On Tuesday evening, yet another video of a white police officer killing a black man emerged. A South Carolina police officer stopped Walter L. Scott for a broken taillight and then an altercation occurred in which Scott ran away from the officer before being shot several times in the back.
A bystander captured the event on video, which shows a very different story than the one the police officer's attorney told, in which "his client felt threatened."
National outrage has risen to the surface again in response to the killing, which is part of a dark pattern of police officers shooting unarmed black civilians. Many flocked to social media outlets such as Twitter to share their feelings. One of the most powerful tweets succinctly contextualized America's pandemic of police shootings:
While the trend of police shootings in America has unfortunately become a widely publicized reality, it's important to step back and give the situation some context. Even though it's nearly impossible to track exactly how many U.S. citizens are killed by police each year because of a dearth in FBI records and a reliance on self-reporting, by some estimates, as many as 1,100 people were killed by police in 2014.
On top of that, a Bureau of Justice Statistics report in March found that from 2003 to 2009 and 2011, there was an annual average of 928 arrest-related deaths, contradicting the FBI's annual average estimate of 420 arrest-related deaths. That's a 220% discrepancy.
If numbers like that existed in another country, it wouldn't be that hard to imagine the U.S. government issuing travel advisories and warning Americans about the dangers of unruly police officers in foreign lands. Not only are police officers killing citizens, but the government barely even knows about it. That's a recipe for disaster.
No accountability. As we've seen time and again, police officers avoid impunity in even the most high-profile cases. Darren Wilson, the white officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, a black, unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, was cleared of all convictions in March.
This is what adds fuel to the fire. Americans are outraged enough by the frequency with which police officers are killing unarmed civilians. But the absence of accountability for these deplorable acts is what makes people even more upset and uneasy. Even New York City's white mayor, Bill de Blasio, has warned his half-black son to be wary of police and not antagonize them.
When you think about the endless list of countries the State Department advises Americans not to travel to, it's worth wondering if a country which kills roughly 1,100 unarmed citizens annually would be on that list. It's worth wondering if a country would be on that list when the mayor of one of its largest cities has to warn his son to be careful of the police.
Correction: April 8, 2015
An earlier version of this article mischaracterized a BJS statistic about arrest-related deaths in the United States. The number represented all reported and unreported arrest-related deaths, not just unreported arrest-related deaths.