Arrests, not deaths

Americans must confront the underlying issues leading to officer-involved killings

How many unarmed black men have to die at the hands of the police before our nation insists something is done about what appears to be a lack of accountability?

It’s impossible to know how many unarmed citizens—or people in general—are killed by cops each year, since there’s no comprehensive database. What we do know is that we can think of several such deaths off the top of our heads, including two high-profile incidents involving black men and white officers.

First, in July, a man named Eric Garner was choked to death by a New York City police officer. His crime: selling individual cigarettes. Garner resisted arrest, but was in no way violent. He cried out that he couldn’t breathe, but the officer continued his chokehold, asphyxiating the 43-year-old father of six. A witness captured the incident on camera, sparking conversations across the nation about excessive force.

And then, in August, a Ferguson, Mo., policeman shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown, another unarmed black man who’s become a household name. These deaths and a few others in recent months, including that of a 12-year-old, are holding the attention of our fickle populace, and have brought us to what feels like a tipping point on issues of excessive force, race relations, due process and a lack of transparency when it comes to the investigations of officer-involved deaths.

Protests—some peaceful, others not—from New York to Berkeley have taken place in the absence of grand jury decisions to indict the officers responsible for these killings. And now in Chico, this Saturday, there are plans for demonstrations (see “Protests come to Chico,” Newslines, page 8). We’re glad to hear about this local protest and see it as an opportunity to bring awareness to an array of issues, including a lack of training in appropriate procedures.

Nothing can bring Garner or Brown back, but we can think of many things the police could have done differently that would have resulted in arrests rather than deaths.