Friday July 08, 2016
Why is it so hard to find official data on fatal US police shootings?
more stories from this episode
- An African American ex-cop with four sons reflects on what happened in Dallas
- Why is it so hard to find official data on fatal US police shootings?
- The McEnroe Effect: How Milos Raonic turned his game around
- The Avalanches made the most sample-dense record in history. Then they took 16 years to make a follow-up
- Everyone has an opinion about the new Ghostbusters, even though no one has actually seen it
- 21-year-old Boyan Slat wants to rid the world's oceans of plastic
- Riffed from the Headlines 09/07/2016
- Full Episode
The list of names of African Americans killed by police officers in America grew longer this week.
And the deaths of Sterling and Castile have ignited new anger about racial disparities in the justice system.
FBI numbers show that police kill black people at disproportionate rates. Data from 2012 suggests that while African Americans make up 13 percent of the American population, they accounted for 31 per cent of the people killed by police that year.
But those numbers are incomplete.
For a lot of people, it's out of sight, out of mind. - Donovan X. Ramsey
That's because police use of force is not actually being recorded in any official capacity. There is no federal agency keeping track of the number of people killed by police in the United States.
The government isn't tracking the problem
As journalist and Demos Emerging Voices fellow Donovan X. Ramsey tells Day 6 guest host Gill Deacon, there is no legal requirement for the country's roughly 18,000 police departments to record or report their own local statistics. Those that do report incidents of police altercations and fatalities do so on a voluntary basis.
"If you are not a person of colour, in particular a young male person of colour, then you are not experiencing the worst of what's happening on the street." - Donovan X. Ramsey
Ramsey finds that shocking — and troubling.
"If you are not a person of colour, in particular a young male person of colour, then you are not experiencing the worst of what's happening on the street. So for a lot of people it's out of sight, out of mind."
He notes that while it seems like a daunting task to gather such disparate bits of information, the federal government already has systems in place in other areas — like education, for example — to collect huge amounts of data from across the country and use it to shape policy.
You can't fix what you can't measure
Ramsey argues that hard numbers are necessary to paint a clear picture of the extent of the problem.
"Too often, unarmed black men in particular are killed by police. I think that's something that has to be supported by numbers, and those numbers can teach us about the circumstances in which these are happening. With that information we can better train these officers and possibly prevent some of these deaths."
Ramsey remains hopeful. He says this year's presidential election campaign provides a real opportunity to advance both dialogue and action around racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
The Police Data Initiative, launched in May 2016, is a first step to begin collecting and analysing policing data, but Ramsey believes it will take political will from the White House to help shape it into a reliable system.