Official Stats: US Cops Kill 1,000, Wound 50,000, Every Year

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Photo: LA Times

In a fascinating article discussing the need and possible approaches to reducing police shooting of civilians in the US, the New York Times noted that every year, for the past several, at least, police in the US have killed close to 1,000 civilians and wounded some 50,000 others.

Many of these incidents involve traffic stops – situations where the law allows cops great discretion in how they approach stopped vehicles and in the ways they interact with stopped motorists. Hardly surprisingly, the author suggests ways stops can be reduced in number – more than 62.9 million U.S. residents age 16 or older, or 26% of the population, had one or more contacts with police during 2011 a sizable share of them in traffic stops, according to the US Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics – and a couple of ways ‘stop procedures’ can be modified to reduce risks to the stoppers and the stopped.

But as a frightening number of incidents over the past couple of years have demonstrated, there are many other ways should-be-simple, mutually safe police/civilian encounters can turn deadly.

While some of them represent incidents where cops have, or think they have, legitimate reasons to fear the person they shoot, more often than not they result from poor police training and, it must be said, extreme reactions by civilians to the mere presence of a police officer or some action of that officer that was not necessarily, in-and-of-itself, threatening.

Sadly, a high proportion of individuals who are shot by a police officer are young African Americans – or members of other non-Caucasian minorities. The problem is so severe in some areas that African American parents feel compelled to have what they call “the talk” with their young men – advising them how to avoid confrontations with law enforcement officers and, if they are confronted, how to avoid having the situation escalate.

Young Philandro Castile, while ‘driving while black,’ was stopped at least 49 times, all for minor offenses, in a 13-year period before, on the last pull-over, he was shot and killed.

That is a sad commentary on attitudes and occurrences in the US, which has the unenviable reputation of being the most violent society, overall, in the world.

The Times article is well worth a read, as are the others we’ve linked to.

A Non-Starter Statistic: “450 of 452 Suicide Bombers Were Muslim”

ccharleston_church_fireIsrael’s Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University has released results of a study claiming that 450 of 452 suicide bombers last year were Muslims. Reported in glaring headlines by The Times of Israel, this is probably among the most deceiving (and self-serving) statistics you will read about so-called suicide bombings – not least because it makes a couple of very broad, and undoubtedly wrong assumptions.

First of all, the statistic, regardless of what the Tel Aviv University study found, fails to acknowledge that a significant number of ‘suicide bombers’ weren’t classified as such. It also presumes that failure to call hundreds of other mass killers imagined, somehow, that they would do their thing then live to tell the tale – or possibly do the same thing again.

The Washington Post, quoting the Mass Shootings database of ShootingTracker.com, noted last October 4, the 204th day of 2015, there had been 204 mass shootings in the U.S. so far in the year. Most of those, were by no measure, involved ‘terrorists’ as shooters. But many did. One paragraph of the Post story cited several of them:

“Nine dead in shooting at Black church in Charleston. Four marines, one sailor killer in attacks on Chattanooga military facility. Gunman opens fire on Louisiana movie theater.”

What is terrorism? How is it defined? How do those cases, in particular, fit the definition?

The FBI’s definition of domestic terrorism says this:

“Domestic terrorism” means activities with the following three characteristics:

Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;

Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; and

Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.

By that definition, and a similar one for “international terrorism,” relatively small numbers of ‘terrorists’ use bombs. And many apparently presume that they will walk away from the havoc they’ve wreaked. Most, fortunately, do not.

Granted, Tel Aviv University is an what you might call an ‘unusual position’ – where suicide bombers, in the traditional sense, are rife. They, obviously, neither expect nor wish to walk away from their crimes. That makes ‘home-grown’ U.S. terrorists who shoot up movie theaters, child care centers and other venues any less worthy of the title ‘terrorist’ or any more likely, in most instances, to leave their site of destruction unharmed – or alive.

And almost none of the domestic terrorists in the U.S. last year were Muslims.

 

 

Weapons of Messy Destruction Really (Truly) Need to be Banned

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Weapons possessed by San Bernardino shooters

California effectively has no effective gun control law banning, or even effectively controlling, assault weapons. Earlier attempts by the State Legislature to pass a bill to do either of those things were stalled or defeated. Now, though, after 14 more victims of a mass shooting, this time in San Bernardino, CA, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) plans to “revisit some proposals that previously stalled,” the Los Angeles Times has reported.

One important target is assault rifles whose bullet-bearing magazines can quickly and easily be replaced by hand – meaning, the weapon can be reloaded in next to no time. Two such weapons were among the five recovered from the San Bernardino shooters.

Technically, there is a ban on quick-reload automatic weapons in California, but there’s a loophole, and it was exploited by the couple who killed 14 people on December 2: Presently, if such a weapon has what’s called a ‘bullet button,’ meaning a tool is required to enable reloading, it is outside the scope of the quick-load automatic weapons ban.

The Legislature failed in 2013 to approve a bill that would have closed the ‘bullet button’ loophole. Senator De Leon undoubtedly includes a reintroduction of that bill among the ‘package of proposals’ he intends to put before his colleagues in the coming months.

Nick Wilcox, legislative advocate for the California Chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, called Friday for the state to ban  bullet buttons, The Times said Friday.

