"We don’t know what police brutality looks like, statistically speaking. The federal government tries to keep numbers on excessive force. But that requires cooperation of thousands of law enforcement agencies around the country, and many are less forthcoming than others. There’s also the not-insignificant issue around what constitutes ‘excessive,’ which varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and even case to case. This also means we don’t know, exactly, how many people die in encounters with the police each year. It’s somewhere around a few hundred. That means it’s exceedingly rare, considering the millions and millions of arrests that happen each year. Some tiny fraction of a percent.
"You look at the 400 or so arrest-related deaths each year and you realize that that means that everyday someone is killed by police. And you consider that the likelihood of dying in an encounter with the police creeps up with each encounter with the police. And there are places in this country where encounters with the police are unavoidable, because cops are omnipresent.
"In 2011, there were 120,000 police stops of black/Latino boys between 14 and 18 in NYC. There were 170,000 black/Latino boys in NYC then. If you were a brown kid in NYC, you were very, very likely to have been stopped under stop and frisk (via). And there all sorts of disruptions that attend those stops. You spend 12 hours in a holding cell, get released without a charge… you may have had to be someplace very important and you have to explain that to your boss at Target or your school or whatever. And so certain populations are in near-constant contact with police, and at constant risk of police-related disruption of their lives. For those folks, Eric Garner and Michael Brown aren’t statistical anomalies, but worst-case scenarios for more quotidian privations.
"If your contact with the police is nothing like that—maybe a speeding ticket, but mostly respectful and rare, you’re going to have a different posture toward the police. And you wouldn’t be wrong to have that posture; you live in a materially different world. It’s not as simple as willful blindness. It’s like being a person without a disability who doesn’t know which subway stops have elevators. You don’t have to know that this is happening.
"Black people are intensely physically segregated in this country; white folks who don’t think police treat black unfairly don’t live near black people, as that Pew study points out. Urbanites are much more likely to say black folks are treated less fairly than white than were folks who lived in rural areas.
"So: for some folks, the police are public servants, who serve and protect, who respond to calls for assistance, who de-escalate situations. And for others, they are agents of chaos; their presence introduces all sorts of scenarios including deadly force, into any scenario."
— Gene Demby (x)