TheGrio Daily

America doesn’t track police brutality

Episode 95

“We don’t know how many people are killed by the police each year.” Michael Harriot argues that it’s about time the government starts tracking police violence and more importantly killings. There are no national, state-level, or local databases that house those numbers and there are no laws or policies that require police departments to report the information, which Michael believes gives them free rein to continue deadly over-policing. 


[00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black podcast network, Black Culture Amplified. 

Michael Harriot [00:00:05] Hello, my name is Michael Harriot. You may know me from such hit projects as the Internet or the television, and even some of you may know me from the podcast. Well, today we are starting a special series on policing, specifically about the mythology behind policing. And that’s why I want to welcome you to theGrio Daily, the only podcast that dares to ask the question, Wait, how many Black people do police kill? So when we talk about policing, you know, it’s the way we talk about it is embedded in mythology. And as far as it relates to police brutality and injustice, one of the things that people often point out. It’s how many people, specifically Black people, that police kill. And we know that because we know that, because, like so what happened was this won’t be okay. Actually, we don’t know how many people police kill. Like, seriously. Like, there is no national database. And you may think, you know, but I’m going to explain to you later why that’s wrong. 

Michael Harriot [00:01:29] But really, there is no specific number of people or no specific database and no data set or no collection of facts that we can look at and specifically know how many people police kill. And there’s a there’s a few good reasons for that. First of all, like the federal government can’t keep track because police aren’t required to report. Like when they kill somebody to anyone really, you know, report it to a state agency. They don’t have to report it in many states to like, officers don’t have to report it. So we’re left in the dark about how many people police kill. Now, what we do have is a snapshot, you know, like that Washington Post series that has been going on since 2015. It’s called Fatal Force. And it has been, you know, charting police killings. And I want to get to that in a minute. But that gives us a snapshot. Kind of like when when Pew Research does a poll and they, you know, poll 2000 people and that poll can give a representative sample of how Americans feel about a certain thing. Now, those sample sizes, whether it’s researchers, surveyors or the police data that we do have, that gives us a snapshot to know that police do kill Black people disproportionately, but we don’t really know how many people police kill. 

Michael Harriot [00:03:09] Now that Washington Post Fatal Force thing that you like people always point to. If you look at that, if you look at the details, it doesn’t count how many people police killed. It counts how many people are shot and killed by on duty police officers who were not federal law enforcement agencies during the year. Right. So that’s all just shot and kill. So, for instance, right, George Floyd isn’t one of that on that list, Eric Garner wouldn’t be on that list, Tyree Nichols wouldn’t be on that list because they weren’t shot and killed by police officers. Before I arrived at theGrio, I was part of a team that actually tried to count how many people were killed by police every year. We worked with a group, a site called Fatal Encounters. And what we did is we would try to just count how many people were killed by police using media reports, police reports, a number of methods. And we discovered that it was really hard to find out how many people were actually killed by police each year. But there are a few things that we did know, right? So we know that there are people who are never counted. For instance, if you were tased to death, you weren’t going to show up on most of those lists. If you’re beaten to death. There’s even a category called fell from a height that’s never counted. These people I call the uncounted Right. And there are a bunch of these people. For instance, right, so when you count police officers who were killed in the line of duty, they also count, and people that know don’t know this, they also count like COs, correctional officers in prisons and jails. And technically, those people are law enforcement officers. 

Michael Harriot [00:05:10] But when they count people who are killed by police, we don’t count people in prison or behind bars. Why? We don’t count the people who are beaten to death by COs. We don’t count people who died in custody, whether it is in prison or in the back of a police car. We don’t count people who are run over by police officers. Those people aren’t counted. There are a number of those. For instance, you know, there was a 12 year old girl run over in Saint Louis by a police officer who was trying to run down somebody for tinted windows. He literally broke every bone in her body. But that 12 year old girl, Akeelah, was not counted. Right. And not only are people who were hit by police officers counted, but police officers are allowed to shoot people when they’re in their cars. Like, there’s a whole thing among policing called using the car as a weapon. If you’re behind the wheel and your car was still running, they can shoot you because they can fear that you’re using your car as a weapon. A lot of times those people aren’t counted or if they are counted, they are counted as people who were armed when they were shot. Right. 

Michael Harriot [00:06:36] If you die from asphyxiation in the back of a police car because they left you back there too long, that doesn’t count. Here’s a thing, right. Let’s say there’s a shootout or a standoff and there are people outside watching. Well, if the people, the bystanders, an innocent bystander, and this has happened also to a little Black girl. If someone, a bystander, an innocent bystander is shot. If that person is shot during the commission of a crime, even if that person is shot by a police officer, the person who committed the crime or who the police officer was trying to stop is charged with that crime, not the police officer. Sometimes people die for unknown reasons, and if the family can’t afford an independent autopsy, the coroner or the medical examiner has the choice of whether or not to see if police did kill them. Forensics cost a lot, so sometimes they don’t even even check. And here’s the thing, like a lot of other people don’t know. Medical examiners and coroners aren’t always like doctors or scientists. Like, there are a lot of places in this country where you just get elected. Like there are people who like work at funeral homes, who get elected to be the coroner or the medical examiner, or you can be appointed. Right. 

