Revolution Online, February 23, 2009

Epidemic of Police Murder Large and Growing:

System Gives Police “A License to Kill”

The epidemic of police murder is larger than previous estimates, and the numbers of people killed by police is growing.

According to a 2007 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (which is part of the U.S. Department of Justice), from 2003 through 2005 at least 2,002 people died during their arrests by state and local law enforcement officers. The number of arrest-related deaths increased 13 percent over the course of the three years studied. In 2003 the number of deaths was 622. In 2005 it went up to 703 deaths.

In the 1990s, the Stolen Lives Project documented cases of murder by law enforcement. Based on their research, the Stolen Lives Project estimated that there were over 2,000 deaths at the hands of police and other law enforcement forces during the period of the 1990s. In conducting this research, the Project was hindered by the fact that almost all police agencies kept no track at all of people killed by the police. This in itself is an outrage and shows how little regard the system has for those its enforcers kill.

The Stolen Lives Project relied on press reports and, importantly, on the reports of friends and family members who stepped forward to tell the hidden truth. At the time, supporters of the police claimed that the numbers reported by Stolen Lives were too high. Now it appears that the numbers of people killed by the police in the 1990s was even higher than what the Stolen Lives Project had estimated.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics report also shows that those who are killed by police are primarily young Black and Latino men. More than half of the victims were Black or Latino, even though Black and Latino people make up only 27% of the U.S. population. Over 50% of those killed were under 35 years old. And almost half of those killed—by the cops’ own admission—were not committing a violent offense.

It should be noted that these official statistics, as outrageous as they are, may still underestimate the number of people murdered by law enforcement forces. This list does not include any killings by federal law enforcement, such as the FBI or Department of Homeland Security. It does not include immigrants killed by the border police. It does not include many people killed during police car chases. And it does not include people killed by the police or prison officials after they are booked for a crime and while they are in jail or prison.

Adding to the deep injustice of this situation is that, no matter how blatant the killing by the police may be, the cops are almost never charged with a crime.

Statistics recently released by the Oakland police reveal that between 2004 and 2008, there were 45 Oakland officers involved in shooting people. 80% of those shot by cops in that period were Black men. In almost half the cases the victim was unarmed. Five of the police officers involved shot more than one person in this period. In none of these cases were the police found to be at fault in any way. No criminal charges, and not even any disciplinary action against the cops.

The San Francisco Chronicle recently reported that according to its research, there were only 6 cases (involving 13 cops) in the past 15 years in which murder charges were filed against police officers who killed people while on duty. None of those cases resulted in a murder conviction. According to the Chronicle, “Most were acquitted or cleared altogether. One cop pleaded no contest to manslaughter and got three years in prison. Another pleaded no contest to misdemeanor negligent homicide.”

Look at these figures that document the brutal reality of killings by police in the U.S., especially of Black and Latino youth, and the injustice of murdering cops receiving no punishment. How can anyone deny that police murder is both systemic and condoned by the system?


“Arrest Related Deaths in the Unites States 2003-2005,” Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, October 2007

“Officer-Involved Shooting Statistics in Oakland 2004-2008,” data submitted to the Oakland Civilian Police Review Board and included in Agenda Packet for February 5, 2009 meeting,

“Ex-BART cop accused of murder in rare group,” by Demian Bulwa, San Francisco Chronicle, February 15, 2009

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