With the increased exposure of gun violence in America (mass shootings, increasing homicide rates, police brutality and murders) I’ve really been wanting to research the facts and find out for myself why gun violence is such a large issue in America.
I found through a bit of research that it is very hard to come across statistics in this area. The American government does not record the amount of people killed by U.S. law enforcement on a regular basis, so it is hard to find any long term trends on this topic.
Luckily, a British newspaper called The Guardian keeps up-to-date records of people murdered by U.S. law enforcement, along with background stories and statistics on what ethnic groups are targeted the most by law enforcement.
According to the Guardian, 1146 people were murdered by police in 2015. That means over three people were killed EACH DAY by police across the nation. Among these people, blacks had the highest murder rate of civilians at 7.27 per one million people.
Minorities are the victims of prejudice
This obviously raises the question: Are police officers killing people because of prejudice and stereotypes? It’s a sensitive topic, and it’s obviously hard to pinpoint an answer. Personally, I think that black individuals have a bad reputation in the country and law enforcement is fully aware of this. They are more incarcerated than any other ethnicity, they are involved in more deadly crimes, and impoverished areas are flourishing with african American people. Police take this all into account and their actions are influenced by these negative stereotypes.
So if we are to take into account that black people are 5x more likely to be killed by police than white people, we must consider racism as a probable cause for this, right?
Possibly. Racism and negative stereotypes are like close cousins. Some people say they are the same thing, I argue that racism is more of a mental illness and negative stereotypes are a product of the culture you are a part of.
Thus, due to the overall culture in the U.S. Police officers know that when they go into a bad neighbourhood, there are more likely to be guns, because there are more likely to be gangs. I believe that as a society, we have been molded into believing these neighbourhoods are highly dangerous because there are black and hispanic individuals living there. Everywhere from the news to music to movies, the idea that neighbourhoods that home many black individuals are more dangerous is highly common. So, to say that police officers as a whole are racist is a far stretch, and to say that any police officer is racist is also hard to predict. Rather, I like to argue that we are all a product of our society.
No one is born into this world with the idea that some ethnic groups, some religions, or some areas into the world are more dangerous than others, we are taught these things.
Again, some will see this as racism, some will see this as just a bad reputation, but there is one conclusion to be made here: it is unfair, and it is causing the deaths of many innocent people, coloured or not coloured.
Moving on, I made a graph that outlines the total number of civilians killed by police from 2013 to 2016 in the States. As you can see, each year this number is increasing. Now we aren’t finished 2016 yet, so I made up my own number of 1165. I took the rate of three people per day and added that onto the 598 people already killed as of today (July 6th).
The fact of the matter is this; too many people are dying from police in the country, and something needs to change. People simply do not feel safe anymore, especially the blacks and hispanics. They are victims of prejudice and negative stereotyping and they are being killed because of it.
The Alton Sterling Case
Take Alton Sterling for example. He is the man that gave me the motivation to write this article, and he is a perfect example of everything that is wrong with the American law enforcement. Sterling was 37 years old and lived in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. On July 6th 2016 he was selling CDs outside of a convenience store in his neighbourhood. Police got a call saying this man was ‘armed’ and dangerous. However, when Sterling was shot, the owner of the store said he was not holding a firearm. Bystander video footage shows one officer tackling Sterling to the ground and pinning him there while a second officer shoots him at close range during a struggle.
This case demonstrates racism from the 911 call to the authorities to police brutality along with a lack of media coverage of the incident. The problem here, along with everything just mentioned, is that it is a recurring incident in the country. In fact, it happens on average, THREE times a day.
Compared to other established nations, the U.S. ranks off the chart. Check out a few graphs I made below to get a decent visual of how the country stacks up.
The U.S. is averaging 930 civilian deaths a year at the hands of their law enforcement, while Canada, their neighbouring country, averages only 25 a year. Now to get a more accurate representation of this based on population, let’s see the next graph.
Again, the U.S. stacks up far above its neighbouring country, Canada. Many argue this is because of the gun laws in the States. Literally anyone without a criminal record can go purchase a gun without much problem, while in Canada, it is much harder to purchase a firearm. This process sees millions of people carrying firearms in the country, which leads to more civilian deaths at the hands of police officers.
Interestingly enough, the chart for the amount of guns per 100 people in the U.S. is very similar to the amount of homicides at the hands of police officers, especially compared to Canada.
No wonder police officers are always on high alert, there are 90 firearms per 100 people in the country!
However, this predetermined suspicion DOES NOT give officers the right to kill civilians. In the Austin Sterling case, police thought that he had a firearm when in reality he didn’t, but it was this predetermined suspicion of a firearm that led to his death.
The problem lies with a couple things:
Prejudice against minorities (blacks and hispanics)
Too many firearms in the country
Law enforcement who abuse their power and kill without regard
Personally, I am scared for America. They are on the verge of electing a racist, pro-gun Republican into office and with Donald Trump in office, I cannot see this issue getting any better.
Minorities in the country do not feel safe around police. They constantly feel like police will abuse their rights like they have before, and it has many on edge. With deaths like this happening everyday, civilian deaths at the hands of police need to be a priority for the next president.
Thanks for reading! Take a look at this video that describes some of what I just discussed.
David is a 19-year-old Canadian student currently attending the University of Guelph. He currently studies Public Management and economics with hopes of one day becoming an accomplished journalist. David enjoys reporting on global events and actively try to make a difference in the world.
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