No fewer than 1,098 people in 2019 have been killed by the United States police, of which one-quarter of them black Americans, representing 13 per cent of the population, according to the group Mapping Police Violence.
George Floyd’s death was just the latest incident in a larger pattern of police use of lethal force.
By comparison, French police kill only around 20 people every year.
One explanation for the huge US number is the widespread availability of guns, which increase the danger faced by officers on the job.
According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 135 officers were killed in the line of duty last year.
US police are empowered to use their firearms at any “reasonable” expectation of immediate danger to themselves or others — a subjective standard.
Police are also protected by the contracts their unions negotiate, which make it much more difficult to pursue them in court, according to the activist group Checkthepolice.org, which has compiled details on such contracts in more than 80 cities.
Calls for police reform have spread across the United States, but after years of acting with relative impunity – supported by powerful unions and protective laws – changing the worst habits of the US men in blue will be a steep challenge.
After the May 25 death of Floyd, who died while handcuffed and pinned to the ground at the neck by a white Minneapolis police officer, communities, states, and even Congress have piled up initiatives to stem police violence, especially against blacks.
In Minneapolis, the city council has called for a wholesale dismantling and rebuilding of the Midwestern city’s police department.
In other communities, critics are demanding to “defund the police” – to force budget reductions and reappropriations that would bring about change.
Over the past 15 years, just 110 police have been charged with felony homicide after killing someone while on duty, and only five have been convicted of murder, according to Philip Stinson, a former police officer who is now a professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.
“Prosecutors are reluctant to bring charges because they have to work with police officers for their day-to-day work,” Stinson said.
And it is hard to win a case against a cop because juries are “very reluctant” to second-guess a policeman’s split-second decision to shoot in a dangerous situation, he added.