In the wake of ongoing massive protests across the United States, ignited by the deaths of two African Americans, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, at the hands of Caucasian police officers, Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo respectively, the U.S. government has passed an act requiring all deaths in custody be reported directly to the Department of Justice.
After both juries failed to indict the police officers involved, many other questionable deaths at the hands of police are being remembered and brought to public awareness.
The actual number of deaths at the hands of police is unknown as FBI-gathered statistics are often incomplete. Some private citizens have taken it upon themselves to create databases to gather as much information as possible on police related fatalities. Fatal Encounters is one such site, the founder Brian Burghart has already collected more than 3,000 reports, with another 9,000 needing to be analyzed and compiled.
Protests Draw Lawmakers Attention
With tens of thousands of people protesting across the country, and some of the largest protests happening in the Nation’s Capitol, officials in Washington D.C. have taken notice. The Death in Custody Reporting Act passed very quickly, receiving little opposition. The Act was first passed in 2000 and expired in 2006. Rep. Bobby Scott tried to revive the bill several times during the last eight years.
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), the sponsor of the House version of the bill, said:
“It is clear that the federal government needs to exercise greater oversight of federal, state and local law enforcement personnel to ensure that they are protecting and serving our citizens. To aid in that measure, we need data on deaths that occur within our criminal justice system. Without accurate data, it is nearly impossible to identify variables that lead to an unnecessary and unacceptable risk of individuals dying in custody or during an arrest. The passage of the Death in Custody Reporting Act will make this information available, so policymakers will be in a position to enact initiatives that will reduce incidences of avoidable deaths in our criminal justice system. I appreciate the assistance of Chariman Leahy, Senator Blumenthal, and Senator Paul in working with me to pass this important bill before the end of this Congress.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a cosponsor of the Senate bill, said: “Passage of this bill is an important step in Congress assessing and reforming our criminal justice system. As a result, we will for the first time get a true picture of the extent and circumstances of deaths in the criminal justice system. I congratulate Rep. Scott and Sen. Blumenthal on passing this bill and will continue working with them on other necessary reforms.”
Sen. Blumenthal (D-CT) who also championed the Act had this to say:
“Tragic controversies in Ferguson and Staten Island have undercut trust and understanding between law enforcement and the communities they serve. Thousands have taken to the streets to protest what they see as unpunished criminal conduct by police. Alarmingly, on an issue this profoundly important and potentially explosive, there is no reliable data on the overall scope of the problem. The stark, staggering fact is that the nation has no reliable idea how many Americans die during arrests or police custody each year. This legislation will fix that unacceptable factual gap. It will ensure that the nation knows exactly how many Americans die in custody, and it will give the information needed to strengthen trust at every level.”
The Act will now go before President Obama for his approval.