Activists demand comprehensive federal data on Americans killed by police
Activists who mobilized after the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown said Wednesday they have collected 200,000 signatures backing their demand that federal agencies address a nationwide trend of police violence with major reforms — including the collection and release of comprehensive data on how many Americans are killed by law enforcement officers each year.
In the aftermath of Brown’s Aug. 9 death following what police say was an altercation with an officer in Ferguson, Missouri, rights groups and researchers have complained of a startling lack of official national figures on police killings.
A coalition of activists said they were set to deliver the signatures and demands to the White House, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice on Wednesday — which they have declared a “national day of action” against police brutality and alleged racial discrimination in law enforcement.
Protesters in cities across the United States planned to use the day to call for justice for victims of police violence, said Matt Nelson, organizing director for Color of Change, a group that says it works to strengthen black America’s political voice.
“Police targeting of primarily black and brown adults has been elevated to the level of a national crisis, a civil and human rights crisis,” Nelson said. “Color of Change believes that the government needs to step in and take the necessary leadership to make sure peoples’ rights and lives are protected in encounters with police.”
Wednesday’s events included one in New York City related to the July choke-hold killing of Eric Garner. In Ohio activists were calling for justice for John Crawford, a black man killed for holding an air gun in a Walmart where the gun was for sale. And in Ferguson, demonstrators planned to call for Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Brown, to be held accountable for the shooting.
Brown’s death sparked weeks of racially charged protests, and elevated to national debate the issues of discriminatory policing — which refers to law enforcement targeting individuals based on factors including race, religion, or age — and whether minorities are more often killed by police officers.
But activists and researchers say the way the FBI collects data under its Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program makes it impossible to know exactly how many Americans are killed by law enforcement officials each year. Local and state departments only report such information on a voluntary basis, according to an emailed statement from FBI Relief Media Liaison Billy Estok.
The FBI only categorizes what it terms an “officer-involved homicide” differently from other homicides if a policeman killed a felon in the line of duty, in which case the FBI classifies it as a “justifiable homicide.” The FBI’s existing database does not include information on every incident of someone being killed by law enforcement, nor data beyond a count of justifiable homicides — which in 2012 amounted to 410, Estok said.
Activists have called on federal agencies to create a national public database of police shootings, use of excessive force, misconduct complaints, arrests and more — all broken down by race and other demographic factors, Nelson told Al Jazeera.
Other demands include a fully resourced DOJ investigation into discriminatory policing and excessive force, an end to federal grants that encourage police militarization, and an executive order to form an enforceable prohibition on police brutality and discriminatory practices.