But was misconduct involved?: Within our failing society, quite a few people are shot and killed by police officers every year.
That said, these incidents don't all involve misconduct by those officers. Depending on how you want to score it, we'll guess that most of these incidents don't involve such misconduct.
Consider the shooting death of the late Robert Christen in September 2015:
By all accounts, Christen was a good and decent person when he was on his meds. According to Christen's mother, he also had a long and terrible history of mental illness.
In the aftermath of Christen's death, his mother told a reporter that "she had seen her son hospitalized 50-60 times, each time only at the peak of a crisis."
She said that, on the night when her son was shot and killed, "he had not been taking his prescribed medication and that he had slipped into a manic episode."
In the course of that manic episode. Christen had called police and said he planned to kill his former girl friend. When he arrived at that woman's house, a single deputy sheriff—a young woman—was there to protect the former girl friend, who had remained inside her house.
According to reports which no one denied, Christen rushed the deputy sheriff, punching her three times. At that point, he was shot and killed.
Presumably, everyone would prefer that this shooting death hadn't occurred. But did that deputy sheriff engage in some sort of misconduct?
In her interview with a reporter, Christen's mother made it clear that she held no such view. “I want it very clear that we hold no ill will against the police officer," Christen's mother said. "She was put in a terrible position and she did what she had to do."
No one has to agree with that. But that's what his mother said.
Christen's mother may have concluded that her son had engaged in so-called suicide-by-cop. “He just didn’t want to be sick anymore,” she was quoted saying. She was also quoted saying this:
“When he was not sick, he was a very loving and wonderful person. He was such a wonderful son.”
Presumably, it would have been better if that incident had ended without loss of life. We'd also assume that very few people would find fault with the deputy's conduct.
Presumably, most people would be willing to say that this incident didn't involve misconduct by that officer. For current purposes, that may be where the human element starts coming in.
Perhaps somewhat oddly, Wesley Lowery opened a recent essay in The Atlantic by mentioning this unfortunate incident. Perhaps somewhat oddly, he didn't explain the circumstances surrounding this shooting death, but he described it as part of a "gruesome cycle" afflicting the state of Minnesota—a gruesome cycle which, he said, had proceeded like this:
"The police killed someone. Activists protested. Small reforms were won. The police killed someone else..."
Lowery didn't explain why activists would have protested that shooting death. Nor did he mention the fact that a woman's life had apparently been at stake.
We'd have to say that Lowery's presentation might feed a type of misperception about this important topic. For what it's worth, his essay now carries this formal correction:
"This article previously misspelled Robert Christen’s name and misstated the affiliation of the officer who killed him."Whatever! At certain times, Storyline may perhaps be the main thing we're after. Even our own tribe's emerging saints may perhaps tend to feed misperception, so certain are they that they understand Absolute Truth.
According to the Washington Post's Fatal Force site, roughly a thousand people are shot and killed by police officers in this country every year. The site has now attempted to record all such deaths since the start of 2015. Here are their annual totals for their five completed years:
People shot and killed by police officers in the U.S.After adjusting for population, that's vastly more people than get shot and killed by police officers in comparable nations. That said, our nation is "awash in guns" in a way few other such nations are.
Our team tends to remembers to make that statement when it serves the interests of Storyline. At other times, we may tend to forget.
(To see our police shooting death rate compared to those of Canada, Germany, Iceland and others, you can just click here. Our rate dwarfs those of comparable nations. To consider a more inclusive list of nations, you can just click this.)
Police officers shoot and kill about one thousand people per year. That said, we have no idea how many of these incidents involve misconduct by the officer. As far as we know, no one has ever attempted to quantify that.
Did the shooting death of Robert Christen involve police misconduct? Presumably, most people would say that it didn't.
In other cases, it's very hard to imagine a way to justify the conduct of the police officer. At present, a peculiar practice clearly obtains in all such shooting deaths:
We tend to discus such incidents when the shooting victim is black, but not when the victim is white or Hispanic or "other." This pattern is abundantly clear. It would make no sense to deny it:
People have heard a great deal about the shooting death of Rayshard Brooks, as is completely appropriate. Very few people have ever heard about the shooting death of Nicholas Bils.
People have heard about Breonna Taylor. Very few people have ever heard of Rhogena Nicholas—or of her husband, who was also shot and killed.
This represents a vast disproportion in the way such events get reported and discussed under current procedures. Almost surely, this vast disproportion in press coverage is creating misperceptions about such shooting deaths.
Other misconduct by the press has surely helped create misperceptions about this important topic. We especially think of the misreporting of basic facts which is now remarkably common in upper-end coverage of these shooting deaths, when such deaths get reported at all.
This starts with a heinous factual error by—who else?—the New York Times. This heinous misstatement appeared in the Times' initial report of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
To this day, the Times has never corrected this gross misstatement. We'll consider this general practice next week.
At any rate, some shooting deaths get reported; other such deaths do not. Presumably, this grossly disproportionate coverage is creating vast misperceptions, sometimes with deeply harmful effects.
That said, a second disproportion is often mentioned when the topic of such deaths arises. Recently, Matt Stieb did so in a blog post for New York magazine, as he scolded President Trump for making an accurate statement.
Stieb cited a statistical disproportion which does in fact exist. Somewhat oddly, he reproduce data Lowery had presented in 2016—data which weren't entirely accurate then, and plainly aren't accurate now.
That said, Stieb described a statistical disproportion which is plainly a part of this important topic. We're hoping to show you what he said before the week is through.
Black Lives Matter was formed in response to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. In response to the growing black lives movement, upper-end journalists and upper-end news orgs have rushed to display their obvious good faith and their unmistakable moral greatness.
Most of these orgs have displayed little interest in any of these topics in the past. Their handling of this topic in their rush to greatness may be creating misperceptions, misperceptions which may create harm.
How well do our news orgs tend to cover such topics? Tomorrow, as we continue to offer perspective, we may start with this.
Tomorrow: It may be the best they can do