The killing of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer has sparked international protests about police brutality. The problem, unfortunately, can’t be boiled down to the unjust killing of a single individual, which, frankly, would be enough to riot about as far as I’m concerned. Protesters are trying to bring awareness to the ubiquity of police brutality against Black Americans and how it is symptomatic of the larger disease of systemic racism. New findings suggest that the United States kills and imprisons more people than any other developed country.
CNN released a statistical analysis today using data from the U.S. and other countries with advanced economies (or who are ranked near the U.S. in terms of wealth, democracy, and freedom) and found that the United States is a violent outlier when it comes to criminal justice. What they found was that American cops tend to shoot, kill, and imprison more people than any other nation and that Black citizens are disproportionately affected, CNN reported. While this concept, sadly, isn’t surprising, the figures that prove this stark reality are terrifying.
American reportedly police shot and killed about 1,000 people in 2018, compared to just 12 in Germany and only 1 person in New Zealand, reported CNN. Those are not the only deaths that occurred in police custody. Around 1,300 people died in police custody in the U.S. in a nine-month period from 2015-2016 compared to just 21 in Australia. That means that in America, the number of people who died in police custody is over 64 times the number of people who died in police custody in Australia, the country with police custody deaths closest to our own. As CNN reported, that number does not include people who died after contact with the police.
These numbers alone should be enough to convince us that American police brutality is a problem, but it gets worse when you start narrowing down who is subject to police violence. In the U.S., the police are more than 3 times more likely to use force on Black people, who make up a third of the nation’s prison population despite being only 12% of the nation’s population, CNN reported. America, the supposed “land of the free,” has almost five times as many prisons as any other country, with a total prison population of 2.2 million. For reference, that’s similar to the population of Houston, Texas, one of the most densely inhabited cities in the country.
These numbers are disheartening, and they are also probably only a small snapshot of reality. The truth is that there is no uniform central database for police and prison statistics in this or any other country, reported CNN. This makes the work of finding the facts difficult and begs us to question why, in fact, police seem to be reticent to create evidence-based systems of accountability, particularly given the metrics obsession of the current White House. What, exactly, is being whitewashed away when numbers like these disappear?