The Ferguson shooting of a black individual by police was ruled justified, but it sparked a civil liberties movement called “Black Lives Matter,” which has fueled a longstanding debate about police discrimination toward minorities. Statistics reveal disproportionate numbers of shootings of unarmed black individuals, and this has spurred hatred for law enforcement and started a “war on police officers.” However, this war may be propagandized and made to seem larger than it really is, as the number of police being shot and killed in the line of duty has decreased over time, including the time following the Ferguson shooting. A war on police officers may predictably still exist, as media coverage and cell phones spread evidence of discrimination and violence erupts toward police who are wrongly judged by the actions of a few. The fear created by this war may lead to de-policing of areas where crime control is readily needed, and it may lead to an environment where crime thrives due to the “Ferguson Effect.”
Some claim that the war on police officers is a myth due to the incorrect interpretation of the number of police officers shot and killed in 2014. It is true that the number of police officers killed in the line of duty from felonious shootings fluctuates, and the number did spike in 2014. However, statistics show unusually low police offers deaths in 2013, and the year was statistically an outlier (Kaste, 2015). Nevertheless, movements like Black Lives Matter and public perception of law enforcement may have increased aggressiveness and violence toward police following media coverage of police shootings including the one in Ferguson, MO. There have been multiple officer shootings that appear have occurred as hate crimes directed toward police only because of their blue suite. This has led to a climate of fear and de-policing in law enforcement called the “Ferguson Effect” that is publicized by the media but may be more of a propaganda tool than reality.
In order to understand the possible war on police officers, one must understand the events that led up to this movement. In August, 2014, Michael Brown was shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri. The U.S. Justice Department proved that he was not shot in cold blood while surrendering, but the event sparked a movement called “Black Lives Matter” that labelled police officers as racist killers. The Black Lives Matter movement has sparked riots and the murders of a number of police officers in order to eliminate normal court proceedings when police use deadly force (MacDonald, 2016). It has created the fear of a war on police officers that is somewhat existent but also aggrandized with myth and propaganda. President Obama established a President’s Task Force to evaluate police shootings, and it recommended that police officers recognize past injustice and discrimination, so they could restore their credibility (Maguire, Nix, & Campbell, 2016). This gave credence to Black Lives Matter and fueled the nation’s beliefs that police disproportionately shoot and kill unarmed black individuals.
The effects of the events following Ferguson have led many police to consider their actions and possible inclinations toward racism, and they’ve opened the topic for discussion. However, this topic could been likened to Pandora’s Box, as it has created widespread distrust and dislike for police officers as the media has helped to spread the message. It is likely that some officers discriminate similarly to some people in any population. However, opening the topic for discussion created an admission of guilt by all police toward the public, and Black Lives Matter gained followers.
One of the negative effects of Ferguson’s anti-police sentiments is what many are calling “The Ferguson Effect.” It is the belief that police are reluctant to engage during conflicts for fear of reprisal. Police who suffer loss of career due to decisions made in the line of duty may also lose their pension and be prosecuted. This could lead to hesitation in life-or-death circumstances, which severely lowers the officer’s ability to protect and serve (Maguire et al., 2016).
Another negative effect that has been named the “war on police officers” is violence directed toward police and attempted murder or murder. The media states that violence toward police officers is growing dramatically. The former New York Police Department Commissioner Howard Safir blamed Attorney General Eric Holder for the public’s anti-cop sentiment. The president of the National Fraternal Order of Police wrote that there is a “deliberate campaign” against law enforcement (Maguire et al., 2016)
The problem with blaming the war on police officers on overstated anti-police commentary by the media and the president is statistics. Blacks are killed six times more often than white and Hispanic people combined. However, the police nor white people are doing the killing. It’s other black people. More astonishing is that 40 percent of police officers killed in the lined of duty have been killed by black people. Additionally, 12 percent of all white or Hispanic murders are killed by police officers, and only four percent of black homicides are performed by police (MacDonald, 2016). These numbers reflect the opposite of common opinions, and as these facts are released, new movements have unfolded in response to Black Lives Matter such as Blue Lives Matter and All Lives Matter.
A review of the facts shows that in 2014, 51 offers were killed in comparison to 27 in 2013. This is misleading because 2013 was the safest year for police in recorded history. 2012 numbers look similar to 2014. Overall, twice as many police officers were killed yearly in the 1970s, and there has been a downward trend ever since. Recorded assaults on police have also fallen. These statistics accurately reveal police shootings and deaths, but assaults are more difficult to retrieve accurate numbers. Also, the reasons for police shootings are not recorded, and there may be more officers killed in the line of duty simply because they are cops. There could be a war on police, but statistics do not support such a claim (Kaste, 2016).
Using conflict theory, one can easily argue that there might be a war on police officers. As more people in a population, in this case minorities, feel threatened, the level of conflict between those individuals and the threat will increase. The Black Lives Matter movement is a result of the perceived threat of blacks by police, and it will result in more violence directed toward police creating a “war on police” (Maguire et al., 2016).
Defiance theory also lends perspective to the current state of the public and police relationship across America. It states that use of deadly force is perceived as unfair when it is viewed to be discriminatory or excessive. When reviewing all people killed by police in 2015, black people were twice as likely to be unarmed when killed. Black Lives Matter calls these killings systematic and intentional driven by race. These statistics show a clear motive for a war on police (Maguire, 2016).
The legitimacy of the concern regarding the Black Lives Matter movement has been publicized by the media, adding fuel to the fire of discrimination by police officers. While some numbers have been incorrectly interpreted and made to seem more significant than they are, the fact remains that black people are disproportionately shot and killed while unarmed. The public nature of the movement may give it the kinetic energy it needs to grow, but opening the topic for discussion is the first step in solving the problem.
The de-policing of areas due to Black Lives Matter and police officers feeling underappreciated or fearing the loss of their jobs is also a reality, and it allows for a friendly environment for criminals. The detrimental effects of the “Ferguson Effect” cannot be proven, but police are understandably second-guessing their actions. Some of the shootings of black individuals have been captured on smartphones, and they reveal questionable conduct by police that is spread through the media, and police know that every move they make could be the end of their livelihood.
The war on police officers is, at least to a certain extent, a reality birthed from a number of instances where questionable police decisions led to the demise of unarmed black individuals. The Ferguson shooting was ruled justified, but other shootings have not been so clearly judged. The effects of this war are a distrust of law enforcement by minorities, de-policing of high crime areas, and violence toward police officers. Black Lives Matter has organized and elevated hatred toward law enforcement, but statistics show that blacks disparity is larger and more credible than the felonious shootings of police officers, which statistically continues to decline.
Kaste, M. (2015). Is there a ‘War on Police’? The statistics say no. NPR: Oregon Public Broadcasting. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2015/09/17/441196546/is-there-a-war-on-police-the-statistics-say-no
MacDonald, H. (2016). The danger of the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Imprimis 45 (4). Retrieved from https://imprimis.hillsdale.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Imprimis_April16.pdf
Maguire, E.R., Nix, J., & Campbell, B.A. (2016). A war on cops? The effects of Ferguson on the number of U.S. police officers murdered in the line of duty. Justice Quarterly. doi: 10.1080/07418825.2016.1236205