As a research assistant at Emory University's Department of History, I was shocked and saddened when I unintentionally discovered, while attempting to gather data for a short essay on police brutality and its effects on minority communities, that the US Justice Department has chosen to continue to IGNORE a 20 year old law that requires it to collect data on police use of excessive force and release their findings in a summary every year. I said to myself, "Wait, we don't have any reliable data on police use of excessive force? And there is already a law that says that we are supposed to have this data?"
In the wake of many high-profile police brutality cases like Eric Garner, Michael Brown and John Crawford, this total BREAKDOWN of the democratic process must be recognized and addressed. This is a fundamental problem that has not received much attention by the media, politicians, or the general public. In order to construct effective policies that address this issue, we must have national statistics that can be studied in a scholarly, evidence-based manner.
I'm demanding that the Department of Justice immediately begin to collect this critical data and publish it to the public.
In the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Control Act of 1994, Congress mandated the US Attorney General to begin collecting data from law enforcement agencies across the United States pertaining to the use of excessive force by police officers. Congress allocated over $1 billion in funds and even mandated that a summary of the collected data be released each year.
The DOJ's Bureau of Justice Statistics began collecting data on people killed by police officers in 2001. Though these numbers provide the most comprehensive data ever collected by the government regarding this issue, current reports only included stats from 2003 to 2009. According to Andrea Burch, a statistician for the Bureau of Justice statistics, all publications have been suspended after questions about the validity of the data emerged.
The U.S. Department of Justice claims that it will try to help alleviate instances where excessive force is used by law enforcement officials. However, experts assert that this simply cannot be done without consistent and comprehensive national statistics on the use of excessive force by police officers. For instance, without comprehensive national statistics on the use of excessive force by officers, there is no way, for example, to empirically state, “After the implementation of (X) excessive force reduction policy, instances where police used excessive force decreased by (X) percent from 2014 to 2018.”
As citizens, we have elected our leaders in Washington D.C., to represent our interests. When a democratically elected Congress crafts a law and that law is blatantly disregarded by the US Justice Department, we (by definition) cannot call this country a democratic republic. The negative effects of this government negligence are manifesting themselves in various ways around the entire country, but it is most evident in communities composed of poor minorities.
We need this change right now. Please sign this petition to urge the DOJ to move quickly to collect and publish this important information that will help us better understand how we can put an end to police brutality.