The news media have featured a parade of stories in which unarmed men, usually but not always black, had calamitous encounters with police, says NPR. In just the past two weeks, these have included an indictment in the shooting of a grandfather in his driveway; a motorist shot as he tried to comply with an officer’s request for his ID; and a drug suspect beaten with police guns as he tried to surrender.
Are we seeing more of these stories because they’re actually happening more? It’s hard to tell just how often police officers use deadly force. As best as the U.S. Justice Department can guess, there are about 400 police-related deaths each year across the nation. In a nation that sees millions of civilian- police encounters each year, that means such deaths are exceedingly rare. But 400 deaths a year means that every day, someone is probably killed in an encounter with police. “What you would always see in these other cases or in cases in past decades is that you’d see someone after the fact, [with] maybe some bruises or maybe some reports of the injuries they sustained,” says Laura Castañeda, a journalism and media professor at the University of Southern California. “A picture paints a thousand words, the old cliche — but now you see it, and these are powerful, powerful images.”