By Gene Demby
We’ve done a lot of writing and reporting at Code Switch over the last year on deadly police shootings of unarmed black people, cases that have become such a part of our landscape that they have a tendency to melt into each other. Indeed, sometimes the pattern of facts seems to barely change: Just last fall, we followed the story of another unarmed black man in South Carolina who was shot following a police traffic stop. The officer in that shooting, like Slager, was later fired and arrested once the video of that encounter surfaced and contradicted his initial report.
While names and places change, the backdrop against which these stories play out does not. We decided to pull together what we’ve learned along the way, along with some thoughtful commentary from other outlets about this case and the larger questions it raises.
What Video Shows — And Doesn’t Show
So, are these ugly encounters between police and civilians becoming more common, or is technology simply making them easier to capture? It’s surprisingly difficult to tell — there’s no comprehensive national database on either police use of force or on police-related deaths. The Justice Department can ask the thousands of police agencies across the country to share their numbers, but it can’t compel them to do so. And since those agencies often have their own definitions of what constitutes use of force, it’s hard to make useful comparisons.