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The myth that police were targets of widespread violence in the 1970s lives again

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Tony Platt is a criminologist and Distinguished Affiliated Scholar, Center for the Study of Law and Society, University of California, Berkeley. He is a founding member of Social Justice. 

It’s “déjà vu all over again,” said Police Commissioner William J. Bratton following the recent killing of two New York officers. He was referring to the turbulent 1970s, when in response to the supposed targeting of police by Black liberation groups, the law enforcement establishment created, in the words of a former Police Academy commander, a “siege mentality.”

This selective remembering of the past creates a self-fulfilling myth and tells only half the story.


It’s a myth that the targeted killing of police was exceptional in the 1970s or that the era of post-World War II political protest made police work into the most dangerous of occupations. Studies of the killing of police officers between the early 1960s and 1970s show a remarkably consistent rate of death. The rate peaked nationally in 1967, with 29.9 deaths per 100,000 officers, but there was no trend up or down during the decade. By contrast, the rate of death of civilians at the hands of the police gradually increased nationally during the 1960s; and in California, the rate increased two and one-half times in a seven-year period.

Contrary to popular perceptions, there are very few documented cases of politically motivated assassinations of state officials in the United States. According to a study of police killed on the job in California in the 1960s, the majority of killings involved robberies in progress and domestic disturbances; and several cases that resulted from negligence (such as accidental discharge of a gun) and poor practice were misclassified as homicides of police officers.

And although police work was (and continues to be) stressful and often dangerous, other occupations were much more harmful: workers in mines and construction, for example, risked death at a rate between two and three times higher than police officers...

Read entire article at Social Justice Journal


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