Nel's New Day

December 13, 2014

Gun-Obsessive Society Leads to Violence, Inequality

Tomorrow is the second anniversary of 28 deaths surrounding the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown (CT). This tragedy was three days after three deaths at Clackamas Square, a shopping mall near Portland (OR). Despite 64 laws passed in different states that strengthen gun laws, the federal government has passed no gun-sense laws, and mass shootings have become so common that they get little media except regionally.

During the past two years, about 60,000 people died from guns in the United States, and the almost 100 schools shootings includes one this past week at Rosemary Anderson High School in north Portland (OR). A student reported that she changed schools from Reynolds High School to Rosemary because of two shooting deaths at Reynolds last June. According to trends, guns will pass motor vehicles as the top killer of the nation’s youth under the age of 26 in the coming year.

Equally serious are the deaths by law enforcement in the United States. Police officers have killed an estimated 1,039 people thus far in 2014. Despite some evidence, including videos, that some of these murders could have been avoided, however, police are generally not indicted for these killings. According to a 2012 study, about half of the people killed by police each year are mentally ill. Young black men are 21 times more likely to be killed by these police officers than young white men who also fail to follow police orders. People of color are the most likely to be killed by police in general.

most likely to be killed chart

Today, over 10,000 activists participated in the Justice for All March, which began at Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C. and continued along Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol. Similar numbers marched in New York, and hundreds more protested in Boston. Protesters called on Congress to combat racial profiling, and police discrimination and violence.

As just one example, police officers in Utah killed Darrien Hunt, who was carrying a toy sword. Initially the chief deputy attorney said Hunt was shot because he “lunged toward the officers” but later admitted that Hunt was shot in the back. An autopsy reported that Hunt was shot six times from behind, including the shot that killed him. The killing was judged justified, just as the killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson (MO) and Eric Garner in New York were.

Police officers consistently claim that they won’t shoot people who politely obey their orders. Yet a South Carolina state trooper shot an unarmed black man who reached into his car after the trooper ordered him to get his driver’s license. The man had taken off his seat belt as he pulled into a Circle K. He did everything he was told and stayed polite, begging the officer not to shoot him. Fortunately, he’s still alive because the police officer was such a bad shot that he hit the man only once although he fired several times. In this case, the trooper was fired from his position and has been charged, a highly unusual situation.

Police officers do not have an easy job. National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund reports that 1,501 police officers died on the job in the past decade, and 100 officers were killed in 2013. An annual average of 58,261 assaults against law enforcement in the last decade resulted in 15,658 injuries.

On the other hand, people don’t trust the police:

  • 65% overall say police departments nationwide do an “only fair” or a poor job in holding officers accountable when misconduct occurs, compared with 30% who say they do an excellent or good job.
  • 65% respondents say police do a fair/poor job in treating racial and ethnic groups equally, compared with 32 percent who believe the police do an excellent/good job.
  • 61% say police do a fair/poor job in using the right amount of force in each situation, compared with 35% who say the police do an excellent/good job.
  • Respondents were split evenly when asked if police departments nationwide do a good job in protecting people from crime.

This survey was taken before the police officer who killed Eric Garner was not indicted. The percentages of people disapproving of the police may be even higher since then.

Last year, the FBI identified 461 “justifiable homicides” by law enforcement—and none unjustified. Only the FBI determines whether these are justified. Homicides committed by on-duty law enforcement make up 3 percent of the 14,196 homicides in 2013; in 96 cases a white officer killed a black person, sometimes another law enforcement officer.

This total may be a serious undercount because reports are voluntary, and the federal government doesn’t keep a strict tally. A Facebook page, Killed by Police, has started keeping track of people killed by police officers through news articles. The creator of the page listed more than 1,450 deaths by law-enforcement officers since its launch on May 1, 2013. That’s about three per day, 1,100 a year. A website lists the names, dates, states, and links to news articles.

The wide distribution of left-over equipment from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has greatly increased the militarization of police departments. SWAT teams are used about 50,000 times a year now, compared to 3,000 in 1980. These teams are used for routine patrols, breaking up poker games (Baltimore and Detroit), investigating under-age drinkers in bars (New Haven, CT), raiding barber shops for unlicensed workers (Orlando), cockfighting (Maricopa County, AZ), etc. Keene, a New Hampshire town of under 25,000 population, had three homicides between 1999 and 2012. It spent nearly $286,000 on an armored personnel-carrier known as a BearCat, used, according to the police chief to patrol the “Pumpkin Festival and other dangerous situations.”

Radley Balko collected stories about at least 50 innocent people who died from botched SWAT raids, one when a SWAT-team officer tripped while an innocent man was lying face-down on the floor. The officer’s gun discharged, killing the man.  In 2006 Kathryn Johnston, a 92-year-old woman in Atlanta, thought that the police raiding her house in the middle of the night were robbers. She fired an old pistol, and the police shot her five times, killing her. To cover their mistakes, they put marijuana in her house, but later it was discovered that the police had falsified the information for their “no-knock warrant.”

Police profit from SWAT raids. Officers can seize anything claimed to be the proceeds of a crime even if there is no conviction. If police find drugs in the house, they can take cash and the house. Forfeitures amount to about $1 billion a year, some of it from innocent people.

The United States has two faces of justice. Michael Brown was jaywalking when he was picked up; the officer knew nothing about his having allegedly stolen any cigarillos. People call him a “thug” and claim the police officer had the right to kill him. At the same time, Kate Meckler was caught stealing $2,000 worth of clothing from Saks Fifth Avenue in New York. She pled to “disorderly conduct” and worked five days in a soup kitchen. Meckler is white, one of New York’s top real estate brokers, and the daughter of MediaBistro’s CEO, Alan Meckler. Their multi-million-dollar ocean-side mansion appears in the movie, As Good As It Gets.

The effect of police killings, just like poverty and hunger, affects the body for generations. These external forces and stressors change the way bodies react by altering individual’s DNA. When high-stress environments cause the body to “turn on” or “turn off” genes, future generations carry the scars such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Other changes are mental disorders such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

The United States has a serious killing problem, most of it from its gun obsession. It begins with the fact that people refuse to face the fact that there is no problem. Instead everyone sweeps information under the carpet. Any statement about the number of police killings or racial profiling ends with journalists saying that there’s no proof because there are no accurate statistics. While police killed three people a day in the United States, police in the United Kingdom fired their guns a total of three times last year and killed no one. In 2011, police killed six people in Australia, two in England, and six in Germany.

guns-and-government different countries


With their military paraphernalia and training, law enforcement assaults and kills, too frequently with impunity and too frequently against minorities and lower-class people. As a country, we should do better.


1 Comment »

  1. I always appreciate the intelligence and research behind your posts. That demands a lot of work and not everyone is willing to do this. Thank you for using your voice to educate. I say “You can’t care if you’re not aware.” You are doing excellent work to raise awareness.


    Comment by Sue Ellen Allen — December 13, 2014 @ 9:24 PM | Reply

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