Earlier this month, within a two-day period, two black men were shot and killed by police. On July 5, Alton Sterling, a father of five children, was tackled and gunned down in front of a convenience store by two officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The next day, a traffic stop turned fatal when 32-year-old Philando Castile was shot and killed in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Video footage from both shootings were shared on the internet, sparking outcry against their deaths.
As protests erupted across the country demanding an end to police violence, six police officers in Dallas were killed in a sniper attack during a Black Lives Matter protest. Then, on July 17, three officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana — the same city where Alton Sterling was killed by police — were fatally shot in an ambush. In both instances, the shooters were African American military veterans who said they were upset by the recent police killings. Neither men had any ties to the Black Lives Matter movement and acted alone.
While the recent killings of officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge have fueled the claim that attacks on officers are on the rise, historical data show that the job of an officer is still safer today than it was 30 years ago. Following a spike in officer deaths during the infancy of the War on Drugs, police deaths have been declining for the past three decades. There has been a slight uptick in the past two years, but it’s statistically negligible in the overall trend downward:
Yet conservatives have continued stoking the “war on cops” narrative. In an interview with Fox News, William Johnson, the executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, accused President Barack Obama of having a hand in the “war on cops” by “actively calling for the death of police officers.” This rhetoric was palpable throughout the Republican National Convention, as speakers continued to use fear mongering tactics to claim that the police are under attack.
In addition, legislation has been introduced to protect police officers against hate crimes. These “Blue Lives Matter” bills would penalize any person who attacks or threaten cops, and is modeled after already existing legislation in Louisiana, the first state to give police officers the same kinds of protection as ethnic and religious minorities and LGBT people. Even more expansive legislation has popped up in Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has introduced the Police Protection Act to increase penalties for any crime where the victim is a police officer, regardless of whether the offender meant to target a police officer.
The “war on cops” narrative has also reportedly prompted President Obama to reconsider his executive order banning the transfer of military-grade weapons to police departments. Despite the executive order, law enforcement can still obtain military-grade equipment, much of which has been deployed against protesters in recent weeks.
Although police officers are certainly exposed to dangerous situations and people who may want to hurt them, many other professions see many more deaths on the job. According to data compiled by the Department of Labor, police officers ranked 14th on the list of deadliest jobs.
So far this year, 611 people have died at the hands of the police. This number is still significantly greater than the peak of officer murders in a given year: 280 in 1974. Yet despite the rush of bills to protect police officers, legislation to combat police violence, like the federal efforts to pass criminal justice reform, have been repeatedly blocked in Congress.
Author: Celisa Calacal & Dylan Petrohilos