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Police killings need equal reporting for reform

Effective Compassion | Death of white shooting victim went largely unnoticed until recently
by Rob Holmes
Posted 12/13/17, 05:14 pm

In January 2016, a Mesa, Ariz., police officer shot and killed Daniel Shaver after he begged for his life. Last week, a Maricopa County jury found former officer Philip Brailsford not guilty of second-degree murder and reckless manslaughter after only six hours of deliberation. The same day, a U.S. District judge sentenced former North Charleston, S.C., police officer Michael Slager to 20 years in prison for the April 2015 murder of Walter Scott after a traffic stop.

Shaver, 26, was white. Scott, 50, was black. Both victims were unarmed.

Shaver’s killing received significantly less media attention than Scott’s, and that discrepancy hurt, not helped, the Black Lives Matter cause, wrote Conor Friedersdorf for The Atlantic. As the movement aims for police reform, a focus on white victims can be “part of the remedy,” he wrote.

Of the more than 900 people killed by police this year nationwide, about 1 in 10 were shootings of unarmed people like Shaver and Scott. About two-thirds of all people killed by police in 2015 were engaged in violent crime or property destruction.

Police kill African-Americans at a disproportionate rate: African-Americans make up 13 percent of the population but account for 24 percent of police shooting deaths, and they are 2.5 times more likely to be killed in a police shooting than whites. This could explain why the most publicized deaths have been those of African-American suspects shot by white police officers even though white deaths at the hands of police are double the number of African-American ones, according to The Washington Post’s Fatal Force database. Numbers by race are similar for 2015-17.

“Unjust killings of black people alone should have been enough to prompt … reforms,” wrote Friedersdorf. But given the overall number, a strategy of “publicizing and protesting egregious instances of white people being killed would do much” to effect change in policing.

Shaver’s killing happened when police responded to a 911 call about a man with a gun seen in the window of a hotel room. Shaver had been drinking with friends inside the room and brandished his pest control pellet gun. Six police officers arrived and assumed the suspect was armed. Shaver lay prone in the hallway, begging not to be shot. He then appeared to move his hand toward his belt, and a police officer shot him five times.

Footage from Brailsford’s body camera only became available for public viewing the day the jury found him not guilty. Some of Brailsford’s body and gun are visible in the graphic camera scene, but the shouting voice belongs to fellow officer Sgt. Charles Langley.

Reform advocates believe harsher sentencing of convicted officers will influence future police behavior in tense situations. But this is the opposite of what many studies show: Harsher punishments don’t deter most crime, though certainty of punishment might.

“[T]he best way to reduce all crime is to change the culture,” wrote retired Reno police officer and criminal justice professor Tim Dee, who cited years of “glorification of violence and general misbehavior in popular media,” as well as thug and drug activity among sports stars and celebrities. Truly changing culture would mean exhorting police officers to see all citizens from a Biblical perspective, battling the effects of sin while dealing carefully with the life of each person made in God’s image.

GoFundMe GoFundMe Kate McClure (left) and Johny Bobbitt Jr.

Ordinary kindness brings extraordinary return

Living homeless on the streets of Philadelphia didn’t stop Johnny Bobbitt Jr. from acting as the Marine he was trained to be. The veteran used his last $20 to help motorist Kate McClure when she ran out of gas at an Interstate 95 exit last month.

Bobbitt came across McClure that night near where he panhandled and directed her to stay locked in the car while he went to buy gas. He paid because she had no cash and returned to help her on her way. McClure marveled at the kindness a homeless person had shown her and started a GoFundMe project hoping “to get him first and last month’s rent at an apartment, a reliable vehicle, and 4-6 months’ worth of expenses.”

Since then, McClure has made periodic visits to Bobbitt to bring him food and other assistance. Little did she realize a month after first meeting him she would be handing her Samaritan more than $400,000. Her organized plea on Bobbitt’s behalf garnered contributions from more than 14,000 people, many of whom gave just $5 or $10 donations.

McClure, of Florence Township, N.J., updated her “Pay it Forward” project to say Bobbitt has received enough money to buy a home, a computer, and a 1999 Ford Ranger; open two investment trust accounts; and pay for financial and legal help.

