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A new way to die: legal intervention

July 1, 2017

We are forced to accept a new category is listed among the leading causes of death in America: Legal Intervention.

Less than 48 hours after the deadly shooting of Alton Sterling by police in Baton Rouge, La., Philando Castile was shot by a police officer in Minnesota, the aftermath of which was captured in a Facebook Live video by Castile’s girlfriend. The police officer charged in Castile’s death was found not guilty.

With more than 1,000 police shootings each year in the U.S., the latest research from 2005-2015 found that only 80 officers had been arrested for fatal on-duty shootings but only 28 were convicted.

Sterling and Castile are among the latest victims in the ongoing epidemic of African-Americans killed by police officers. Catching the acts on harrowing video has been a growing trend in recent years due to technological advances. Just about every mobile phone has a camera. But the video evidence rarely leads to convictions.

there have been plenty of other high-profile deaths at the hands of police that haven’t been caught on video, including Sean Bell, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Brendon Glenn, Dontrae Hamilton, Alex Nieto, Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, Jamar Clark, Gregory Gunn, and Akai Gurley. Not to mention Sandra Bland.

The stream of names of those who have been killed at the hands of the police seems endless, and one is overwhelmed trying to keep up with all the names. But, somewhere, we must remember that these are lives of human beings.

A death from legal intervention is a death in which a person is killed by a police officer or other peace officer (a person with specified legal authority to use deadly force), including military police, acting in the line of duty. This category excludes legal executions.

U.S. police killed or injured an estimated 55, 400 people during legal stop and search incidents and arrests in 2012, reveals research published online in the journal Injury Prevention.

The Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that between 2003 and 2009 there were more than 2,900 arrest-related deaths involving law enforcement. Averaged over seven years, that’s about 420 deaths a year. While BJS does not provide the annual number of arrest-related deaths by race or ethnicity, a rough calculation based on its data shows that black people were about four times as likely to die in custody or while being arrested than whites.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Vital Statistics System offers another view into officers’ use of deadly force. In 2011, the CDC counted 460 people who died by “legal intervention” involving a firearm discharge. In theory, this includes any death caused by a law enforcement or state agent (it does not include legal executions).

The CDC’s cause-of-death data, based on death certificates collected at the state level, also reveals a profound racial disparity among the victims of police shootings. Between 1968 and 2011, Black people were between two to eight times more likely to die at the hands of law enforcement than whites. Annually, over those 40 years, a Black person was on average 4.2 times as likely to get shot and killed by a cop than a white person. The CDC’s database of emergency room records also shows similar racial disparities among those injured by police.

Frequent police stops of young men have caused many black fathers and mothers to have “the talk”, and teach their sons where to put their hands if approached by an officer, how to move and not move, to ask permission before reaching for their wallet, and to respond to police rudeness with respect.

Recent data released from 2015 showed that Police killed at least 102 unarmed black people in 2015, nearly twice each week; Nearly 1 in 3 Black people killed by police in 2015 were identified as unarmed, though the actual number is likely higher due to underreporting; 37 percent of unarmed people killed by police were Black in 2015 despite Black people being only 13 percent of the U.S. population; and unarmed Black people were killed at 5 times the rate of unarmed whites in 2015.

Only 1 of 2 officers convicted for their involvement in Matthew Ajibade’s death received jail time. He was sentenced to 1 year in jail and allowed to serve this time exclusively on weekends.

U.S. police killed at least 258 Black people in 2016, according to a project by The Guardian that tracks police killings in America. Thirty-nine of these people were unarmed. Four were killed by police stun guns and another nine died in custody, a continuing problem in American jails. The majority of Black people killed by police were fatally shot.

Living under the perpetual and pervasive threat of racism seems, for Black men and Black women, to quite literally reduce lifespans. Black people face social and economic challenges—often deriving from institutionalized racism—in the form of disparities in education, housing, food, medical care, and many other things. But the act of interfacing with prejudice itself has profound psychological implications, resulting in the sorts of trauma that last long beyond the incidents themselves.

Yes, Black Lives Matter…

Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one.

Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!

The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.

Glenn Ellis, is a Health Advocacy Communications Specialist. He is the author of Which Doctor?, and Information is the Best Medicine. A health columnist and radio commentator who lectures, nationally and internationally on health related topics, Ellis is an active media contributor on Health Equity and Medical Ethics.