Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Reliable trend data on police shootings doesn't exist, but rural areas are part of the phenomenon

A recent rash of reports about shootings of unarmed black men by white police officers, including some in rural areas, "feels like a national tidal wave," Allen Breed reports for The Associated Press. "And yet, no firm statistics can say whether this spate of officer-involved deaths is a growing trend or simply a series of coincidences generating a deafening buzz in news reports and social media."

The FBI keeps data on police homicides, but relies on reporting by local law-enforcement agencies, and doesn't require information about race, age and circumstances, Breed notes in a story that focuses on the 2011 shooting by the only police officer in Eutawville, S.C., population 300 (Wikipedia map). Richard Combs had been charged with official misconduct for shooting Bernard Bailey, "who had come to the town hall to argue about a ticket his daughter had received," Breed reports.

Combs’ attorney, John O'Leary said prosecutor David Pascoe was taking advantage of national concerns to escalate the case, but the indictment was handed up the same day that a New York City grand jury declined to indict white officers in the videotaped choking death of African American Eric Garner, and "A letter dated Nov. 26, 2013, indicates O’Leary was informed of the prosecution’s intent to seek an indictment for murder," reported Richard Walker of the Orangeburg Times and Democrat.

Two other white police officers in South Carolina have been indicted in the last four months for killing unarmed black men, AP's Jeffrey Collins and Bruce Smith report.

Jenny Jarvie of the Los Angeles Times took a close look at the Eutawville case in a story published this week. "Nearly everyone knew Bailey, a 54-year-old father of five. He was the deacon of a Baptist church, his wife the elementary school librarian," she wrote in her second paragraph. "Throughout Eutawville, which is 36 percent black, there was shared relief at the former police chief's indictment. Yet . . . locals differed on whether race or bad policing was to blame."

The day after the indictment, Martha Rose Brown of the Orangeburg newspaper went to Eutawville and found likewise, but also wrote about a feeling that officials had said too little about the case. In an editorial, the paper said, "Based on the long history of the case and the questions surrounding just what happened that day, the state may have quite the task in convicting Combs of murder. Nonetheless, we do not believe that the solicitor is going forward with prosecution for political reasons any more than we believe Combs will have difficulty getting justice in a county with a majority-African-American population. . . . We believe the system will produce justice."

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