There has been very little press coverage of the killing of Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr. by White Plains, New York police officers last year compared to Trayvon Martin. If you did a search right now of the New York Times website for articles over the last year that mention “Kenneth Chamberlain,” you would get only three results. You would get thousands for Martin. In our post last week, we found it troubling that the New York Times and other news outlets did not give more attention to Chamberlain, who was shot by police officers without any apparent need.
Once again evidencing a stark contrast in its coverage of police officers versus civilians, today the Times published a front-page article reporting the increase in the number of police officers killed across the United States. The article reports that 72 officers were killed in 2011, a 25% increase from last year and a 75% rise from 2008. The article does not mention the number of arrest-related deaths during that period.
Like the Trayvon Martin case to which we compared the coverage of Chamberlain, the increase in the number of officers killed is tragic and certainly merits discussion. Officers’ lives are not the only ones that matter, however, nor are their lives more valuable than civilans’ lives. For that reason, here are some statistics on arrest-related deaths of civilians that the Times left out.
- From 2003 to 2009, 4,813 people died in relation to an arrest in “all manners of deaths.” Each year ranged from 627 (2003) to 745 (2007). Source – Andrea M. Burch, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Arrest-Related Deaths, 2003-2009 – Statistical Tables, November 2011.
- Of those, 2,913 (about 6 in 10) were reported as “homicide by law enforcement.” Each year ranged from 375 (2004) to 497 (2009). See Burch.
- In the only year in which the NYT article and the Bureau of Justice Statistics report overlap, 2008, law enforcement killed roughly 10 times the number of people during arrests (404) than officers killed (41). See Burch.
- Since 2001, at least 500 people have been killed as a result of being tasered by officers in the United States alone.
With a more complete picture, people can see that the United States has a problem not only with officers being killed, but with officers killing people. It is not one-sided. These problems require a fundamental change in our society and criminal justice system that incarcerates far too many people (dwarfing almost every other nation, in fact, and often placing them in inhumane conditions), destroys communities and families, and unnecessarily ends many lives. But for that to happen, most of the media must change the way it portrays our justice system, and who its victims are.
UPDATE: When the NYT reported the findings of a BJS study on arrest-related deaths (an earlier study covering only 2003-2005), it also included the number of deaths of police officers over that period, and even pointed out that there were “174,760 assaults on law enforcement officers during the three-year period.” Again, today’s article about the killing of officers made no mention of the number of civilians killed by law enforcement or police brutality.