“With the bullet button exception we have now, California does not have any assault weapons ban,” Wilcox was quoted as saying.

A broader question is, of course, why does anyone in any state have a ‘need’ for a semi-automatic assault-style weapon? As I suspect is par for the course, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has a list of reasons why such weapons should not be banned – but much of what’s on their list is inaccurate, at best.

Take their Reason #1: Semi-automatic firearms are not fully-automatic military machine guns. Gun control supporters say that semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 are ‘military-style assault weapons’ designed for ‘war’ on ‘the battlefield.’

To the contrary, the military uses fully-automatic rifles [emphasis mine], which are regulated as ‘machineguns’ by the National Firearms Act of 1934. The difference is that a fully-automatic firearm can fire repeatedly and quickly as long as you hold down the trigger, but a semi-automatic, like any firearm other than a fully-automatic, fires only once when you pull the trigger.

While it’s certainly true that the U.S. military does use fully-automatic rifles, it also uses such semi-automatics as the M16A4, which several years ago replaced – except in some Marine uses – the M16A2 (see same reference, under those specific rifle names). The former can use “safe/semi/burst selective fire” (ibid). In the latter configuration, introduced in the M16A2 in the 1980’s,  a fully-automatic mode was replaced “with a three-round burst setting.” (See paragraph immediately above M16A3.)

Then there’s Reason #3: As the numbers of ‘assault weapons’ and ‘large’ magazines have soared to all-time highs, violent crime has been cut in half. The nation’s total violent crime rate peaked in 1991. Since then, through 2012, it has decreased 49%, to a 42-year low, including a 52% drop in the nation’s murder rate, to a 49-year low—perhaps the lowest point in American history.”

The #3 Reason continues, and some of what’s been said may have, at one time, been true. But a lot of it stretches unreasonably stretches the truth – or outright lies.

A USA Today study, shows that since 2006 and today (12/4) there have been a minimum of 263 mass killing incidents – involving four or more people – in that period, including San Bernardino. By 2013, a USA study at that time revealed, the death toll since 2006 already had exceeded 900, with incidents occurring at a rate of one every two weeks (or less).

Whether the deaths were by hand gun (the majority of cases, by three to one) or rifle (a minority), guns of one type or another – automatic, semi-automatic or single-shot – were involved in the vast majority of those deaths. While they didn’t cause the deaths – the shooters did – guns certainly were the enabling tool, the means for the shooters to do what they did.

Statistics on how many of those guns were legally purchased are hard to come by. The latest USA Today study said even the count of multiple-death incidents is hard to pin down because “no one is keeping track.”

The FBI’s numbers, the ones most-often cited by journalists and others, represent voluntary reporting by police departments, and, mysteriously, some fail to file reports.

Consider, too, that the USA Today study is based not only on FBI numbers but otherwise-unreported police department ones the paper was able to track down. And, they talked only about killings of four or more people.  If incidents where ‘only’ three people died were added in, the total would undoubtedly be hard to imagine.

Increasingly, it seems, mass killing incidents are happening beyond large cities. Does it take more or less time for things to get back to ‘normal’ in such communities?

San Bernardino is a fraction the size of Paris, but even in that metropolis, for days after the attacks on November 13, novelist and filmmaker Abdellah Taïa told a reporter for The New Yorker that on a recent Monday, “Aside from a couple of quick trips to pick up groceries, since Friday night he had been too afraid and depressed to leave his apartment.”

Another Parisian, artist Charles Berberian, told the same publication (for a different article, on a cover he created), “It’s horrible when war comes knocking at your door. This is where I live—it’s my neighborhood. The day after the attacks, Saturday, it was so calm here. … No one was in the streets. This week though, people are back out. The joke going around is: ‘No terrorist can stop me from paying the premium to have my café at a terrasse.’”

Berberian is my type of guy.

A thought struck me earlier: If you live in Paris – one of the world’s finest, most cosmopolitan cities, where you go for a vacation?

I lived in London in the early to mid  ‘70’s, when the IRA was waging a war against Britain. At one point, their randomly placed bombs had gone off in what could be called a circle around where we lived. Much damage was done; a few lives were lost. Still, life went on.

We considered, one evening, going to a restaurant on a street bombed a couple of days earlier, figuring the terrorists wouldn’t, with so many potential targets, strike the same approximate area twice. We chose to not go there; they chose to bomb there again.

I’d long contended that, to be most effective at putting fear into the ‘hearts and minds’ of the British public, the IRA were right to return, at least once, to the same area, even if not to the same specific site. Daesh (the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS) has so far failed to pick up on that concept – that you can scare more people, and eventually get more attention from the government, from multiple small acts than by focusing on large (San Bernardino-style) ones.

Perhaps I was wrong: The IRA eventually lost; Daesh is winning – insofar as it is not being defeated.

There is evidence that the woman involved in the San Bernardino incident had ‘pledged allegiance’ to the so-called Islamic State. The FBI is treating the incident as a terrorist action.

Whether she (and/or her husband) was ‘radicalized’ is immaterial at this point. What’s more important is the fact that they easily accessed Weapons of Messy Destruction – and more than 4,000 rounds of ammunition.

That’s wrong.