Police Killings of Civilians

Today’s Washington Post (http://tinyurl.com/qej2kpk) reports that police killings of civilians so far this year nationwide number at least 385, or more than two a day. This number is more than twice as high as the number counted by the federal government during the past decade. After adjusting for population composition of census tracts, African Americans were three times as likely as whites or members of other racial/ethnic groups to be killed by police this year. While more than 80% of the victims were armed with a gun or other potentially lethal weapon or object, 13% were unarmed. Most of the victims were poor. Shockingly, dozens of the victims died while fleeing from the police. Although police may use force only when their lives or other people’s lives are threatened, only 3 of the 385 police shootings have resulted in criminal charges so far.

The Post article is essential reading for anyone who cares about the fairness of the criminal justice system in the United States.  One of the hallmarks of democracy is that the police serve the public and must themselves obey the law. The Post article provides ostensible evidence of police out of control and all too ready to use deadly force when it is not justified, especially against African Americans. The police do have a dangerous occupation and are always on alert for their safety, as some classic sociological studies document. They have to be able to defend themselves. But the Post article suggests the police too often (and even one example is too often) exceed with impunity what is appropriate and allowable under the law. This situation must not stand.


Nebraska Repeals the Death Penalty

Today’s vote by the Nebraska legislature to repeal the death penalty was historic. In overriding its governor’s veto of its previous repeal vote, the legislature added Nebraska to the growing minority of states without the death penalty. The legislators, Republicans and Democrats alike, who voted for repeal had various reasons for doing so. But from a sociological perspective, the death penalty does not deter homicide; it is applied in a racially discriminatory manner, especially when the race of the homicide victim is considered; it is applied in an arbitrary manner; it probably has resulted in the execution of innocent people; and it costs more money than life imprisonment. The United States is the only democracy to still use the death penalty, as other democracies decided long ago that capital punishment has no place in modern civilization. Other states that retain the death penalty should follow Nebraska’s fine example.