Michael Harriot [00:08:00] So, again, we don’t know how many people are killed by the police each year. And what’s interesting about that is not only is there a national database for police killings. There’s also no database for how many people police shoot every year, how many people are brutalized. Now, the University of Illinois at Chicago is putting together a list, and they estimate about 85,000 people per year are hospitalized or put in the hospital because of injuries sustained during a police encounter. But if a medicine killed a thousand people every year and put 85,000 people in the hospital. We take it off the shelves. Right. But we don’t even consider doing that with policing because we don’t know. And it’s better for police officers who are murderers that we don’t know because we really don’t know the extent of the police brutality problem. Now, here’s the problem with everything I just said. Why do we talk about police brutality in terms of people who are dead? Like, we’d never count the people who’ve survived. Now, even though we think about police brutality and police killings in terms of who died. One of the things we have to acknowledge is police brutality is increasing, but because of advances in medical technology and medical practices, more people survive. 

Michael Harriot [00:09:36] So police are doing the same thing or increasing the number of people they hurt and kill because it’s just an increase in the number of police. But the people survive more. So they, we say while police killings are about the same every year. Nah, they actually brutalize more people. But as medical technology increases, more people survive. And that’s why it’s it’s kind of hazardous to say like, you know, there’s that stat that police killed more people in 2022 than any other year. Well, we don’t really know that. We don’t even know if they were more brutal. And that’s because it is quite possible that more people died from encounters with police. But because of COVID, because hospitals were short staffed, because hospitals were filled, more of those people might not have received the same medical care that they would have received in like 2018 because of the shortages of doctors and because of COVID. Right. So the reason I bring that up is not to exonerate the police, but to show you that there’s a lot we don’t know about police brutality and police killings. We know that they continue to kill people, but we just don’t know how many people. And I think it’s time to find out. And that’s why we have to have a national database. That’s why you have to subscribe to this podcast. That’s why you have to download that Grio streaming service. That’s why you got to tell a friend about this podcast. And that’s why we always leave you with a Black saying. And today’s Black saying is, “Oh, there go five-o”. If you like what you heard, please give us a five star review. Download theGrio app. Subscribe to the show and share it with everyone you know. Please email all questions, suggestions and compliments to podcasts at 

[00:11:42] Ou are now listening to theGrio Is Black Podcast Network Black Culture Amplified? 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:11:50] I’m political scientist, author and professor Dr. Christina Greer, and I’m host of The Blackest Questions on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network. This person invented ranch dressing around 1950. Who are they? 

Marc Lamont Hill [00:12:04] I have no idea. 

Speaker 2 [00:12:05] This all began as an exclusive Black history trivia party at my home in Harlem with family and friends. And they got so popular it seemed only right to share the fun with our Grio listeners. Each week we invite a familiar face on the podcast to play. What was the name of the person who was an enslaved chief cook for George Washington and later ran away to freedom? In 1868, this university was the first in the country to open a medical school that welcomed medical students of all races, genders and social classes. What university was it not? 

Roy Wood, Jr. [00:12:39] This is why I like doing stuff with you, because I leave educated. I was not taught this in Alabama Public Schools. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:12:45] Question three. You ready? 

Eboni K. Williams [00:12:46] Yes. I want to redeem myself. 

Amanda Seales [00:12:48] How did we go from Kwanzaa to like these obscure. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:12:52] Diaspora, darling. 

Amanda Seales [00:12:54] This is like the New York Times crossword from a Monday to a Saturday. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:12:58] Right or wrong, because all we care about is the journey and having some fun while we do it. 

Kalen Allen [00:13:03] I’m excited. And also a little nervous. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:13:05] Oh, listen. No need to be nervous. And as I tell all of my guests, this is an opportunity for us to educate ourselves because Black history is American history. So we’re going to have some fun. Listen, some people get zero out of five. Some people get five out of five, but it doesn’t matter. We’re just going to be on a little intellectual journey together. 

Eboni K. Williams [00:13:21] Latoya Cantrell? 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:13:24] That’s right. Mayor Latoya Cantrell. 

Michael W. Twitty [00:13:26] Hercules Posey. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:13:27] Hmm. Born in 1754 and he was a member of the Mount Vernon slave community, widely admired for his culinary skills. 

Kalen Allen [00:13:34] I’m going to guess AfroPunk. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:13:37] Close. It’s AfroNation. So last year, according to my research, it’s Samuel Wilson, a.k.a. Falcon. 

Jason Johnson [00:13:46] Wrong. Wrong. I am disputing this. 

Latosha Brown [00:13:50] Very, very, very rare 99.9999 sure that it is Representative John Lewis, who is also from the state of Alabama that let you know. Christina, we got some good this come out of Alabama. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:14:02] There is something in the water in Alabama. And you are absolutely correct. 

Jason Johnson [00:14:05] The harder they come close. 

Diallo Riddle [00:14:08] Oh, wait, The Harder They Fall? 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:14:10] That’s right. I’m one of those people that just changes one word. 

Roy Wood, Jr. [00:14:15] I just don’t know nothing today. I’m gonna pour myself a little water while you tell me the answer. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:14:20] The answer is Seneca Village, which began in 1825 with the purchase of land by a trustee of the A.M.E. Zion Church. 

Roy Wood, Jr. [00:14:26] You know why games like this make me nervous? I don’t know if I know enough Black. Do I know enough. How Black am I? Oh, my Lord. We going to find out in public. 

Dr. Christina Greer [00:14:35] So give us a follow. Subscribe and join us on the Blackest Questions.