By Amy Willis
Over 1,000 people are killed by police in America each year. While some (increasingly) make headlines, most of these deaths go generally unknown. In this episode, criminologist Franklin Zimring joins host Russ Roberts to dig into this uniquely American phenomenon.
Zimring begins by noting there are two ways the government can take the lives of its citizens by force- with capital punishment or at the hands of police. While fewer than 40 people are executed each year (still a high number), prior to around 2014, much more public attention was focused on this number than the number of people who died at the hands of the police. Today, in the wake of the tragic death of George Floyd, attention on the latter continues to rise. But what is and can be done?
We’d like to hear what you think. How can we make it safer to be a citizen, and still safe to be a police officer? How can “Don’t Shoot” rules become the norm?
1- Let’s begin at the beginning. Why has it taken so long for public attention to be focused on police killings, according to Zimring? Why does he think the official number of such killings might be too low by as much as half?
2- Perhaps the biggest question of the conversation– how many of those thousand lives lost are avoidable, according to Zimring–and, without putting police at greater risk to their safety? How does Zimring distinguish between the justified and unjustified use of force? Necessary versus unnescessary?
3- Zimring admits there are few, if any, consequences for police misconduct. Why hasn’t this changed, and what barriers to reform does he see? What does Zimring suggest by way of solutions, and how compelling do you find his suggestions? What else might you add?
4- Roberts asks, if we reduced the use of lethal force by police officers, is it possible that other people would be endangered in addition to the police? In other words, what sort of unintended consequences might emerge from this otherwise positive outcome? You might want to consider the case of Camden, New Jersey here.
5- The conversation concludes with Roberts pressing, where are we going? What needs to change to curb police killings? Are there national reforms that might help with this hyper-local problem? What sort of reforms are needed at that local level? Finally, how is the George Floyd case diffeent, and what positive change(s) do you think might emerge from this watershed moment?
Editor’s note: If you want to explore the issue of police militarization more generally, you might be interested in this interview with the authors of Tyranny Comes Home.