On Sunday afternoon, 20-year-old Daunte Wright was shot and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minneapolis (NPR). The shooting sparked tensions in the area as the community anticipates the outcome of the Derek Chauvin trial (NYTimes). At a press conference Monday morning, Brooklyn Center police chief Tim Gannon expressed that the police officer fired her gun instead of her Taser. This is a dubious claim, and it’s been used as an excuse before. You can learn more about those cases, and the difference between a Taser and a gun, here.
It’s also important to note that Tasers, too, can be deadly. In 2019, Reuters identified at least 1,081 U.S. deaths following the use of Tasers by law enforcement since they became commonly used in the early 2000s. Many of these are exacerbated by other uses of force like hand strikes or restraint holds. During their investigation, they found that police officers often aren’t trained to use Tasers properly, which increases the propensity for harm (Reuters).
The death has been referred to as an “accidental discharge.” But there is nothing accidental about the death of an unarmed Black man by law enforcement. Our system is designed to maximize interactions between Black and brown people and police officers, which all but ensures that harm will happen. This is enforced through the practice of over-policing, initiatives that have justified increased levels of policing for the sake of the greater good, but often with adverse consequences (Scientific American).
A controversial example of this is “stop and frisk” initiatives, which allow police to stop and detain someone if they have “reasonable belief” that the person is, has been, or is about to be involved in a crime (NYTimes). After taking office in 2002, Mayor Bloomberg dramatically extended this program across NYC. Data indicated that crime decreased because of it, but that was later noted as an indirect correlation after the program was reduced. During that time, Black and Latino people were nine times as likely as white people to be stopped by the police but were no more likely to warrant an arrest (NYTimes). Another study found that only 6% of stops from 2009 to 2012 had resulted in an arrest, and 0.1% in a conviction for a violent crime. The majority of those stops caused undue stress and anxiety in the community. The practice was deemed unconstitutional in 2012 (The Guardian).
Predominantly Black neighborhoods are simultaneously over-policed when it comes to surveillance and social control, and under-policed when it comes to emergency services.
Daanika Gordon, an assistant professor of sociology in the School of Arts and Sciences, for Tufts
A report by the Prison Policy Initiative found that Black residents were more likely to be stopped by police than white or Hispanic residents, both in traffic stops and street stops. And over 1 in 6 of Black respondents stated that they had similar interactions with police multiple times over the course of the year. During these interactions, police were twice as likely to use force against Black or Hispanic residents than white residents (Prison Policy).
And there are countless examples of these stops resulting in death. Philando Castile was murdered in 2016 at a routine traffic stop – and had been stopped at least 46 times before in his lifetime (Reason). Army Lt. Caron Nazario, who identifies as Black and Latino, was recently stopped, pepper-sprayed, and handcuffed during a routine traffic stop. The officers involved illegally pulled their weapons, threatened to murder him, and illegally searched the vehicle (NPR). The death of Sandra Bland was also caused by an unjust traffic stop back in 2015 (Vox).
Over-policing also causes harm by weakening trust – not just between police and civilians, but between each other, too. Over-policing creates a biased perception that certain community members are more likely to harm than others, which is racially bias and skewed. And when people lose faith in the system, they’re less likely to cooperate with it, which in turn, makes policing more ineffective as time goes on (Vox). There’s some beneficial work that can come out of this, like mutual aid and safety networks organized by the community as a more nurturing alternative. But it can also spark violent outrage and retaliation, which serves no one.
We must advocate to divest from policing in our communities. We can also do our part to invest in other community-based services and practice using them instead of calling in law enforcement. It might seem small, but that one less interaction could save someone’s life.