Shootings of police officers have become more prominent in the news in the last few years, but the officers are rarely prosecuted—even when it is quite clear that the shootings were not justified, and (what is most common) they occurred largely because the victim was African American. This paper will briefly discuss the question of what should be done about this problem.
One analysis of 54 officers who were charged in the decade between 2004 and 2014 found some unsettling facts. “In an overwhelming majority of the cases where an officer was charged, the person killed was unarmed. But it usually took more than that” (Kindy and Kelly, 2015). This is remarkable—in order for a police officer to be charged with a crime, it is not, in general, enough for him or her to shoot (or even kill) an unarmed person. Nor is it enough that an unarmed person is shot fatally in the back, for the murdering police officer to be charged with a crime.
Furthermore, young Black men are by far the portion of the population that are most likely to be murdered by police. Black people are five times more likely to be murdered by police officers in shootings. Police are also much less likely to be charged with a criminal offense when they murder a Black person, as compared to a White person (Swaine, Laughland, Lartey, and McCarthy, 2015).
It would be a large mistake to think that these shootings by police officers have somehow become more common or numerous in the last several years. All that has changed is that people are now paying attention, largely because of the advent of smartphone photography. The sad fact is that there were more murders by police officers in the past than there are today.
The solution is quite simple. Judges and juries should treat police officers the same way that they would treat anyone guilty of murder. It would also be a good idea to charge White police officers who murder unarmed Black men with a hate crime.