SPECIAL BY SUPRIYA SEHGAL
This past week, an unarmed African American male was assaulted and subsequently murdered by four police officers. Institutionalized violence against the African American community is a longstanding public health issue that cannot be allowed to continue. In Chicago, more than 60 per cent of African American and Latino youths have been stopped by the police,
with over half of those interactions being reported as negative or disrespectful. More than 70 per cent of African American boys reported being stopped by the police, which is three times higher than the national average. Less than three per cent of these ‘stop and searches’ among African Americans revealed any firearms or contraband items, suggesting that these stop and frisk situations were stereotype based.
In fact, African Americans who were fatally shot by the police were twice as likely to be unarmed than their white counterparts, further suggesting an unfounded racial bias in fatal police shootings. Police killings have resulted in significant impact in mortality in the African American community. Young African American boys are 21 times more likely to be fatally shot by the police than their white counterparts. In adults, a black man is 2.5 times more likely to be fatally shot by the police than a white man.
This has resulted in police violence becoming a leading cause of death among young African American Males: One in 1,000 black boys and men will be killed by a police officer in their lifetime. For white boys and men, this rate is 39 out of 100,000. Nationally, there is no correlation between police shootings and regional crime rates.
The argument that police shootings are the result of higher crime rates in particular areas is false. Even nonfatal interactions with police have a racial bias. Blacks and Hispanics are 50 times more likely to have a police confrontation that results in use of police force, such as hitting, being thrown on the ground or pushed into a wall. A 2017 study of the Dallas police force showed that Dallas police were more likely to draw a firearm on a minority suspect, further suggesting a racial bias to police – civilian confrontation.
This is not to say, ‘all police officers are bad.’ Police officers are a part of our community, and there are many police officers that protect civilians and de-escalate situations appropriately. However, police violence against African Americans is a public health issue that must be addressed immediately.
The high mortality rate of African American youths at the hands of certain police officers is alarming and cannot be allowed to continue. Policy change is mandatory to counteract this. Laws need to be passed that encourage more focus in training on de-escalation of conflict and in addressing racial bias during high conflict situations. There must be absolute transparency and accountability.
Complaints against police officers must be investigated thoroughly by an independent body and police officers who have been found to demonstrate unprovoked brutality must be promptly removed from the police force. This will also help repair civilian-police relations and protect the reputation of police officers who work very hard to serve their community. We must strongly support the African American community on their endeavor to be treated as equals. It is unacceptable that this still has to be done in 2020