One out of every three people killed by police in the United States since 2015 were fleeing.
In case you missed it, The Guardian published an article on July 28 with that statistic that you should read, ponder and share widely.
“In the past seven years, police in America have killed more than 2,500 people who were fleeing, and those numbers have slightly increased in recent years, amounting to an average of roughly one killing a day of someone running or trying to escape,” the article stated.
Your eyes are not deceiving you. One out of every three people killed by police in the United States were fleeing the police.
They were moving in the opposite direction – as opposed to approaching or attacking – the people that killed them.
They were not threatening the police.
They were not charging the police.
They were not attacking the police.
They were not chasing the police.
They were trying to get away from people who were armed and licensed to kill.
If that does not get your attention, consider something else reported by the article: “In many cases, the encounters started as traffic stops, or there were no allegations of violence or serious crimes prompting police contact. Some people were shot in the back while running and others were passengers in fleeing cars.”
Are you still not paying attention?
Consider this finding reported by The Guardian: “U.S. police kill more people in days than many countries do in years, with roughly 1,100 fatalities a year since 2013. The numbers haven’t changed since the start of the Black Lives Matter movement, and they haven’t budged since George Floyd’s murder inspired international protests in 2020.”
Notice that finding. Police in the U.S. kill more people in days than police in many other countries kill in years. Not just in one year, but in several years.
People in the United States are not more prone to commit crimes than anywhere else in the world. There is no proof that people in the U.S. who break the law are more dangerous than lawbreakers elsewhere around the world.
And there is no proof that police in other societies are somehow less interested in preventing crime and apprehending people who are suspected of committing crime.
Instead, the evidence suggests that police in the United States kill more people – including more people who are unarmed and/or fleeing – because they can get away with killing people.
They can get away with killing unarmed people.
They can get away with killing unarmed fleeing people.
They can kill unarmed and fleeing people without being charged with committing a crime.
They can kill unarmed and fleeing people without being charged with being reckless or negligent, or with being wrongly led and trained in ways that would lead them to kill unarmed and fleeing people.
This suggests that courts, judges, and local, state and federal politicians – including voters – believe that allowing police to kill unarmed and fleeing people is right.
I know that is a weird – if not wicked – thought. But how else can one justify a legal system that refuses to hold law enforcement officers accountable for knowingly killing unarmed and fleeing people?
People who want law enforcement officers and the agencies that recruit, select, train, deploy and supervise them to not kill unarmed and fleeing people set up a legal system that punishes law enforcement officers who kill unarmed and fleeing people.
They set up a legal system that does not give immunity to law enforcement officers who kill unarmed and fleeing people and that does not extend that immunity to the agencies that recruit, select, train, deploy and supervise those law enforcement officers.
Let’s be clear: Law enforcement officers in the United States kill unarmed and fleeing people with impunity – meaning without being punished for doing so – because the U.S. idolizes law enforcement officers.
People in the United States worship law enforcement officers.
It is not that law enforcement officers are “above the law.” In the United States, law enforcement officers get away with slaughtering unarmed and fleeing people because they are “the law.” They are not “officers of the law.” They are not “public servants.” They are, for all practical purposes, “the law.”
Law enforcement officers in the U.S. are treated as if they are gods. Their word is “law.” Their perceptions are “law.” Their prejudices and biases are “law.” Their cultural, moral and ethical incompetency is “law.”
That is more than weird. That is wicked.
The only thing worse is that people in the U.S. tolerate such wickedness. We are told by our leaders and we tell one another to accept it. We are even told to call this weird wickedness “justice.”
I refuse to bless wickedness. I refuse to call it necessary. And I refuse to believe that recruiting, hiring, training, deploying and supervising more law enforcement officers to kill more unarmed and fleeing persons is right.
It is damnably wrong.
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a state court trial judge, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, author of one book and three blogs, and a consultant on cultural competency and inclusion.