This January and February each saw more killings of Americans by police officers than in any month in 2016, and February was worse than January, with at least 112 deaths. Activists say that with Donald Trump dominating every news cycle, police brutality has simply received less mainstream attention. For comparison, there were 93 police killings in January 2016 and 103 in February of last year.
“In the context of a Trump presidency, there is suddenly so much happening, I think it has been hard for people to focus,” DeRay Mckesson, a prominent Black Lives Matter activist, told The Outline. “But we know that this particular trauma is continuing. It existed before we put the movement together.”
Mappingpoliceviolence.org, which analyzes data from several other sites that aggregate news reports of police killings, is working on a detailed analysis of race and other factors behind the raw data, activist and data analyst Samuel Sinyangwe told The Outline. In the past, his research has shown that three times more black Americans are killed by police than white Americans.
Sinyangwe, a co-founder of Mckesson’s organization Campaign Zero, said that it is too soon to identify the underlying causes of this increase in killings or say if there is evidence of a broader trend. News reports of these killings offer varying levels of clarity about the circumstances around each death. In many of the accounts, officers claim that suspects provoked the violence, and those claims are being investigated.
On February 24 in Butts County, Georgia, Douglas Roger Tanner, 53, died after being tased by police who said they were trying to subdue him during a narcotics-related search. In Reading, Pennsylvania, two days later, Michael T. Stoudt, 62, died after officers said he pointed a shotgun at them while responding to a complaint from a neighbor. And earlier in February, in Buffalo, New York, Wardel Davis, 20, died in custody after police said he struggled with officers during a drug arrest.
“I don’t want to jump to conclusions,” Sinyangwe said. “It will take a few more months to really be able to say there’s something going on, and that’s the work that we’ll be doing in the weeks and months ahead.”
Sinyangwe agreed with Mckesson that police violence and the Black Lives Matter movement haven’t received as much mainstream attention in recent months as during the 2014 Ferguson protests, or in July of last year, when dramatic video captured the killing of Philando Castile in Minnesota.
As Shaun King wrote in the Daily News after seeing the January numbers, “I’d be hard-pressed to find a single person in this country, outside of a few activists and the families who were affected by this violence, who knows the names and details of a single person killed by American police last month.”
Sinyangwe expects focus on police violence to return once another viral tragedy occurs, mobilizing activists and reminding the public that the problem is not going away.
“There is a battle to get attention on anything that isn’t Trump,” he said. “However, I do think that we have seen this issue die down a little bit in the media and then flare back up as soon as a [high-profile] case comes up.”