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Police violence beyond race

In Civic Center Park during Denver protests in early June against racism and police brutality after George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police.

A commenter in the thread below on the killing of Daunte Wright writes:

Stop. Killing. Black. People.

That’s all you have to fucking do.

That’s an understandable reaction to the latest at best grotesquely negligent killing of a young Black man, but as is so often the case with racism in this country, the racism that is without question a central motivator, consciously and unconsciously, of so much unjustifiable police violence obscures the fact that there’s also an enormous amount of unjustifiable police violence in this country that has nothing to do with race.

Leaving aside the massive amounts of other forms of police violence, consider that American police kill an absolutely stunning number of Americans every year, and this remains true even without regard to police killings of Black people.

Some comparative stats:

Total number of people killed by police in various countries in the most recent year for which data are available in those countries:

France: 26

Germany: 11

Australia: 4

Netherlands: 4

UK: 3

Japan: 2

Poland: 2

Norway: 1

Finland: 1

Sweden: 1

Portugal: 1

Denmark: Zero

Switzerland: Zero

United States: 1,146

US police kill on a population-adjusted basis ten and twenty and fifty times more people than the police kill in almost all other wealthy developed countries. (The only such country that is even vaguely in the same ballpark as the US is Canada, and even there the risk of getting killed by the police is still about 70% lower than it is the US).

And this would remain true even if you excluded all police killings of Black people from our national statistics.

Black people in America are about two and half times more likely to be killed by the police than white people, which is absolutely an outrage and a massive manifestation of both structural and intentional racism. But it’s also true that white Americans are many, many times more likely to be killed by the police than are people in any of the countries listed above (Latinos have a risk of being killed by the police that is about average for the population as a whole).

Police violence in America, in other words, is something that goes far beyond the racist component of that violence, as critical an issue as that is. And one of the insidious effects of racism in America is that it makes talking about the more general problem of police violence more difficult, because our racist/anti-racist national discourse codes police violence as a problem of racism, when it is very much that, but it is also much more than that, as well.

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