The Great Police Violence Cover-Up - Michael Hirsh - POLITICO Magazine
I have a 20-year-old son, and I have a 12-year-old son, and I’m so afraid for them. … This is about a war machine. It is us against the [expletive] machine!”
—Rapper Killer Mike
Perhaps the saddest thing is: We don’t really know what the truth is. We don’t really know if Killer Mike—his voice breaking on stage this week after the Ferguson grand jury decision—is correct in his perception that America’s police departments are less protectors of the peace than monstrous “war machines” leveled against the nation’s poor and minorities.
Certainly we are seeing those kinds of sentiments expressed in protests in cities across the country, which are so reminiscent of previous bursts of inner-city rage—after the 1991 beating of Rodney King in L.A., or the 1999 shooting of Amadou Diallo in New York. But no one knows for sure how serious the problem is—now, or then—because there simply are no reliable national data on police violence in the United States. The data are lacking because police departments keep almost all those numbers to themselves, in defiance of a 20-year-old federal law—the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act—requiring the Justice Department to compile an annual report on “the use of excessive force” by police.
The story of the various failed national efforts to compile and release such data—or to obtain any reliable numbers on violence by police officers at all—is just another dimension of an issue that Monday’s grand-jury decision threw into relief: a sense that police departments across the country are simply not held accountable enough. Whatever the particular circumstances that led a grand jury to decline to indict Darren Wilson, police officers are typically given the benefits of all doubts in the use of force and are rarely prosecuted, criminologists and other experts say. And because a substantial portion of these alleged police abuses of law and justice appear to be directed against blacks and other minorities in certain communities—not the white-dominated power structure in their own communities—it rarely becomes a notable issue, at least until a Michael Brown-type killing provokes enough violence and outrage in the streets for the TV cameras to pay attention