In the time it took us to research and write this article, a man named Freddie Gray went from living anonymously in Baltimore, to lying comatose with spinal cord injuries after a ride in the back of a police van, to having his funeral spark protests and civil unrest in his city. And by the time we publish this, the cycle may have started over again with someone else.
In the meantime, the biggest question we're asking ourselves -- besides "I wonder what some random jackass I went to high school with is saying about these issues on Facebook?" -- is when will the freaking cops stop killing people? Not anytime soon, it looks like, because ...
6 We Have No Idea How Well (Or If) Body Cameras Work
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"He said, she said" disputes are notoriously difficult to sort out, particularly when one party is dead. Simple solution to all of this: Start putting body cameras on all police officers. All of them, right now. What, we can attach GoPros to our cats, but we can't be bothered to strap them to our cops?
If you don't care about police brutality, look at it this way: We'd be one step closer to Robocop.
But before we start dropping millions of dollars on these bad boys, are we even sure that body cameras will solve the problem? Barak Ariel from the University of Cambridge has been studying CopCams (an abbreviation we just made up and trademarked) all over the world, including a year-long trial run in California, and his conclusion is ... maybe? While the results of his investigation look positive so far, the problem is that this is the only properly conducted study about body cameras that exists. Meaning that, as Ariel himself points out, we don't really know what effects these things will have. For instance, if the cameras are running all the time, would that reduce the number of informants or other "If anyone finds out I'm talking to you, I'm dead" types who approach cops? And if they're not running all the time, then what's the fucking point?
Ariel isn't alone; the US Department of Justice analyzed the "entire body of evidence on body-worn cameras," which was comprised of a whopping five studies, and concluded that there wasn't enough information to go forward with body cam mandates. And let's not forget there are incidents in which we do have video footage (like the Eric Garner arrest), and the situation is still as clear as Taco Bell toilet water. But hey, at least we got to see the Garner footage. The San Diego PD recently started a body cam program that came with a teensy caveat: They won't release any footage to the public. Ever. So they're telling us to trust that the cops are telling the truth, which hasn't worked out so well lately.
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"It's just that Johnson had a huge zit on his face that day. He's very shy."
And then we have the numerous instances of cops forgetting to turn cameras on, "losing" footage, or suffering malfunctions. Such as in Virginia, where footage of a traffic stop beating was unavailable because the officers' dash cameras mysteriously and simultaneously shit the bed ... in all seven cruisers present. Cameras might be a useful tool in reducing police use of force, but without laws and policies in place to make sure we can, you know, use the footage, it seems like all we're doing is funding some sweet police department snowboarding videos.
5 Nobody Knows How Many Cop Shootings There Really Are
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A nice way to start solving this problem would be for the authorities to look at how many people our cops are killing each year and then say, "Let's cut that by half before December, guys." Every job needs goals, after all.
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Maybe add one of these outside every police station, with the official kill count?
However, that would require actually knowing how many death-by-cop incidents there are, and not even the feds have that number. The official figures are based on what the law enforcement agencies themselves report, but not all of them bother to do that. In 2013, the FBI's "justifiable homicides" figure was 461, but various attempts to come up with the real number (including one by the Bureau of Justice Statistics) reveal that it's close to 1,000. And as with Thanksgiving dinners, the situation turns more complicated once you bring race into it. Did you know that black people are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than white people, as stated by Nicholas Kristof? Or wait, was it that almost three times as many white people were killed as black people, which is what Bill O'Reilly claims?
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"WHICH ONES DO I SHOOT?!"
If you're looking for some clarification, you're shit out of luck, because they're both kinda right -- Kristof got his numbers from the FBI's homicide statistics and adjusted it for population (i.e., he factored in that there's way more white people than black people in America), but the "21 times" figure only applies to black males from ages 15 to 19. O'Reilly, on the other hand, got his stats from the CDC's 2012 death report, but didn't account for the population difference. And, again, they're both working with incomplete numbers to begin with. Everyone's talking out of their ass, and no one is.
Now come the uncomfortable questions about racial bias and police work. We've all seen the stats about how black people are more than twice as likely as whites to be arrested, but there's surprisingly little information about how many of those people were committing crimes versus how many were simply picked up by racist assholes with badges. Unfortunately, we can't know if cops are profiling blacks unless we know if blacks are committing more crime, which we can't know if cops are profiling blacks, which we can't know if blacks are committing ... etc. We don't know shit, basically.