When Keenan Anderson shouted George Floyd’s name on January 3, it was not used as a rallying cry to ignite global protests and unrest but during another fatal incident of police brutality. The death of Anderson by Los Angeles police comes three days after yet another deadly year of state violence. One where, against the calls for accountability, racial justice, reform, and defunding over the past few years, police violence continued to rose.
The police killed 1,186 people in 2022, making it the deadliest year on record in the U.S. (Mapping Police Violence). Only 12 days in 2022 had no reported deaths, but this number of civilian deaths would mean an average of three a day. The majority of these fatal police encounters began as traffic stops, non-violent offenses, mental health checks, and where no crime was even reported. And one in three people was killed trying to flee. Yet, officers faced no criminal charges in the 98.1% of civilian deaths by police since 2013.
• Support victims and families of police brutality like Tyre Nichols, Manuel “Tortuguita” Páez Terán, Damien Cameron (note: graphic photo in link), and Cesar Rodriguez.
• Lean on and support community-first response services like Institute for Nonviolence Chicago, Center for Justice Innovation, M.H. First, and Healing and Justice Center, which provide mediation services and mobile crisis teams for mental health issues. Don’t Call the Police offers other local alternatives.
Mapping Police Violence also found a Black-white disparity in these deaths, noting that Black and Native people were three times more likely to be killed by the police than white people. And that in 48 of the 50 largest U.S. cities, police were killing Black people at higher rates, even when they represented a minority of the population. And every person killed by the Miami police department was Black or Brown.
“These are routine police encounters that escalate to a killing,” said data scientist and Mapping Police Violence creator Samuel Sinyangwe (The Guardian). “The reduction in the conversation around police violence does not mean that this issue is going away. What’s clear is that it’s continuing to get worse and that it’s deeply systemic.”
For a decade, nearly every year exceeded the previous number of fatal police encounters, especially following the 2020 protests when state officials pledged police reform and accountability (Police Violence Report). Nationwide, around 300 bills affecting policing have been approved since June 2020 (Howard Center). They range from police oversight and use of force policy changes to additional police protections like protecting officers’ speech and limiting civilian lawsuits against individual officers.
Even police reform and defunding efforts by legislators fell short or failed to discourage police misconduct. After saying they would cut, even reallocate, their police budgets, elected officials reversed promises and often increased police spending beyond the previous year (NBC News). Technology like body-worn cameras received widespread support and was seen as a way for police departments to become more transparent and hold officers accountable for misconduct and excessive use of force. However, their usage failed to achieve such promises (National Institute of Justice, ACLU). Although nearly half of law enforcement agencies own these devices as of 2016, only 14% of fatal police shooting cases have body cam footage (Washington Post). Even still, wearing body cams didn’t stop five Tennessee police officers from brutally beating Tyre Nichols to death on January 7 (NPR). Nor did it prevent LAPD from tasing Keenan Anderson as he begged for help that same week.
“Technological tweaks like a camera can’t prevent the loss of innocent life or prevent violent encounters with police,” said Dr. Jody Armour, a criminal justice expert. “We need to reduce the footprint of law enforcement in communities, not just document it.” (The Progressive).
Shifting to a community-first response and other alternatives instead of contacting law enforcement can help reduce societal reliance and decouple social services like healthcare from policing. People with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during an encounter with the police as law enforcement is not equipped to de-escalate or assist those in crisis (Treatment Advocacy Center). Efforts that diminish their roles in such issues can help prevent a crisis from becoming a death sentence.
The Anti Police-Terror Project created MH First in Oakland and Sacramento, offering a volunteer-based mental health emergency response team for those experiencing a mental health crisis, who need substance use support, or domestic violence safety planning. The Institute for Nonviolence Chicago and the Center for Justice Innovation’s Neighbors in Action are embedded in their communities providing conflict resolution and mediation to curb violence and retaliation that could result in police involvement.
We are 26 days into 2023, and police have shot and murdered 72 people (Washington Post). This time last year, it was 69. These numbers, however, aren’t comprehensive. It doesn’t account for the deaths caused by being beaten, restrained, or tased, nor the ones misclassified or never reported. Nor the loss felt by the families and communities forced to grieve and shoulder the weight of another life stolen due to police brutality. Names like Keenan Anderson, Elijah McClain, Manuel “Tortuguita” Páez Terán, and Tyre Nichols, the ones we have immortalized and the names we never learn, are why we must continue mobilizing for change and move away from a police state determined to subdue us.
• Despite demands and promises for reform, police violence has risen since the 2020 protests.
• Tracking these deaths has provided a more comprehensive record of deadly fatal police encounters in the U.S., as federal data are often undercounted.
• Community-based alternatives can help reduce the role of policing.