FOR THE second time in as many days, Americans were reeling from searing images of a black man dying after being shot by police. On Tuesday, it was Alton Sterling, 37, shot in Baton Rouge while apparently pinned to the ground by police. On Wednesday, it was Philando Castile, 32, killed in Minnesota during a traffic stop. It has been two years since the death of a black teenager in Ferguson, Mo. Maybe since then some reforms have been made; maybe some things, in some districts, have improved. But at times like this, the progress seems grievously inadequate.
What will it take to bring about the reforms needed to help prevent these deadly encounters? How many more graphic videos must be aired?
Those questions take on even more urgency in light of the revelation that the pace of fatal shootings by officers has actually risen in the two years since Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson. An ongoing two-year study by Post reporters found that the number of fatal shootings by officers increased from 465 in the first six months of last year to 491 in the same period this year. This year, the reporters found, also saw more officers shot and killed in the line of duty and more officers prosecuted for questionable shootings.
“Police are dealing with a lot of violent individuals” was the explanation from Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police. Yes, police work can be dangerous, and at times officers will have to use deadly force to protect themselves and the public. But what’s been brought home by videos that have captured some of these shootings is how many seemingly might have been avoided. “Please, officer, don’t tell me that you just did this to him. You shot four bullets into him, sir. He was just getting his license and registration, sir,” were the horrified words of the girlfriend of the school cafeteria worker killed Wednesday on a grisly video she live-streamed after their car was pulled over for a busted taillight. “Would this have happened if those passengers, the driver and the passengers, were white?” Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D) asked at a news conference. “I don’t think it would have.”
A White House task force convened after Ferguson called for better training of officers with new tactics aimed at de-escalation of potentially volatile encounters; the FBI promised improvements in the collection of data; and police departments across the country started outfitting officers with body-worn cameras that would hopefully serve as deterrents. But progress has been slow and uneven, with, in some places, resistance. The Justice Department, which has been asked to investigate both of the latest cases, also needs to take a longer view of what can be done to speed changes across the nation that can prevent more lives from being unnecessarily lost. No law-abiding American should have to live in fear of law enforcement.