The number of times African-Americans were brutalized by police this year? Unknown.

June 11, 2015

Troubling images of a police officer slamming a 14-year-old black girl to the ground and pointing a gun at a group of African-American teenagers in suburban McKinney, Texas, is the latest incident of police violence against African-Americans to go viral.

Police officers, as both the New York Times and CNN reported, bypassed white teens in the group and confronted black young people, many of whom had been invited to a pool party.

Remarkably, the officer, who is seen screaming obscenities, pointing his gun at unarmed teens and tackling a defenseless girl for “talking back,” was a training officer supervising two other officers. He resigned late Tuesday, after the city’s police chief had called his actions “indefensible” earlier that day.

Protestors listen during a rally against what demonstrators call police brutality in McKinney, Texas

Protestors listen during a rally against what demonstrators call police brutality in McKinney, Texas, June 8, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Stone

While no one was shot or killed, the casual brutality seen in the videotaped confrontation underlines the desperate need for a national database on police-community relations across the United States. Efforts are already underway to count the number of police killings across America.

There have been, according to this data, 490 people killed by police this year as of this writing, 138 of whom were African-American. That’s close to 30 percent, a disproportionate number considering blacks make up 12 percent of the U.S. population. By way of comparison, the figures mean that the police killed more people in the first 24 days of 2015 (59) than have been killed in the past 24 years (55) in England and Wales.

This new data, which breaks down fatal police shootings by race, ethnicity and region, provides important evidence of the crisis in America’s criminal justice system. The prison population, for example, has increased from 300,000 to 2.3 million in the past 35 years, with blacks making up almost half that number. All this has sparked massive waves of protests under the banner of #BlackLivesMatter.

Counting the dead, while crucial, should not be done at the expense of documenting the much larger number of routine law enforcement incidents involving non-deadly force targeting black civilians. McKinney underscores the connection between the criminal justice system and the politics of racial segregation in the 21st century. Public schools are more racially segregated now than 40 years ago; 39 percent of black students come from poor families.

A still image taken from police dash cam video allegedly shows Walter Scott running from his vehicle during a traffic stop in North Charleston

An image from police dash cam video allegedly shows Walter Scott running from his vehicle during a traffic stop, before he was shot and killed by white police officer Michael Slager in North Charleston, South Carolina, April 7, 2015. REUTERS/South Carolina Law Enforcement Division/Handout

The black teens attempting to attend a pool party in a predominantly white suburb outside Dallas may well have been racially profiled twice. First by neighbors who called police. Then by law enforcement officers, who treated the groups of high school students (many whom live in McKinney) as threats to law and order and responded accordingly.

Legal scholar Michelle Alexander has characterized the mass incarceration of black men due to the war on drugs over the past 35 years as the “new Jim Crow.” Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, has become an influential political and policy manifesto. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent speech calling for the end of unfair and racially based criminal-justice practices was clearly influenced by Alexander’s work. Clinton called for the end of felony disfranchisement, one of the Alexander’s signature arguments.

But the new Jim Crow metaphor extends beyond the criminal justice system into every facet of democratic society in America. Nowhere is this new segregation more potent, or fiercely defended, than at the neighborhood level. Six decades after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawed racial segregation in public schools, life in the United States is, for many, more racially isolated than ever.

McKinney, where the presence of too many black faces apparently precipitated calls for police to round up the offending teenagers, illustrates the depth and breadth of institutional racism in the age of Obama and Black Lives Matter movement.

The criminal justice system increasingly serves as a nexus for punishment, control and surveillance that focuses predominantly on black and brown and poor people. It can prevent many from gaining access to privileged and predominantly white spaces, institutions and corridors of power. From this perspective, black presence in overwhelmingly white spaces seems to be looked on as an assault on white safety and identity. It is an offense punishable — as we have seen in McKinney — by an astonishingly brutal use of force against children.

A protester wears tape over her mouth during a silent demonstration against what they say is police brutality after the Ferguson shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by a white police officer, in St. Louis

A protester during a silent demonstration after a white Ferguson police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in St. Louis, Missouri, March 14, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Young

Databases that simply document police shootings and killings in the United States miss the larger narrative of anti-black violence and soul-killing encounters with cops, such as in McKinney, that explicitly demonize and denigrate black bodies.

On this score, we need to document police behavior in McKinney as much as we do in Ferguson, Missouri. There are more McKinneys than Fergusons, places where black bodies are publicly humiliated in displays of state violence that reinforce unequal power relations based on race, privilege, wealth and access.

