The US is on pace for 36 non-accidental, firearm-related police fatalities in 2015, which would be the lowest total in 25 years, aside from 2013
Despite urgent warnings from police and others about a “war on cops” allegedly linked to the Black Lives Matter protest movement, statistics show 2015 is in fact shaping up to be one of the safest years for law enforcement in a generation.
According to the Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP) , which keeps data on officer deaths going back over 100 years, 24 officers have been shot and killed by suspects this year. This puts the US on pace for 36 non-accidental, firearm-related police fatalities in 2015. Each one of such deaths is a tragedy for the officers killed, their families and the communities they serve, but this would be the lowest total in 25 years, aside from 2013 which saw 31 such deaths.
A series of recent high-profile police deaths has sparked much of the rhetoric tying violence against police to anti-police-brutality protesters. On Friday, Harris County sheriff’s deputy Darren Goforth was gunned down from behind while filling his car at a gas station. The suspect, Shannon Miles, was arrested shortly thereafter and charged with capital murder. Miles has a history of severe mental illness and was found mentally incompetent to stand trial in 2012.
Neither Miles, nor any other person suspected of killing a police officer in 2015, has claimed affiliation with the Black Lives Matter movement or any related organization. Still, the attempt to make a connection has persisted as people work to make sense of the senseless killing.
Harris County sheriff Ron Hickman said that while he did not know the shooter’s motive, “dangerous rhetoric” against law enforcement had “gotten out of control”. “We hear that ‘black lives matter.’ All lives matter. Cops’ lives matter, too,” Hickman said, “So why don’t we drop the qualifier and say lives matter.”
Then on Monday, Fox Lake, Illinois, police officer Joe Gliniewicz was shot and killed pursuing three suspicious suspects , who remain at large.
Addressing the apparent spate of officer shooting deaths, Milwaukee County sheriff David Clarke, who is black, called Black Lives Matter an “ugly movement” in an appearance on Fox and Friends on Fox News, and called on “good, law-abiding Americans … to counter this slime, this filth coming out of these cop-haters”.
Clarke is known for his brash opinions about police brutality protesters, but in substance, if not in style, most Americans seem to agree. According to a recent Rasmussen poll , 58% of likely voters believe there is a “war on police” in America today. The same poll found that 60% believe “comments critical of the police by some politicians make it more dangerous for police officers to do their jobs”.
But misinformation also abounds.
In response to the Fox Lake shooting, state representative Barbara Wheeler, whose district includes the small Illinois town, issued a statement that said: “Eleven police officers have needlessly lost their lives since 20 August alone in America because of shootings.” The statistic, which was then quoted by several media outlets, appears to be untrue. According to ODMP, that number is actually four.
Reached for comment, a spokesperson at representative Wheeler’s office told the Guardian that the statistic probably came from the Fox Lake chief of police, but could not be sure.
Inaccurate information has been present in the alleged “war on cops” since as early as December 2014 when a Fox affiliate station in Baltimore manipulated video of chants by protesters against “killer cops” to make it sound as though they had chanted “kill a cop” instead. Two staff members involved in producing the segment were later fired , and the network apologized.
The video segment that featured the edited chant was about the 20 December 2014 killing of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, which may have influenced the current narrative. Both officers were shot in their patrol car by Ismaaiyl Brinsley before he killed himself on a subway platform. Brinsley, who was black, had made “very anti-police” postings on social media including claiming he was “putting wings on pigs today”, in the caption for a picture of a handgun.
Unlike the shooting in Harris county, which was by all accounts carried out like an execution, the vast majority of the incidents in which police were shot dead in 2015 were instead tragically typical law enforcement situations in which officers were engaged with violent suspects, and were struck in an exchange of gunfire. Only one other police death this year, the killing of New Orleans Housing Authority patrolman James Bennett as he sat in his patrol car on 24 May, seems to closely resemble the killing of deputy Goforth in Texas. No arrests have been made yet in the case – it is the only cop killing of 2015, besides Fox Lake without a suspect either in custody or dead.
Most police officers killed this year instead died in incidents more similar to officer Henry Nelson of Sunset, Louisiana, who was allegedly killed by Harrison Riley Jr while intervening in a domestic dispute.
Peter Guidry, the assistant chief of the very small Sunset department said he wasn’t sure what caused the shooting yet but that “it had nothing to do with protests; it’s just a tragic incident”. Nelson and Riley were actually cousins and the list of officers killed this year are full of tragic coincidences like this.
Wisconsin state trooper Trevor Casper, 21, was on his very first solo shift since graduating the police academy when he was shot and killed intervening in a bank robbery. Omaha police officer Kerrie Orozco was shot on her last shift before going on maternity leave , when she was killed on a taskforce trying to take a fugitive into custody. The killers of both officers also died in the exchange.
DeRay Mckesson, one of the most visible leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement said these attempts to forge a connection between police deaths and protesters is merely part of ongoing efforts to discredit the movement. “The police continue to be intentionally misleading about their rhetoric and openly hostile to anyone who questions them,” Mckesson said. “It’s a profession that refuses any attempts for accountability and justice.”
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