In the wake of the violent protests that left Baltimore in ashes at the end of April, US race relations and police misconduct are now the subject of intense debate in America.
One theory — dubbed the “Ferguson Effect” — claims police are now reluctant to engage in “discretionary enforcement” for fear of prosecution. “Discretionary enforcement” of course refers to the use of lethal force in the line of duty and the implication seems to be that in light of recent events, law enforcement officers are afraid that their actions will be scrutinized by the public. In extreme cases, such scrutiny could culminate in social unrest, something no one individual wishes to be blamed for.
Casting doubt on the so-called Ferguson Effect is a report from The Washington Post which shows that US police are shooting and killing “suspects” at twice the rate seen in the past. More specifically, 385 people have been killed by police in 2015 alone. Unsurprisingly, minority groups are overrepresented in cases involving the fatal shooting of unarmed suspects.
In a testament to how other developed countries view US policing, The Guardian is now crowdsourcing the number of people killed by police in the US and tracking it in real-time.
The effort, which The Guardian is calling “The Counted”, has state-by-state breakdowns, names, per capita ranking, and pictures of the victims.
We'll leave it to readers to determine what it says about police accountability in America when other countries feel compelled to put a face and a name to hundreds of people whose deaths, if left in the hands of the US government, might have gone unnoticed or worse, undocumented.
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About the project (via The Guardian):
The Counted is a project by the Guardian – and you – working to count the number of people killed by police and other law enforcement agencies in the United States throughout 2015, to monitor their demographics and to tell the stories of how they died.
The database will combine Guardian reporting with verified crowdsourced information to build a more comprehensive record of such fatalities. The Counted is the most thorough public accounting for deadly use of force in the US, but it will operate as an imperfect work in progress – and will be updated by Guardian reporters and interactive journalists as frequently and as promptly as possible.
Why is this necessary?
The US government has no comprehensive record of the number of people killed by law enforcement. This lack of basic data has been glaring amid the protests, riots and worldwide debate set in motion by the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old, in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014.
Before stepping down as US attorney general earlier this year, Eric Holder described the prevailing situation on data collection as “unacceptable”.
The Guardian agrees with those analysts, campaign groups, activists and authorities who argue that such accounting is a prerequisite for an informed public discussion about the use of force by police.