A police officer pulling a gun on black children attending a pool party indicates the size of a problem that will likely require radical public policy, legal and legislative changes to stem. Acknowledging the spate of police killings is a necessary first step to a larger problem that, as we have seen, does not stop at the water’s edge of a swimming pool.

With the increasing use of cellphone video cameras, it has now spilled into the living room of every American and world citizen who recoils at images that now seem to be as commonplace as they are repulsive.

12 comments

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Posted by diomarco | Report as abusive

That’s always the chant, “no justice, no peace” It should be “Know justice, know peace”.

I keep waiting for the day they actually man-up and try something in my neighborhood, but they know they’ll get smoke-checked because my guns don’t jam.

Posted by LetBalanceCome | Report as abusive

This is an awfully bias editorial. Less than 30% killed by cops are African-American, yet they commit well over 50% of the violent crime. How about we look at all the statistics. Is there a problem, yes, but they are isolated and few (138 out of how many encounters?). Is there a crisis? No, but the media is certainly trying to create one.

Posted by center-center | Report as abusive

There should be mandatory labor camps for disobeying a police officer orders also a mandatory GPS tracking device for everyone getting financial aid from the government.

Posted by Macedonian | Report as abusive

Macedonian complains: “There should be mandatory labor camps for disobeying a police officer orders…”

Yes, good luck with that. Move to China.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

I would like that national database to compile a number that tells us how many police officers are employed in the country.

National, state, city, plus special district and task forces…….any civilian authority that is certified and allowed to use deadly force.

Maybe, this isn’t so much a black and white issue as much as an expression of the ratio of police officers to population.

How many officers per thousand civilians have jurisdiction in any given area?

The more cops we have, the more of the effects of law enforcement can be seen.

That means more lawful arrests, and more unlawful arrests.

Posted by Robertla | Report as abusive

This is an extremely biased article. The residents weren’t mad that too many black kids were showing up. They came to a party that the girl did not get permission to have and the kids were trying to come into the pool. Those with cards could come in and they could bring a guest but when over a 100 kids came, and started getting upset because the security guard wouldn’t let anymore kids in, they started climbing the fence. It doesn’t matter what color the kids are, the police would have been called. If you showed up to a convention hall without paying, and you invited 100’s of kids that started climbing the wall, the police would be called. if you had kids climbing into the pool in your backyard, the police would be called, if they showed up at a public pool and didn’t pay to get in and started climbing the fence the police would be called. It is NOT okay to break laws just because you want to.

Posted by kmw369 | Report as abusive

Almost every paragraph in this article contains a biased remark like the following:…”McKinney, where the presence of too many black faces apparently precipitated calls for police to round up the offending teenagers.” Does Reuters pay this writer to make up “possible scenarios” just for fun? The facts are that an unapproved DJ was playing unapproved (foul) loud music for two hours and inviting hundreds of his fans (also unapproved) into this quiet neighborhood where babies and retirees take naps in the afternoon. The Homeowners association has laws in place which are enforceable in Texas. The homeowners were well justified to call the cops. What has me furious is that journalists and editorialists are missing a perfect opportunity to educate black youth and let them know that adults in the U.S. do not approve of disrespecting and disobeying or running from the police. Just because someone grew up without good parental supervision doesn’t mean that they can’t learn how to behave with civility and respect for authority. My respect for journalists and editorialists in general has plummeted along with their disrespectful and shameful (lying) coverage of cultural differences in this country.

Posted by hometown | Report as abusive

The police need better education and oversight. They have become sloppy and fat and lazy.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Solidar says, “They have become sloppy and fat and lazy.” Check out this article and tell me if the officer who saved a girl from suicide, just one hour before this call came in, might not be overworked and tired. Meanwhile, you need to be telling all the kids you know that we expect them to obey police commands and not run….after all, the policeman/woman they meet just might be tired and have a bad day. Here’s the article on this policeman’s day: http://toprightnews.com/officer-in-mckin ney-handled-two-suicide-cases-an-hour-be fore-the-pool-party-incident/

Posted by hometown | Report as abusive

Hire black cops for black neighborhoods and white cops for white neighborhoods. It won’t stop anything but will eliminate one aspect in the equation.

Posted by SR37212 | Report as abusive

Blacks should stop brutalizing each other and they wouldn’t have all that contact with police. You make trouble you get trouble and run into someone who won’t take your BS.

Start taking care of your kids and teaching them, make sure they graduate. You blame whites for every problem that YOU have created for YOURSELVES.

Posted by UgoneHearMe | Report as abusive