed 55 people ... in 24 years. Next to that figure was the number 59, which reflected the number of people police fatally shot in the U.S. in the first 24 days of 2015. The larger picture of police violence in America is already troubling, but when we delve deeper, the racial implications of this violence are even more disturbing.
The Washington Post found that of the 585 people killed in total, 60 of them were unarmed. And of the 60 unarmed victims, 24 were black — that's 40 percent of all unarmed victims. Black men make up only six percent of the U.S. population. That makes black unarmed men seven times more likely to be killed by police than white unarmed men. Those who are still skeptical of the widespread racial discrimination that Ferguson and similar cases have thrown into the spotlight should look no further than this stark disparity.
If statistics alone make you incredulous, then let's parse the details of each case. In June, 22-year-old Kris Jackson was shot while trying to flee a hotel window in South Lake Tahoe, California. Officers at the scene said they had "perceived a deadly threat," but Jackson was unarmed. The case is still under investigation. Then there was 41-year-old Frank Shepard, who was shot and killed on live TV in April after he led the police on a high-speed car chase. Officers opened fire when he stepped out of the car and reached back in for some unknown reason.
Many of these details are damning enough as they are, but evidence of discrimination becomes even more difficult to dispute when there's video footage of the incident. Perhaps the most notable instance is Sam DuBose, 43, who was shot in the head by officer Ray Tensing after allegedly dragging Tensing with his car. However, Tensing's own body camera revealed no such thing and the officer has now been indicted for murder.
While it's reassuring that officers are increasingly being held accountable for their actions, what the Post's statistic reveals is not so much what's changed, but what hasn't. In the year since Michael Brown was killed, unarmed black men are still being fatally shot at an alarming rate. Yes, the way we scrutinize policing has changed, but the policing itself has a long way to go.