Police-involved shootings are gun violence, too

By Editorial Board

How many people must be shot until something is done?

This question has been asked repeatedly after the nation witnessed dozens of mass shootings, but now we must ask that question of police-involved shootings that continue to take lives.

On April 6, a University of Chicago police officer shot and wounded Charles Thomas, a student at the university who ran toward officers while carrying a metal pipe. It appeared Thomas was suffering from a mental health episode when police approached him. Thomas was charged with aggravated assault of a police officer and criminal damage to property, and his bond has been set at $15,000.

The U of C incident is one in a series of recent shootings that have gained media attention. Stephon Clark was killed March 18 after being shot by Sacramento, California, police eight times in his grandmother’s backyard. Officers reported they thought Clark had a weapon, but he was unarmed and only had a cellphone in his possession.

Outrage over Clark’s shooting continued after the medical examiner overseeing the autopsy announced at a March 30 press conference that he had been shot mostly in his back, contradicting the Sacramento Police Department’s claim that Clark was coming toward the officers who shot him.

Saheed Vassell was fatally shot April 4 by police officers in Brooklyn, New York. It was widely known in the neighborhood that Vassell had a mental illness, and many residents knew he was not a danger to others. But when some neighbors saw Vassell walking in the area with what they thought was a gun—which was actually a showerhead—officers arrived on the scene and shot him 10 times.

These instances are symptoms of an epidemic just as serious as the mass shootings March For Our Lives protesters demonstrated against, but police-involved shootings have largely been absent from public discussions of gun violence in recent months.

The three police shootings happened in such quick succession that it is hard to ignore the obvious pattern of police brutality and willingness to use a deadly weapon.

Until the survivors of the Parkland, Florida, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School rallied the public to take action, many were concerned such devastation had become the new normal. Although mass shootings have finally started to be addressed with the attention needed, halting the normalization of police-involved shootings is just as important.

The Douglas students have acknowledged their debt to the Black Lives Matter movement, which was sprung from racially motivated police-involved shootings and rallied thousands. However, officers like Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, August 2014, still go free.

These three shootings are further evidence that the public must mobilize against such unjust violence that continues to take people’s lives. Communities have done their work with demonstrations, but they need substantial support throughout the country to receive the justice they deserve. This is the time to truly work as allies for the marginalized people most victimized by police-involved shootings.

This means supporting people of color who are the targets of racially motivated violence at the hands of the police, de-stigmatizing people with mental illness who are seen as threats simply because of their condition and uplifting voices to help victims of police-involved shootings and their families to be heard loud and clear.

Instead of asking when such violence will stop, we must work for it to stop.