Confrontation, sporadic violence, and arrests during protests continue to follow the surge of racially biased shooting in the United States. People are angry, confused, and above all, terrified of law enforcement. They have lost faith and trust in the justice system of a nation which prides itself on racial equality.
More than 50 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, approximately six-in-ten Americans believe the country needs to continue making changes to achieve racial equality.
This year alone, 569 people have been killed by US police. Many of the circumstances have proven these killings to be unjustified, and many others have made media headlines for their clear racial profiling.
The outcome is avoidable. A police officer does not have to shoot and kill. In several countries, police officers don’t even carry guns. Last year, a report by ThinkProgress.com exposed some disturbing figures: In 2015, in the 31 days of March, police in the U.S. killed more people than the UK did in the entire 20th century.
In all the countries where police officers don’t cary guns, except Iceland, citizens don’t have access to guns either, which means police are rarely taken by surprise by a firearm. However, officers are typically trained to handle firearms when need be, and can respond to reports of a citizen with a gun by sending an armed police officer to confront them.
Paul Hirschfield, an associate professor of sociology at Rutgers University, explains that U.S. police officers are trained for only 19 weeks on average, compared to, say Norway, where they have three years of training before they’re fully qualified.
“If you only have 19 weeks of training, you’re going to spend those on the most essential things. Unfortunately, in the United States, it’s about what you need to defend yourself. How you’re going to avoid getting hurt,” explains Hirschfield. “If you have three years, you can also learn how to protect people, how to avoid these situations from arising in the first place. It fosters a whole different orientation and culture in law enforcement.”
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In 2016 alone, the U.S. has had considerable cause for mourning, and anger has led to retaliation, as the police killings in Dallas demonstrate. But while police officers put themselves in the way of great personal risk, more training may allow them to minimize this risk, both for themselves as well as the public they are protecting.
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