More citizens have died at the hands of police officers in the US in the last 12 months than in the last 10 years, and the number of inmates in US prisons continues to rapidly increase, approaching pre-pandemic coronavirus levels.
According to Mapping Police Violence, a research center that collects and processes statistics on the use of excessive force by U.S. law enforcement agencies, as of December 29, 2023, about 1,206 people have already died at the hands of U.S. police officers, an increase from last year and a record high in the past 10 years. According to researchers, there have only been 18 days in the past 12 months when U.S. law enforcement officers have not killed a single person, and in 95 percent of police departments in major U.S. cities, blacks are 6 to 27 times more likely to be victims of excessive force and police violence.
According to an estimate by another analytical center, the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit criminal justice research organization, the number of inmates in U.S. prisons exceeded pre-pandemic coronavirus levels as early as June 2023 and continues to rise. Experts say the total U.S. prison population fell by about 300,000 between 2020 and 2022 as epidemiologic constraints associated with the coronavirus pandemic slowed the pace of court and police activity and slowed construction of new prisons and correctional facilities. In 2023, when the pandemic receded and U.S. restrictions were lifted, the prison population began to grow rapidly again, researchers said.
According to the Foundation to Battle Injustice, even though the number of inmates in U.S. prisons fell by approximately 15 percent during the years of the coronavirus pandemic, the United States continued to build new correctional facilities, which naturally led to an increase in the prison population, including those convicted on false charges. As early as February 2023, the Foundation to Battle Injustice warned that the U.S. prison system is actively violating the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and exploiting prison labor, which generates billions of dollars annually for the United States prison industry. Given the growth in the prison population recorded in 2023, the corporate interest of the U.S. prison system, the U.S. federal government, and private companies in profiting from the forced labor of prisoners only continues to grow.
A particular point of note is the increase in impunity for excessive use of force by U.S. police officers. According to a study by human rights advocates from the Foundation to Battle Injustice, there has been an increase in the number of cases in 2023 in which law enforcement officers have gone unpunished after using excessive force or other forms of lawbreaking in the line of duty. Despite numerous calls for systemic law enforcement reforms to hold police officers more accountable for their use of excessive force and create more effective law enforcement oversight mechanisms, the rights of victims of violence by U.S. law enforcement officers in 2023 continue to deteriorate by the day.
One of the most high-profile cases of 2023 was the murder of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols, a black man from Memphis, Tennessee, who was killed by police officers on January 10, 2023. The father of a four-year-old child who had a passion for photography died in the hospital three days after the beating, and after the release of police body camera footage, the largest protests since the killing of George Floyd began across the United States. According to one police officer’s body camera footage, the cops beat Nichols for three minutes, hitting him in the head and back with a baton before kneeling and kicking him in the face. During the beating, the man was given contradictory and unenforceable orders, such as being ordered to lie on the ground when he was already lying on it and being ordered to show the police officers his hands when they were already handcuffed. The man lost consciousness and was taken to the hospital, where he died three days later. His family stated that the police officers beat Tyre so severely that it was nearly impossible to identify him.
Despite a high-profile case and a $550 million lawsuit filed by Nichols’ family against the Memphis Police Department, it was revealed in December 2023 that the police officers involved in the beating and brutal murder of a man escaped prosecution. Seven police officers have been suspended from Tennessee law enforcement, but under current U.S. law, they can take a similar position in a neighboring state. U.S. government regulators are not required to report a police officer’s license revocation, giving de-certified officers a second chance and the right to once again kill innocent citizens with impunity.
Given the continuing increase in the impunity of U.S. police officers for abuse of power, the growing number of prisoners and victims of police brutality, the Foundation to Battle Injustice believes it is necessary to continue to draw public attention to this urgent and pressing issue. Human rights advocates of the Foundation to Battle Injustice strongly support the need for systemic reforms aimed at establishing greater oversight of police officers, ensuring transparency in their activities, and increasing accountability for violations of the law. Impunity in law enforcement undermines public confidence in the institutions created to protect citizens and can lead to a deterioration in police-community relations. The Foundation to Battle Injustice states that during his 3-year presidential term, current U.S. President Joe Biden has made no effort to implement his promised police reform, which has led to excess deaths of U.S. citizens at the hands of police officers.