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'The Washington Post' Documents Increased Frequency Of Police Shootings


Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are just two of more than 500 people who have been shot to death by police so far this year in the United States. That's according to a database kept by The Washington Post. Earlier today, I talked with Wesley Lowery, a reporter for that paper.

You tweeted a picture this morning of the front page of The Washington Post, and you described it as already one viral police shooting out of date. Are you shocked by this frequency?

WESLEY LOWERY: You know, I'm not, and one of the reasons I say that is because as part of our reporting, we've kept a database of all fatal police shootings starting in January 2015 to date. And what we found is that there are essentially three of these a day. Every day three Americans are fatally shot and killed by police officers. And so what that means is that even when the shootings don't go viral, even when they are not caught on camera, as both of these were, you're still having Americans who are being killed every single day by the police.

SHAPIRO: We should make clear that many of these are shootings that would be considered justified.

LOWERY: Certainly, in many cases, police are shooting people who are either armed who have shot at the officers, who have perhaps stabbed someone or have already harmed the officer. But what we know is that in hundreds of the cases, there are question marks. And in both of these cases, these are cases that were not for the video. What we would say in the media is that an armed black man - a guy armed with a gun was shot and killed yesterday. These would be the guys who we thought were justified police shootings, except that there's video.

SHAPIRO: You've been tracking this since January of 2015. Have you seen the numbers change at all since the country and police have become more aware of the problem?

LOWERY: If anything, we've seen an increase. There's a slight uptick in the first six months of this year compared to the first six months of last year. We are seeing more shootings that are captured on body camera or on bystander video. But we are not seeing a decrease in shootings, whether that be shootings of unarmed people or of armed people, whether the person is attacking the officer or whether they're trying to surrender. We are overall seeing an increase in shootings.

SHAPIRO: As a journalist having covered so many of these stories with similar outlines, how has your perspective on them changed?

LOWERY: One thing that's fascinating here is you start to see the breadth of the problem. Very often with these shootings, we like to focus on them as an isolated incident. We want to drill into the specific officer and the specific person who's killed to their background.

But in reality, what we see here as you study police shootings broadly the thousand or so a year that we have in the United States of America, you see that these are - many of them, hundreds of them at the very least are likely result of the way we train our police officers and also our lack of resources for training of police officers in addition to what many would describe as a lack of accountability for officers who kill people in shootings that should not have happened.

SHAPIRO: So if you've come to see the problem as something other than isolated bad apples, does that suggest something about the kind of solution that'll be necessary?

LOWERY: Of course, it's a systemic solution. I talked to a police chief a few weeks ago who said to me that he thought the solution here would be to consolidate a bunch of police departments. We have 18,000 police departments in the United States of America. It's completely decentralized. It's a small government form of policing, and we are one of the only major superpowers that polices its country this way. And because of that, we see wide inconsistencies in terms of how a police officer in one city is trained or held responsible compared to the police officer maybe in the neighboring city.

SHAPIRO: And over the couple of years that this has come into national focus, have you seen a change in the way the police or federal investigators have responded to these kinds of incidents?

LOWERY: Well, what we've seen is that local police as well as local elected officials have now figured out the Ferguson lesson. And the lesson of Ferguson is that a void of information will always find a way to be filled, right? You cannot kill someone and have them lie in the street or lie in their home and tell the public nothing about it, right?

So what we've seen very often is much more rapid release of information from local police departments, but what we have not seen necessarily is any uptick in convictions for police officers. We've seen some more charged than were happening pre-Ferguson but certainly not more being convicted.

SHAPIRO: So given your experience reporting on so many police shootings, what is your expectation of what will happen with these two cases in Louisiana and Minnesota?

LOWERY: Look, I think that we've seen a pretty remarkable community response in both cases. Minnesota's a place with a strong tradition of protesting their elected officials and their police specifically. So I expect to see some community unrest. However, when you talk about the actual legal process, what we know is that officers who shoot and kill people do not get charged with crimes.

SHAPIRO: Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post, thank you for joining us.

LOWERY: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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