“The number of people killed by police is microscopically small” compared to the general population, [researcher D. Brian Burghart] said. “But those deaths are so important to the families of the people who were killed because they symbolize systematic racism.”
Most cops don’t kill the people they’re called upon to protect and serve.
Some government organizations make it difficult for members of the public to learn exactly how many people have died during interactions with police.
Why do you think there isn’t already a national database that tracks such numbers?
I’m sure someone is convinced the real culprit is the lying, America-hating fake news media.
About 4 years ago Burghart quit his day job to focus exclusively on Fatal Encounters. In that time he has been forced to reckon with the fact that because the federal government does not systemically track every police-involved killing in the U.S., Americans, lawmakers and even law enforcement departments don’t have a complete picture of what policing in this country truly looks like.
“Unquestionably it’s a failure,” Burghart said. “It enables people who don’t want to know.”
Over the years, as more people have been killed by law enforcement and video footage of these incidents continues to surface, Burghart’s decision to aggregate the information began to feel almost prescient. Sociologists and criminologists from all over the country now use data mined from Fatal Encounters to further their research.
In 2012, Burghart drove by a scene that was “plainly chaos.” Everything about what he saw – the heavy police presence and flashing lights — instinctively told Burghart, an investigative journalist by training, that someone had a fatal encounter with law enforcement.
Burghart went home, turned on his police scanner and waited. Police officers had pulled over, then shot and killed a man named Jace Herndon, who was driving what turned out to be a stolen car.
Burghart scanned local news reports. He wanted to know how many other people in his area had died during interactions with police. But that information was missing from every story.
That bothered him. A few months later, an 18-year-old college student, Gil Collar, was killed by University of South Alabama campus police. Again, Burghart wondered how often that happens.
“The earliest thing I found out was that nobody knew,” he said.
At the time Burghart was the editor and publisher of The Reno News & Review in Nevada, a free alternative weekly based in “the biggest little city in the world.” As he became more and more intrigued by the lack of information surrounding the deaths of Collar and Herndon, Burghart channeled his interest in data to begin the task of figuring out just how many people die each year during interactions with law enforcement.