Unjustified Police Killings: The New Homeland Security Threat?
Note: The opinions and comments stated in the following article, and views expressed by any contributor to In Homeland Security, do not represent the views of American Military University, American Public University System, its management or employees.
By Dr. Monique M. Maldonado
Contributor, In Homeland Security
The precedent for unjustified killings by police officers has plagued the United States over the past decade. The exact number of unjustified killings by law enforcement is undetermined, but the killings remain a frequent occurrence.
FBI Lacks Precise Data on Unjustified Deaths from Police
In a Washington Post article written by Philip Bump in 2014, Bump stated that “the FBI compiles a wealth of information and law enforcement each year as part of the Uniformed Crime Reporting system, but it only collects two points of data on people killed by law enforcement: the number of people killed by police in justifiable action, and the weapon used in the homicides. (Unjustified homicides are counted, too, of course: as crimes).”
It’s quite intriguing that the UCR reports go back as far as 1995 for reported crimes. There isn’t a caveat for unjustified killings, just subcategories of “reported crimes.”
Excessive Use of Force Creates Nationwide Unrest
One of the most publicized murders in American history – sparked by an unjustified killing – was the death of Trayvon Martin. Even though Martin’s murder was not committed by law enforcement, this case publicly separated the nation on whether or not race was a factor since the shooter, George Zimmerman, was found not guilty.
As a result, social media users created the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter to verbalize racism and social injustice. In 2013, the Black Lives Matter movement began in response to the shooting deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. These killings were the tipping board, sending America into a war of racial indifference, protests and heated debates on the national divide between law enforcement and African-American communities.
Since 2012, there were over 2,100 killings by police officers in the United States, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Like the FBI’s website, this federal website does not categorize unjustified killings. Instead, it provides generalized information about reported homicides that identified whether or not those killed were armed.
Newspapers such as The Washington Post and The Guardian have keenly tracked U.S. police killings since 2015. The Guardian says that 2016 has the highest percentage of police killings thus far.
According to their report, 814 people have been killed by police officers so far this year. The Washington Post reports that at least 719 people have been shot and killed by officers on their “Fatal Force” page.
Is There a Security Threat to America from Local Protests?
As unjustified killings continue to increase, is there a reason for our federal government to be concerned about security threats? There is limited research to determine if unjustified killings pose a threat to our national security.
Recently, Yahoo broke a story about another African-American male killed by police. Eighteen-year-old Carnell Snell Jr. was killed after he led Los Angeles police on a chase, which ended in him exiting the vehicle and running before he was shot. Police reported that he had a weapon, which resulted in the fatal shooting.
Once a police officer takes a life in his or her jurisdiction, it is automatically questioned and violent community activity may follow. According to Kate Morgan of the Los Angeles Times, “dozens of local activists and other people gathered on the outskirts of the police tape blocking a wide swath of the neighborhood, at one point crashing a police news conference.”
Some prominent riots were heavily publicized in Ferguson (Michael Brown), Baltimore (Freddie Gray and Korryn Shandawn Gaines), Brooklyn (Kimani Gray), Texas (Sandra Bland), Dallas (Dallas police officers), and Charlotte (Keith Lamont Scott). Simultaneous riots developed in New York, Chicago, St. Paul and Baton Rouge after the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.
These riots resulted in a state of emergency across the United States and National Guard units were activated to mitigate civil unrest and restore the peace. Each unjustified killing produces a precarious platform and endangers a large group of people.
George Joseph of The Intercept said, “the Department of Homeland Security has been monitoring the Black Lives Matter movement since anti-police protests erupted in Ferguson.” The intent is to monitor each event to ensure they remain peaceful and nonviolent, but DHS surveillance methods have been questioned on whether or not it’s violating First Amendment rights. Joseph stated, “the tracking of domestic protest groups and peaceful gatherings raises questions over whether DHS is chilling the exercise of First Amendment rights, and over whether the department, created in large part to combat terrorism, has allowed its mission to creep beyond the bounds of useful security activities.”
DHS was established to protect the United States “within” its borders and territories. Violent riots and increased civil unrest are considered terrorist acts, instilling fear in communities because there is no guarantee of safety. Homes and businesses have been destroyed throughout the nation and citizens fear riots will continue to increase and become more dangerous, which could possibly result in deteriorating communities and destroying relationship with citizens and law enforcement.
More Studies Needed To Determine Security Threat Levels
There is no doubt that unjustified killings provoke dangerous retaliation and pose a threat as a result. There is limited statistical information on unjustified killings as well as a connection between violence and homeland security concerns.
Scholars and researchers should conduct a comprehensive review and determine if unjustified killings pose a security threat. We need to determine if DHS is needed to mitigate national protests, as these protests grow and become extreme. It is only a matter of time before one more killing results in a domestic 9/11.