TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – As police departments across the United States continue to struggle with policing minority communities, conflicting information about policies and procedures continues to muddy the waters around the conversation.
Fifty nine of the country’s largest municipal police departments killed civilians in 2015, according to Mapping Police Violence, an organization that tracks police killings. The group’s website shows that some departments killed at a much higher rate than others.
Bakersfield, California; Oklahoma City, Oakland, Indianapolis, Long Beach, California; New Orleans, St. Louis, and San Francisco’s police departments killed people at the highest rates in 2015, according to the the site’s report. Rates of police killings differed sharply across the country. For example, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department killed over seven times more people per capita in 2015 than did Philadelphia Police Department.
On November 23, 2014, in Cleveland, Ohio, a 12-year-old African American boy named Tamir Rice was shot and killed by two police officers. Both policemen said they shot the boy because they thought the he was carrying a real gun and aiming it at people. After they shot him they saw that it was merely a toy gun. They simply opened fire on him before telling the young boy to drop the gun, sparking the Black Lives Matter movement nationwide. Unfortunately, the officers made a mistake with permanent consequences
“If you worked as an engineer and you make a mistake you could fix it the next day, but in law enforcement if you make a bad decision you can’t fix it,” said Lt. Micah Rodgers of the University of Alabama Police Department.
Some citizens think the large number of African-American deaths at the hands of police is a sign of underlying racism. However, Rodgers sees a different factor at play, and believes that poverty is a key element that drives the issue.
“The media just shows what they want to show the people, and most times, people do not know the whole story of what happened,” Rodgers said. “What a lot of people fail to realize is that officers are humans, and in a lot of respects, it is a job and there perhaps some people who are not very good at it and they make some bad decisions.”
Although some cases involving police brutality could easily be explained as an act of racism, many people, including Rodgers, believe it is important to consider other circumstances surrounding the incident to better understand the situation.
“The one thing that I saw is, more than just a race issue, it is almost a microcosm of socioeconomic issues” he said. “We saw violent crimes where there is poverty. It follows that trend, I believe, more so than just race. The people that live in those areas are the ones that feel like they have a target on their back.