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Police Killed Nearly 1,000 Civilians in 2015

Is there hope for next year?
Family, friends, and supporters gather outside the home of Bettie Jones and Quintonio LeGrier during a vigil on December 27, 2015, in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Family, friends, and supporters gather outside the home of Bettie Jones and Quintonio LeGrier during a vigil on December 27, 2015, in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Quintonio LeGrier was murdered on Saturday.

The 19-year-old engineering student was shot and killed by Chicago police officers, according to ABC 7 Chicago, after cops responded to a call around 4:30 a.m from LeGrier's father saying his son was "acting crazy" and waving a baseball bat. LeGrier wasn't the responding officers' only victim; Bettie Jones, a 55-year-old anti-violence activist, mother of five, and LeGreir's downstairs neighbor, was caught in the crossfire and killed. "An innocent lady got shot as well, because the police were trigger happy," LeGrier's mother, Janet Cooksey, told reporters. "I went to the hospital. My son has seven bullet holes in him." Amid the subsequent public outrage, beleaguered Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has quickly called for police reform.

This is by now a tragically familiar story. As of December 24, police officers have fatally shot 965 Americans this year, according to a Washington Post tally. Of those 965, only 564 were armed with guns; about 90 were totally unarmed. While the Post found that white police officers shooting unarmed black men—incidents that have sparked ongoing protests in cities across the United States—represented fewer than four percent of total fatal police shootings in 2015, "Race remains the most volatile flash point in any accounting of police shootings," the Post authors write. "Although black men make up only 6 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 40 percent of the unarmed men shot to death by police this year."

The Department of Justice's Assets Forfeiture Fund took in $4.5 billion in revenue in 2014, a 4,667 percent increase from $93.7 million in 1986.

Among those victims is Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy who was shot and killed by a white Cleveland police officer in November of 2014. Rice was holding a toy gun, and police officer Timothy Loehmann fired on the child within seconds of arriving on the scene. On Monday, a grand jury declined to indict the officer who killed Rice. The reason, according to Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty: "We don't second guess police officers." McGinty noted that Loehmann's mistake technically wasn't illegal. "It's clear the officers were not criminal," he added.

The Post tally, when taken alongside the injustice of the Rice non-indictment and LeGrier's death, adds yet more evidence to the failure of America's cops. U.S. police officers kill more people in a single day than some countries do in years. A year-long investigation by the Associated Press revealed that more than 1,000 officers lost their badges in the last six years for sexual misconduct ranging from rape, sodomy, and other sexual assault, to possession of child pornography and propositioning citizens. Police departments are even engaged in what's essentially the equivalent of legalized theft: A report from the Institute of Justice indicates that local law enforcement agencies are increasingly using civil forfeiture to seize property from suspects, regardless of the owner's guilt or innocence. The Department of Justice's Assets Forfeiture Fund took in $4.5 billion in revenue in 2014, a 4,667 percent increase from $93.7 million in 1986, all in what amounts to stolen assets. Not coincidentally, trust in police is at a 22-year low.


Despite the burst of activism, flurry of legislative activity, and months of never-ending protests, this year's long slog toward police reform seems even longer in retrospect. This was to be expected; after all, a Washington Post/Frontline investigation found that the Department of Justice's more significant interventions at 16 police departments with histories of excessive or deadly force in the last two decades dragged on for years, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in the process.

But still, this year's lack of movement seems particularly disconcerting. In New York, none of the legislative solutions proposed in the aftermath of Eric Garner's death in 2014 even made it out of committee. In Missouri, only one Ferguson-related police reform out of the dozens proposed became law. While an AP analysis found that 24 states passed at least 40 new reforms ranging from mandated body cameras to racial bias training, "far more proposals have stalled or failed ... and few states have done anything to change their laws on when police are justified to use deadly force." Hell, it took until September for the Federal Bureau of Investigation to even start collecting data on police shootings.

This should come as no surprise: The conservative backlash against police reforms, steeped in the "law and order" tradition of American politics, has long stymied the efforts of activists and reformers. Despite the fact that a vast majority of Americans support police reforms like body cameras and independent prosecutors, plenty of voters expressed skepticism over the efficacy of the Black Lives Matter movement to actually accomplish significant reforms. While one could chalk this up to organizational trouble (every movement has its own brand of internal political drama), it's more likely that the public's been made antsy by a fictional "war on cops" drummed up by conservative media—despite the fact that the number of police officers killed in 2015 hit a 50-year low.


Quintonio LeGrier was killed on Saturday, but his death won't go unnoticed and forgotten. That's in part due to Michael Brown, who's murder set off a spark in the country. And to Eric Garner, whose last words became a rallying cry for a burgeoning new civil rights movement. And to Walter Scott, whose videotaped death woke white America up to the reality of police abuse. And to Laquan McDonald, who was gunned down as he was walking away from Chicago police. And to Tamir Rice, whose senseless death stings anew on the day of Loehmann's non-indictment.

It's because of these individuals that we're aware of, and enraged by, the fact that police killed nearly 1,000 American civilians in 2015—but, based on this year, only time will tell if that even makes a difference.