While the death of Trayvon Martin has largely fallen off the public radar, the killing of black people by police officers, security guards, or armed vigilantes continues unabated. On May 6, Alan Blueford, an 18-year-old African-American male who was about to graduate from Skyline High School, was shot three times by two Oakland police officers. Oakland police stopped and frisked Blueford and his two friends that night for drugs or weapons. Shortly after, Blueford ran and the police chased him. During the chase, police claim Blueford fired at them to which they responded with three shots. A fourth shot was fired into an officer’s foot, which police also claimed came from Blueford.
However, according to witnesses, investigators, and a coroner’s report, Blueford never shot at the police. There was a pistol found at the scene but it was never fired and it’s unclear whether it belonged to Blueford. In addition, Oakland Police Department (OPD) admitted that the fourth shot was a self-inflicted wound. One of the officer’s shot himself in the foot but initially blamed it on Blueford — a kid who never shot them. On the bright side, the Oakland community has shown their outrage at the killing in the form of robust activism. There is now a “Justice for Alan Blueford” campaign with support from Occupy Oakland.
Whenever an act of police violence occurs against an African-American or any marginalized person, it is viewed as an isolated incident. As if the case were out of the ordinary, rare, random, or accidental. This is far from the truth and a new report reveals that.
In early July, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, a grassroots organization, released a report entitled “Report on the Extrajudicial Killing of 120 Black People”. The report examines the murders of 120 black men and women by police officers, security guards, or self-appointed law enforcers between January 1 and June 30, 2012. According to the report, the killings are considered “extrajudicial” because they happen without a trial or due process and are against international human rights standards. The most important and astounding revelation in the report is during those six months, a person of African descent was executed every 36 hours. Therefore, police violence against black people occurs far more often than reported. Rather than the exception, this sort of systemic racist violence is the norm.
There are other important revelations from the report. Many of the 120 killed were young. About 11% were children under 18 years old, 18% were 18 to 21, 40% were 22 to 31, 17% were 32 to 41, 8% were 42 to 51, 4% were over 52, and 2% were of undetermined age. This means that more than two-thirds of those killed were below the age of 31.
These extrajudicial killings occur nationwide. Some cities, especially in the South, kill black people in disproportionate numbers to the size of their black populations. However, no matter where black people go — in either the liberal San Francisco Bay Area, New York City, the Midwest, the South, or anywhere else — they are not safe from extrajudicial killing by police officers, security guards, or self-appointed law enforcers.
It is also very common for police to claim that the people they killed had a gun. However, 46% of those killed had no weapon on them when they were killed, while 18% were likely armed. The remaining 36% were, according to the report, “alleged by police to have weapons (including a cane, toy gun and bb gun)” but these allegations were disputed by witnesses or later investigations. The report adds that “police are infamous for planting weapons or deciding that a cell phone, wallet or other harmless object is a gun.” Nearly half of the reported killings occurred after a stop and frisk or situations of racial profiling, showing a relationship between “stop and frisk” policies, racial profiling, and the likelihood of police violence.
Of the 120 killed, only 15 cases, or 12.5% of them, likely involved situations where the suspect “shot and wounded and/or killed the police and/or others while the police were on the scene.” Meaning that these were cases where the use of deadly force was legitimate. For the remaining 105 cases, or 87.5%, “the killings were extrajudicial, that is, they used lethal force with no legitimate justification and violated peoples’ basic human rights.”
One would think that in a society that purports to stand up for the rule of law, the police officers, security guard, and armed vigilantes who extrajudicially execute innocent black people every 36 hours would be held accountable. However, this is not the case. Very few police officers, security guards, or self-appointed law enforcers are charged, let alone convicted, for killing black people. In addition, many cases of extrajudicial killing of black people are simply forgotten after initial reports in local news outlets. The death of Trayvon Martin and brutal beating of Rodney King are rare cases of police brutality against black people receiving national attention. Most cases are not reported in the wider mainstream media. This shows how black life is seen and treated as worthless in American society.
This phenomenon has historical precedent. When African slaves were brought to America, they were regularly beaten, whipped, tortured, and killed into submission. The message was clear: people of African descent, because of their skin color, were deemed inferior and, therefore, any act of brutality or murder against them was justified. While slavery ended in 1865, racist violence against black people did not. Lynchings of black people were a regular occurrence in the South during the era of Jim Crow. In 1955, Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American male, was severely beaten and kill by a vengeful group of white vigilantes in Mississippi for merely flirting with a white woman. Police murder of black people is nothing new, either. The main reason why the Black Panther Party formed in the 1960s was to protect black people from vicious police violence.
The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement’s meticulous report highlights a sad fact of American life — that police violence against black people is nothing new. It is systemic and normal. Black people are assumed to be criminal (even if they are not) simply because of their skin color. This leads police to profile, arrest, incarcerate, and kill black people more often than whites, especially for nonviolent drug offenses (even though whites and blacks use drugs at roughly the same rate). The fact that black people are murdered by the police, security guards, or armed vigilantes every 36 hours is a reminder of American racism’s brutal realities.
The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement updated their report for this year. The actual number is one every 28 hours for black people killed by police officers, security guards, or vigilantes. I wrote about this for AlterNet.