Real News Network recently senior editor, Paul Jay recently did an interview with Kali Akuno, regarding a report he coauthored, on the extent of extrajudicial killings of African Americans. Akuno’s study concluded that every 28 a full 313 African Americans are killed by private citizens, security guards and police officers in the United States of America. Ebony magazine produced their own study widening this to every 36 hours. The following interview was conducted by Jay to explain where the study’s data comes from and how these conclusions were reached.
JAY: So, first of all, talk about, Kali, talk about where your data came from.
KALI AKUNO: The data, Paul, came primarily from two sources, one, from police reports gathered from throughout the country, and the other one is primarily mainstream media reports that are reporting on people who were killed by the police. And so we kind of collaborated and mixed and merged and fact-checked the two to come up with the 313 number that you have before you.
JAY: And so these areI know off-camera you told me you thought there were probably more than this, but the 313 number you’ve been able to directly verify through press and police reports.
AKUNO: And through some family contacts. But there’s definitely more. But we wanted to leave things, you know, leave the information that we could definitely verify so folks had it. And I think, you know, an excellent point was made that at a certain point we just had to stop and say, if this number doesn’t outrage you, if it doesn’t wake you up, then something must be wrong with you and we have to really raise some serious questions to this society as to how did this many number of people get killed by the police and how is this justified.
JAY: Now, when I interviewed you last time, based on the data from the first six months, a very small percentage of the people that were killed were allegedly or otherwise involved in any kind of violent criminal activity. Nobody’s life was in danger. I think in the latest report you say only 13 percent were actually involved in that kind of activity. So what are examples, then, if they’re notif the people being killed are not involved in life-threatening activity, then what’s happening?
AKUNO: You know, a good number, Paul, roughly about 40 percent if you add it all up, were folks whose basically family members or they themselves were in some form of distress and called the police seeking aid for someone who was disturbed, off their medication, dealing with some health issues or health-related crisis.
And how the police were trained to respond to the situation is what really, I think, kind of transformed it from a moment of I’m here, I’ve called you in for you to help me to we are now here to first and foremost establish order, which means maximum force, the utilization of maximum force, and ask questions later. That is the vast majority of how all the people who are in this report, that’s how the vast majority of them became these extrajudicial killing kind of statistics, if you will. But it really speaks to the very aggressive and militaristic nature of how the police are trained to operate within black and other oppressed communities.
JAY: Now, when cops do intervene in domestic disputes, it’s not unusual someone does turn on them. I think it’s often questionable whether whoever turns on them is actually threatening the officer’s life, but perhaps they perceive it so. I mean, were you able to sort that out as you did the statistics here in terms of the description of what happened, whether there was some threat to the officer or not?
AKUNO: We did, I think, a fairly decent job of that, Paul. But one of the things I always kind of put out and I want folks to understand: the media primarily just reports kind of almost verbatim what the police kind of press releases and the police version or narrative of things is. And we know in the black community, I think, and many other communities that to trust the word of the police is very questionable at best.
So our ability to really kind of sift through and figure out fact from kind of police fiction would really take a lot more investigation and a lot more work. We’re putting out the challenge that we want folks to join us in doing that, because the bottom line is: what we’ve uncovered and once these investigations kind of take place, once people really follow through with them, the police reports typically do not add up. You know, I would say 90 percent of the cases, some of the information is completely false, overexaggerated, the threat was magnified if it existed at all. So they really just can’t be trusted.
And that’s a deeper part of the narrative that we really want to get out to the general public. I think a lot of people know this, but we kind of take it for granted. And I think once you really look at this report, look at the figures, and look at the facts, it becomes a startling question. And it leads us to, well, what do we do to fix this, how do we address it. And, really, calling it into question is just the first step.
JAY: Do you not find that the police in a sense, and not only as a question of training, but even in terms of their broader role, are in a somewhat impossible situation? And what I mean by that is the police are being asked to be a buffer between people that own a lot of stuff and people who don’t. There’s structurally something there that the police are being asked to deal with, you know, people who often are desperate because of poverty, and then the police are supposed to come in and control that situation. And all that ever gets talked about in the media is whatever happened in the incident. But, you know, it’s very rare that the fundamental structural issue ever gets discussed.
AKUNO: That’s right. That’s right. But, I mean, rather than just being caught between a rock and a hard place, I think we have to also look at the policy and some of the police’s own investment in the policies [incompr.] like stop and frisk, or the gang injunctions and things of that nature, and the buy-in into this whole militarization that’s gone with the drug war, and now with the war on terrorism. They have their own interests, and I think we need to make sure that that’s clear to everybody and not just say, okay, it’s just, you know, they’re kind of caught in the middle between a structural contingency and human misery. They have their own role and their own interest to play. And I think that’s something we need to always kind of highlight.
And I think this trial that’s going on right now in New York City, Floyd v. the NYPD, which is against stop and frisk, that we’re intimately involved in really points out this whole piece that if you look at how stop and frisk was designed, if you looked at some of the kind of metrics that they use and techniques that they try to use to bring in all this kind of scientific management, and if you looked at just the way in which it was conducted, so that you virtually have in cities like Los Angeles or New York or Atlanta or now in Oakland and other places like that where they’re creating these basic webs where, you know, black and Latino people are going to run into police in these very kind of contentious situations as a part of their day-to-day lives. And that’s not being caught in between just responding to poverty. That’s a very aggressive forward orientation of policing which says that we’re going to occupy these communities and make sure that we contain and control all the various aspects of social kind of behavior that we can kind of interfere with.
JAY: In your report, you say that 43 percent of people that were killed were killed in the course of these kinds of stop and frisks or just driving a car or walking and getting checked in some way.
AKUNO: It speaks to the forward nature of how policing is now being conducted, particularly in black and Latino communities in this country. You know, it’s very much focused around certain types of economic activities, as you were speaking of.
It actually speaks to a broader nature of social control. And that’s one of the pieces that we werewe really wanted to get out, because if you really just wanted to target aspects of underground economy and some of the behaviors with that, there are methods that you could use that don’t involve you kind of occupying an entire black community with all of this different kind of class strata and background and diversification. You wouldn’t have to do it that way.
But it’s very clear that these choices that are being made by the police and by these mayors and by, you know, the other forces within the political kind of [incompr.] of this whole apparatus, that there’s a broader agenda which is [incompr.] which in many communities is very much associated with gentrification and forms of displacement in addition to just your kind of social control over economic activity. So we really need to look at it in this broader kind of perspective and really tie it in to some of the other pieces, you know, that I think are so complex that we need to make a lot of time to talk about.
JAY: Yeah. I mean, I’m new to Baltimore, but I know Baltimore has seen areas, and certainly people have written about this, where life is made unlivable for people so that they leave the neighborhoods and there’s, you know, thousands of boarded up houses in Baltimore.
AKUNO: That’s right. Same in Atlanta, same, I’m sure, you know, all the cities I’ve been in, Dallas or Houston or New Orleans or Los Angeles. It’s a very, you know, systemic dynamic which is going on. And the type of policing that is being promoted throughout the country is very aggressive in its handling and approach of how to deal with black and other working-class communities.
JAY: Alright. Thanks for joining us, Kali. This is a discussion we’re going to continue in the future.
AKUNO: Thank you.