“This is a well-thought-out plan … to give Johnny the means to acclimate back into a ‘normal’ life and also to protect him and ensure he has a bright future,” McClure wrote.

Bobbitt also plans to donate to the organizations that helped him while he was homeless. —R.H.

Associated Press/Photo by Julio Cortez Associated Press/Photo by Julio Cortez A homeless man eats a soup kitchen meal in Newark, N.J.

New Jersey’s ‘housing first’ strategy cuts homelessness

New Jersey saw its homeless rate drop by half over the past decade. The surprising statistics came in this month’s annual report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Citizen activists involved with alleviating homelessness say many factors played a role, but the biggest may be the state’s “housing first” strategy: Putting a priority on finding permanent, affordable housing helps people get back on their feet. The model is now the key in HUD’s process of handing out grants to communities.

The successful strategy is controversial because people don’t have to be “clean” before getting housed. “We’re not going to screen out folks who haven’t been able to deal with either their substance abuse issues or their mental health issues prior to entering housing,” said Jay Everett of Monarch Housing Associates, dedicated to ending homelessness in the state.

“You have a better shot at solving some of the barriers that have kept you out of housing when you’re already housed,” he said.

But the success of “housing first” depends on availability of affordable housing and good wages locally. And those pieces of the puzzle show signs of waning, according to Renee Koubiadis, executive director of the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey.

Neighboring Delaware and Pennsylvania saw more modest decreases in homelessness over the same period, at 6.3 and 12.8 percent respectively.

New York—where “housing first” was originally adopted in the late 1990s—is no longer gaining ground. Under Mayor Bill de Blasio, spending for homeless services in New York rose to $2 billion and became focused on shelters rather than permanent housing. And the mayor’s “Turning the Tide” master plan released earlier this year only projected a decline of 4 percent of the shelter population over the next five years. —R.H.

Hope Awards presentation

WORLD Magazine national editor Jamie Dean recognized the 2017 winner of the Hope Awards for Effective Compassion at the Heritage Foundation’s Anti-Poverty Forum on Nov. 16 in Washington, D.C. (see video below). The 12th annual award and its $15,000 grand prize went to Delta Streets Academy in Greenwood, Miss. Send your nominations for the 2018 Hope Awards to June McGraw (jmcgraw@wng.org). —R.H.

Rob Holmes

Rob is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute’s mid-career course. Follow Rob on Twitter @SouthernFlyer.

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Comments

  • Bob C
    Posted: Fri, 12/15/2017 12:22 pm

    "Police killings need equal reporting for reform".   While the statistics are correct the assumptions around them are not. For 2016 - 233 Blacks and 730 whites and all others were shot by police. (from the Washington Post).  The number of arrests are 2.2 million for blacks and 5.8 million for whites and all others. The number shot by police per 100,000 arrests for blacks was 10.3 and 12.5 for whites and all others. So when an arrest is happening, blacks are about 17% less likely to be shot.  Per 1,000 arrests, 23 blacks had weapons and only 12 whites and all others had weapons, (ucf.fbi.gov/crime...).  So almost twice as many blacks have weapons as whites and others.  My point here is that just because blacks are getting arrested at more than twice the rate of whites and others based on the size of population there are more reasons than racial profiling involved and more investigation into the cause needs to be done before conclusions can be reached.              

  • Laura W
    Posted: Sun, 12/17/2017 06:04 pm

    Yes, but this kind of begs the question. Is it possible that black people are getting arrested at a higher rate than white people at least in part because of police bias? If so, then than racial profiling would still be to blame, but in a different way than normally assumed. But police shootings per arrests is a more relevant statistic at least than police shootings per total population, so thanks for that.

  • Laura W
    Posted: Sun, 12/17/2017 06:13 pm

    I am a little surprised that this issue has become as polarized as it has. If police officers were intentionally shooting black people based on their race, that would be terrible and would justify an immediate outcry. I don't think most people are suggesting that this is the case. If police officers are shooting proportionally more black people than white people in similar situations because of unconscious bias, then this is also a tragedy, but it is hard to prove (who can say if the situation was really similar or not?), and the remedy is less clear. However, if police officers are shooting anyone at all when they shouldn't be, this in itself is a tragedy, and I would hope it's one that we could all get behind solving.

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