The writer set up an emergency hate crimes and incidents reporting system involving government and community agencies in Southern California in the wake of 9/11, discovering both intentional undercounting by government agencies and the possibility of a real count when communities are mobilized.
As Kashad Ashford lay unconscious in the car he crashed on Sept. 16, officers from three police departments in Bergen County, N.J., approached. They shot him in the head and torso nine times as the passenger jumped out of the car to avoid being killed too and as workers in surrounding stores watched in horror.
The 2010 shooting of Kwadir Felton resulted in Felton losing his sight. The Jersey City cops won’t report it to the FBI, because they can’t decide if Sergeant Thomas McVicar was working the night he jumped up on Felton and shot him in the face as he was leaving a baby shower and heading to his girlfriend’s house. Kwadir Felton is currently serving 16 years in prison—but not the cop who shot him for no reason.
It seems that for as long as can be remembered, most police shootings were met with a small vigil, a grieving family, maybe a march by the community and activists. The pain and terror of the event isolated those involved and it was all but forgotten.
But then there was the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., by Officer Darren Wilson and each step of the struggle unveiled more of the racism and oppression of the system that has impacted communities across the U.S.—in particular communities of color.
And that struggle continues to grow, remembering the names of hundreds of past victims of police violence and exposing all the more the system of racist terror that has ruled for so long.
The people demand to know how many
So the people want to know how many? How many of our brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, spouses and neighbors have been gunned down in the street by the biggest gang—the armed bodies, the apparatus of capitalist state oppression—the cops?
Well the answer is that this system of oppression has never really cared to keep track. It was the terror that was their primary interest—not the numbers.
It turns out that the FBI only tracks what they call “justifiable homicides” by law enforcement. In 2013 alone, the FBI reports that there were 461 “justifiable homicides.” They don’t track the crime of police killings or the crime of police shootings or other violence. In fact, nearly all of the 18,000 police departments in the country lack a system to track their killings, nor are they required to report to anyone about these deaths.
There are almost no reported police killings in three of the most populous states: New York, Florida and Illinois.
It is agreed by most sources now that hundreds of killings by police between 2007 to 2012 have not been included in any official statistics. The Wall Street Journal believes that at least 550 killings by police were not included and that estimate resulted from a response from 105 of the larger police departments in the country.
One anonymous effort, the Killed by Police Facebook page, contains links to news articles on police-involved deaths and tallies up a number. Killed by Police has listed more than 1,450 cop-involved killings since its launch on May 1, 2013, through last Sunday—that’s three people killed by cops per day.
Who can stop the epidemic of police murder?
Some in the struggle want to knock on the door of the misnamed Justice Department, thinking that this government body can put pressure on the FBI, the cops or others for there to be real justice. But, it is the Justice Department that refuses to take steps to prosecute admitted torturers in Guantanamo Bay—torture that violates national and international law.
A real accounting and real justice can only be done by the people. Already communities are organizing all over to document police murders in cities and states across the country. These efforts are invaluable and exemplify the organization and power of this movement.
The dedicated movement that has emerged in the wake of the murder of Michael Brown continues to push forward for justice for him and all those murdered and injured by the police. Real justice can only be won when these institutions of racism, police terror and oppression are once and for all dismantled and a court of the people puts these murderers behind bars where they belong.