One of the gun violence issues that has come to the forefront over the last several years has been what is politely referred to as ‘legal intervention,’ which is what happens when a civilian is shot by a cop. It became front-page news in August, 2014, when an 18-year old kid, Michael Brown, was gunned down by a police officer in Ferguson, MO, an event that led to community protests and the usual media noise from both sides when a Grand Jury refused to indict. So far in 2016 there have been at least 900 people shot and killed by police, a number more than twice as high as the ‘official’ count that we get each year from the FBI.
When we think about police shootings, we tend to think that most of them involve black civilians shot by white cops. After all, that was the situation in Ferguson, it was also what happened in another cop shooting that made the national news involving a victim named Philando Castile. But according to the cop-shooting tracker on the Washington Post, white victims of fatal police shootings outnumber blacks by two to one, and in some places the white-black racial disparity in cop shootings is even greater than that.
Take a look, for example, at Oklahoma, a state whose rate of cop shootings in 2015 was an alarmingly 1.14. Now you might think that a gun violence rate of 1.14 isn’t very high; after all, we have cities like St. Louis, Newark and New Orleans with gun violence rates of 40 or more. But we’re not talking about civilians shooting civilians, we’re talking about cops using their guns. So, for comparison, Texas this year will have a police shooting rate of 0.29; in Florida the rate will be somewhere around 0.27; in other words these states have one-fifth the rate of police gun violence than what was racked up in Oklahoma last year.
Not only are cops shooting civilians all over the place in Oklahoma, but most of the victims happen to be white. Since the beginning of 2015, there have been 57 fatal legal interventions, of whom 35 were white, 5 were Native Americans, 3 were Hispanic and 12 were black. Incidentally, the state’s population is roughly 70% white, so the number of white victims is pretty close to the percentage of the white population as a whole.
What’s going on in Oklahoma? How come there are so many police shootings and how come this particular type of gun violence never makes the national news? The chief reason, it seems to me, is that most of these events took place in small towns that, from a media and news point of view, are way off the beaten track. Ever hear of Okemah? It happens to have been the birthplace of Woody Guthrie but right now the population stands at barely 3,000 souls. On November 7, a sheriff’s deputy killed a 26-year old resident after the young man tried to run the deputy down with his car. Or try Schulter, which has around 600 people living in the town. Back in February the cops in Schulter got into a firefight with John Neuman who, as it turned out, had been released on bail having been previously arrested on suspicion of murdering his wife.
If the police gun violence which occurs in small towns like Okemah and Schulter took place in Philadelphia or New York, it would be all over the internet and all over the news. For that matter, if any kind of gun violence that was five times the national average was occurring in a major city there would be meetings, marches, all the usual things which happen when a large urban community gets aroused. But let’s not forget that America isn’t just big cities; it’s also small, out-of-the-way places and, make no mistake about it, those little places often contain lots of guns.