As portrayed in the media, gun violence in America is largely attributed to race and connected with police officers. According to data compiled by The Washington Post, approximately 957 people were shot and killed by police officers in the United States in the last year. Although that number of deaths decreased by 36 from 2015, the repeated killings of black men has raised a serious question about law enforcement tactics and race in America.
Countless fatal shootings have sparked national interest and debates on whether or not the brutal shootings had a direct link to racial prejudices against blacks and other minorities.
Examples of victims include Alton Sterling, Samuel Dubose, Freddie Gray, Laquan McDonald, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Tony Robinson, with these men making headlining news. Also, their incidents raise the question of whether or not race had any contributing factor to their demise.
Interestingly, data shows that police officers killed twice as many whites as blacks in 2015 as reported by The Washington Post. Also, data compiled by The Washington Post records 48 percent of victims who were attacked by fatal police shootings in 2016 were white, while 24 percent were black victims. However, one may argue that these statistics do not take into account that there are more whites than blacks in the overall population. In fact, the national population consists of 62 percent white and 13 percent black. These statistics show that, in America, a higher percentage of victims are black; as indicated by The Washington Post’s database, unarmed black men are more likely to be killed by a police officer than an unarmed white man.
But this also proposes the question: why is it that law enforcement resort to using armed forces?
Professor Joseph Cillo, assistant professor of criminal justice on the University Campus, suggests that law enforcement can be trained “to use their powers appropriately.” Nevertheless, gun violence seems to be a major problem in America. In fact, according to thetrace.org, more than twice a day, someone under the age of 18 has been shot and killed due to gunfire.
Cillo believes that Trayvon Martin would be alive today, if Zimmerman did not have a gun. In fact, Cillo suggests that even though the second amendment constitutes the right to bear arms that guns or any weapon should be used only to maintain an orderly militia.
“The possession of a weapon gives falsified security. It gives one a false sense of power and once one is in possession of a gun, one is more likely to use it,” said Cillo.
Yes, many people do believe that guns are used for self-protection. And, according to The Washington Post, more police officers are likely to shoot first before being attacked. However, this calls into question the police officer’s judgement, did they shoot in fear of self-harm or did they shoot out of having power because of a gun?
Still, it is the duty of law enforcement to serve and protect, so instead of scolding them for their actions, there should be implications put towards proper training on how to guide officers.
“People have ethics. Once it is not illegal, unmoral or unethical, that’s the litmus test. That is the way they judge everything, by the bell, the book, and the candle. The Bell, does it sound right; what every action one is going to take, does it sound right? The book, does it violates any rules regulations or law, and, Candle, how does it is going to hold up in the light of day, that is how we are supposed to guide officers,” said Robert Diemer, director of Graduate Studies in Criminal Justice on university campus.
Now, the media plays a very important role in relaying current and up-to-date news, but they also put a negative spot light on law enforcement, as Cillo emphasizes that in actuality bad news sell better and quicker than good news. Cillo also states that although police does not do everything right, they shouldn’t be the primary focal point of why society is wrong. In fact, Cillo suggests that we should widen the scope, not focusing solely on brutality from police but violence from a society as a whole.
“So you tell me, on a daily, weekly, hourly basis, that you would react instinctively in a manner which would please a diverse population? Will it please a million,” said Cillo. “Are we a violent species? Does law enforcement have an obligation to control that tribal urge we have? They work every day in the street and see the worse of the worse.”
Cillo makes a point that police officers are, in fact, humans, who are violent as species, and are surrounded by emergency circumstances and have to react instinctively and that should be taken into consideration and not out of context. However, Cillo does say there are occasions where law enforcement violates the rights of others and they should be treated no differently from anyone else who violates the law.
However, as Cillo said, there is not simply a problem with police brutality but violence as a whole, as evident by the gang violence as seen with the crypts in LA as Cillo pointed out, acts of terrorism, such as the 9/11 attack, that Cillo also pointed out. Cillo suggests that humans abuse each other because humans are violent as a species and the violence is a flaw in the genetic code.
“Violence is apart of the human makeup,” said Cillo. “It’s a flaw in our genetic code, one we cannot fix; therefore, it is a society problem, and the realization is where we begin.”
Cillo also attributes racial construct in society as a problem in the amount of violence society has and suggest that if the removal of label may be a solution to police brutality.
“I think the first step is to remove the labels that society has… But if we start removing the labels, police would then be forced to deal with us as one society. If we were one society and we all stood together as law enforcement had less violence to deal with,” said Cillo, “Because we created less violence as a group. You would see police violence diminished. They are not going to go out and shoot you for no reason. They are now caught up in doing the right thing.”