By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
According to estimates compiled by the Mapping Police Violence project, roughly 1,000 people have been killed by law enforcement in the past year. The new report revealed that at least 28 percent of those killed were African Americans, who make up just 13 percent of the U.S. population. Although this figure is staggering, the Center for American Progress (CAP) noted that it is almost certainly under-represents the actual number of civilians who died while in the custody of the criminal justice system. The full scope of which cannot be determined due to a lack of official data. According to CAP, data on deaths in custody is crucial for holding law enforcement and correctional facilities across the country accountable. The organization said the absence of accurate and complete information on the number of people who die in custody and the nature of such deaths, stifles policymakers’ ability to examine the underlying causes, let alone determine what can be done to lower the incidence. In a new brief, CAP urged Congress and state legislatures to take the initiative to ensure the dependability of forthcoming data on deaths in custody. “One year ago, George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police as the world watched, spurring a blistering call for police accountability in the United States,” CAP noted. “Floyd is one among the countless Black Americans and other people of color killed by law enforcement: Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Amadou Diallo, Botham Jean, Alton Sterling, Daniel Prude, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Atatiana Jefferson, Stephon Clark, and too many others. In the year since Floyd’s death, the list has grown longer still with the deaths of Tony McDade, Rayshard Brooks, Daunte Wright, Ma’Khia Bryant, Adam Toledo, Andrew Brown, and, again, too many others.” According to CAP, while the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) began collecting data on deaths in custody in 2020 under the Death in Custody Reporting Act (DCRA) of 2013, outstanding funding and compliance issues could compromise the quality of the impending data. “Findings based on such flawed data would not help policymakers understand the causes of deaths in custody or reduce their occurrence, the primary purpose of the DCRA,” CAP editors wrote. CAP’s brief underscored how critical actions could be taken to address these concerns about data on deaths in custody. “Congress should appropriate the necessary funding for the DOJ Bureau of Justice Assistance to implement a methodology to search for and validate leads on deaths in custody,” Kenny Lo, a research associate for Criminal Justice Reform at American Progress, wrote in the May 24 brief. “A similar approach enabled the DOJ Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) to identify nearly three times more arrest-related deaths than before as part of a broader effort that cost BJS less than $5 million between fiscal years 2014 and 2017.” For their part, state legislatures should look to compel all state and local law enforcement agencies to report DCRA data, Lo continued. States such as California, Texas, Maryland, and Tennessee already have laws that require all agencies to report data similar to those required by the DCRA, serving as models for other states to follow, Lo Wrote. Incentivizing DCRA compliance by all agencies would improve the quality of the data and bring about meaningful accountability in the criminal justice system, he continued. “Our nation urgently needs to confront the scourge of police violence against communities of color. Yet for decades, the government has failed to track the number of deaths that occur in the justice system,” said Betsy Pearl, associate director for Criminal Justice Reform at the Center for American Progress. “While data collection alone can’t end systemic racism in our justice system and can’t bring back the countless lives lost, it’s essential for laying the groundwork to create real accountability and justice for all.” For more information and the full report go to the Center for American Progress website.