There is a lot of controversy about Ferguson, but if all you see is one case then you are missing the point.
Around three people a day are killed by police in the United States. This is a big deal. By comparison there have been zero citizens killed by police in Germany so far this year and in recent years the number has been between zero and three. In the United Kingdom there has been one police homicide so far this year, and between zero and two in recent years. The sheer volume of these cases should tell you without question that something is wrong.
There is no official count of homicides by police in the US; the 997 quoted in the title of this post is from a count tallied by the Facebook page Killed By Police. Your first thought may be to dismiss that number because you don’t’ trust the source, but you should. The page posts an article from a mainstream news source for every police homicide on their count. Yesterday fivethirtyeight.com went through a random sample of 140 links and verified the numbers, and all the data is publicly available both on the facebook page and also on fivethirtyeight. So let’s get past any doubts on the veracity of the data; why is there no official count? In 1994 Congress mandated the Attorney General to collect data on excessive force used by police and publish the findings annually. The order was ignored.
Allegations of police misconduct—including homicides—rarely result in charges. To put it another way, police are rarely held accountable for their actions.
This system is clearly broken. We can argue about blood spatter patterns in Ferguson or interview small business owners whose stores were looted but we are missing the forest for the trees. Why are there so many police homicides? Why is there so little accountability for police actions? How can we do better?