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To its significant credit, the Washington Post has devoted much time and energy over the last year to assembling a database of fatal police shootings. By their tally, some 998 Americans were shot to death by police under all variety of circumstances in 2015. That is double the previous high total reported by the FBI, a fact that unveils an unquestionable gap in government statistics management. It is somewhat remarkable that no government entity accurately tracks this data. However, inasmuch as such statistics come partnered with Disraeli’s lies and damned lies, the reluctance of law enforcement to provide unethical activists with a tool chest of numbers to twist is not unsurprising.
And, as if on cue, the Post has proven that fear well founded. A tool that could have shed light on (arguably) the most crucial aspect of the relationship between government and governed was instead (though not unexpectedly) obfuscated and sullied the conversation with misleading spin and blatant omission.
When it comes to judging police use of force, the most important factor is it’s reasonableness: that is, the context of the use of force and the perceptions of all involved. Was the suspect armed or did he appear to be armed? How far away was he? Did the officer give the suspect a chance to comply? Was that even possible? Were there other options available? Even with nearly a thousand lethal police shootings last year, the number of shootings (lethal or otherwise) by officers is a miniscule fraction of all encounters police have with citizens. Thus, these factors are crucial to understanding what sets a given use-of-force encounter apart from all the others.