Police reform is needed in our country to move forward
Across America, people are demanding justice for George Floyd’s murder and calling for an end to racially discriminatory and violent policing. American law enforcement is seriously flawed. It is often needlessly violent, lacks accountability, and targets and kills African Americans at disproportionately high rates.
This is not a matter of opinion. Evidence of systemic racial discrimination and violence perpetrated by American police institutions is strongly evidenced by data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, FiveThirtyEight, Mapping Police Violence, The Washington Post, and numerous academic researchers.
In the US, more than 1,000 people are killed by police, or die in police custody each year. This number dwarfs every other developed country in the world. In Australia, the nation with the second highest rate of police killings, 21 people die in police custody per year. After adjusting for population size, this means that American police kill people at more then twice the rate of their Australian counterparts. Across the 50 largest US cities, rates of police violence do not correlate with rates of violent crime.
Black Americans are 3x more likely to be killed by police than white Americans. Although only 13% of the US population is black, black Americans account for 25% of those killed. In a few cities, police kill black men at rates that exceed the national murder rate.
George Floyd’s murder, in which an officer held his knee to Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes, was not an isolated incident. It was the latest iteration of a long-standing historical trend of police killing black people. It follows the murder of Eric Garner (placed in an illegal chokehold and suffocated for allegedly selling loose cigarettes), Tamir Rice (a 12-year-old shot to death at a playground when officers mistook his toy gun for a weapon), and Breonna Taylor (shot to death while asleep in her own home).
Law enforcement is an integral part of American government, necessary to protect public safety and facilitate societal function. But it is long past time for America to take a hard look at its criminal justice system. The best available data indicates that racially biased and excessively violent policing is a serious and deep-seated problem. American police institutions are failing to serve and protect the people.
While the data exposes the problem, it also illuminates potential solutions. After Black Lives Matter protests focused national attention on racial disparities in 2014, many cities implemented criminal justice reforms. Since 2013, rates of police violence and killing have declined by over 30% in the 30 largest US cities.
Police practice reforms like reducing the policing of minor offenses, lessening use-of-force, and strengthening transparency and accountability have contributed to improved performance in these cities. My next column will discuss a few reforms that can reduce racial bias and violence and improve public safety.
Regardless of whether our race, class, or geography forces us to experience these inequalities, it is our shared responsibility as American citizens to work towards a more just and equitable nation. We need to improve our law enforcement institutions to equip officers with the skills and resources to support their communities, and ensure that every citizen can trust their police to serve and protect them.
Nick Wilson is a junior at Boston College and is studying environmental sciences.