2016 is already on par to be one of the deadliest years on record for civilians killed by police. But while the media would have us believe that there’s a “war on cops,” and while Republicans suggest that the law enforcement profession has never been more perilous than under the Obama administration, neither statement could be further from the truth.
Here are four debunkings of widespread myths about police violence that everyone needs to understand.
Myth #1: Police do not have the deadliest job in America
Before making these points, it’s absolutely vital to note that no act of violence is ever justified, whether it’s a police officer killing a civilian or a civilian killing a police officer. And the deaths of five police officers in Dallas have, rightfully, been universally condemned by both law enforcement and Black Lives Matter leadership.
However, the media is exaggerating when they suggest police officers are beyond criticism due to the danger of their occupation. According to 2013 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are seventeen occupations more dangerous than law enforcement. When analyzing the number of deaths per 100,000 workers in a given field, loggers and deckhands on fishing boats have the most dangerous jobs in America, with 91.3 and 75 deaths per 100,000 workers, respectively. Roofers, garbage collectors, taxi drivers, and bartenders also die more often on the job than police officers. Even farmers die more than twice as often on the job as police officers.
Obviously, putting on a police uniform and responding to calls involves a great deal of risk. But we can’t pretend that an officer is justified every time he or she pulls the trigger out of presumed fear for their own life. Having a dangerous job doesn’t absolve anyone of accountability.
Speaking of accountability…
Myth #2: Police are not held to an unfair standard
In 2010, police in Columbia, Missouri complained that a new ordinance allowing complete public access to all records of citizen complaints against police officers was an invasion of their privacy. This past March, the police officers’ union in Newark, New Jersey pushed back against the idea of civilian oversight, saying that having to answer to a civilian review board violated their collective bargaining agreement with the city.
Furthermore, police allies in the media were quick to slam Baltimore prosecutor Marilyn Mosby after the second non-conviction of one of the six officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray in 2015, alleging a prosecutorial bias:
“[Mosby] acted politically,” Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz told US News. “She acted too quickly, and the public ought to make her pay a price for seeking to distort justice.”
But despite the violins in the media, police are actually given kid-gloves treatment compared to the rest of society. Data compiled by FiveThirtyEight shows that citizens convicted of crimes are exponentially more likely to go to jail than convicted police officers:
The courts are doubly kind to police in that only one-third of charges against police officers lead to a conviction, and only twelve percent of officers who are actually convicted end up going to jail. Citizens are, in fact, 400 percent more likely to go to jail when convicted in comparison to law enforcement.
Myth #3: Police have never been more in danger than under Barack Obama’s administration
Last year, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker hinted that there was a “disturbing trend” of an increase in police officers who were being killed on the job, and placed blame for a perceived increase in danger for police at the feet of President Obama, accusing him of having a “racially divisive” attitude that put officers’ lives at risk. In the wake of the deaths of five police officers in Dallas, conservative members of Congress and talking heads on conservative media blamed Obama for allegedly stoking racial hatred that culminated in the deaths of those officers.
However, when tallying the number of police officers killed under the past four administrations of two-term presidents, dating from the day of their inauguration to September 3 of their seventh year in office, The Progressive learned that police have never been safer than under Barack Obama, with over 200 more officers dying under Ronald Reagan in comparison:
Obviously, any officer getting killed on the job is a tragedy. But conservatives using the deaths of police to score political points against the president by claiming his administration is making officers unsafe is not only disrespectful to the fallen officers’ families, it’s also grossly inaccurate.
Myth #4: Media reports of officer-involved shootings are overstated
Dr. Ron Martinelli, a retired San Jose police detective and forensic criminologist is one of the loudest critics of media reporting on police killings of civilians. In a June 2015 blog post, Martinelli lamented that social media was improperly influencing networks to cover police shootings, generating excessive outrage against police officers. Martinelli called the coverage of police shootings “political shootings” that only serve to burden law enforcement:
Very few police agencies are equipped to handle the barrage of media scrutiny, demands for information, interviews, and public records requests generated during a political shooting. Well-meaning police officials can be excoriated by the media merely because their officers were of a different race than the shooting victim… Media and politicians are unconstrained by the real world concerns of running an effective police department.
However, if anything, deaths of civilians at the hands of police officers are undercounted, rather than over-emphasized. Depending on which source you use, the number of civilians killed by police in 2016 ranges from 512 (Washington Post) to 571 (The Guardian) to 611 (KilledByPolice.net). The more conservative estimates are due to the aforementioned sources using only verified law enforcement databases, while KilledByPolice.net is an open-source site that compiles a list of officer-involved shootings from local media sources nationwide.
However, The Guardian has noted that U.S. government sources often significantly undercount the number of civilians killed by police. Between 2003 and 2009, along with 2011, The Guardian estimated that the Bureau of Justice Statistics left out over 2,000 fatal shootings of civilians by police officers:
The data speaks for itself: There is no “war on cops,” and conservatives are propagandizing recent tragedies to advance a flawed narrative.
Tom Cahill is a writer for US Uncut based in the Pacific Northwest. He specializes in coverage of political, economic, and environmental news. You can contact him via email at [email protected]