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Shots Fired: Part 1

Friday, March 17, 2017 - 03:00 AM

(Photo Credit: Bob B. Brown/Flickr)

A couple years ago, Ben Montgomery, reporter at the Tampa Bay Times, started emailing every police station in Florida.

He was asking for any documents created - from 2009 to 2014 - when an officer discharged his weapon in the line of duty. He ended up with a six foot tall stack of reports, pictures, and press clippings cataloging the death or injury of 828 people by Florida police. 

Jad and Robert talk to Ben about what he found, crunch some numbers, and then our reporter Matt Kielty takes a couple files off Ben's desk and brings us the stories inside them - from a network of grief to a Daytona police chief.

And next week, we bring you another, very different story of a police encounter gone wrong.

Produced and reported by Matt Kielty

For the full presentation of Ben Montgomery's reporting please visit the Tampa Bay Times' 'Why Do Cops Shoot?" We can't recommend it highly enough. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that in reporter Ben Montgomery's six years of Florida data there were, on average, 130 people shot and killed each year. Police offers did indeed shoot 130 people per year, on average, but only half of those shootings were fatal. The audio has been adjusted to reflect this fact.


Krystal Brown, Mike Chitwood, Natasha Clemons and Ben Montgomery


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Comments [64]

Xtina from Kent.England

Wow, that part at the end was one of the most uncomfortable things I've heard in a long time. That after experiencing everything he had in the research and recording of this interesting programme, Ben still thought it appropriate to suggest to Natasha that most cops have good intentions so shortly after she had received the upsetting news about the appeal. When she tells him that he sees things that way because he is white, it's like an adult explaining something to a child. I can only imagine how it must have hurt her. It's like he didn't listen to the police chief in Florida who told him how ingrained values need to be schooled out of the police force and the weight of history has a massive part to play in communication with people.

Apr. 27 2017 09:05 AM
Charlotte from Brooklyn, NY

This is a great example of white obliviousness to the history of violence against blacks in the United States: how can you actually be surprised that the numbers are "flat" instead of higher, and announce your perception that you would have thought there was more violence because the Michael Brown/Ferguson and following incidents got so much attention? That is an unfortunate acknowledgement of ignorance for some ostensibly well-informed people. Obvious to me (not black, btw, or anything other than a curious and concerned citizen of this country) is that police shootings of black men would occur less today, that there are glimmers of ethical progress regarding race in law enforcement, but with ubiquitous availability of cameras and some sort trickle-down moral conscience in the media, media attention has gone up. ???!!!

Apr. 23 2017 03:33 PM
littlefaith from Houston, TX

All of these people leaving messages about how little "analysis" was done -- hey... are you all MEN, by chance? Because you are used to owning Radiolab or truth or action, but the female perspective and female story-telling is offensive due to its non-relevance to all discussions... -- I'm so glad that Radiolab did a balanced report, some analysis, but a lot more work on empathy. What is more lacking right now and in the world at large... ANALYSIS or EMPATHY? How will more ANALYSIS fix the human problems unless we do the hard work of understanding how people are devastated by their loss and how women, MOTHERS, are supporting each other to take action?

I also agree with the mother that this is happening, because men in uniform are protected by their uniform to do things that would be criminal otherwise. Police people by TRAINING are BULLIES. Even in the example of the best training, they are still being taught to go ahead and use deadly force, with only a little less of an itchy trigger finger. If you don't do what I say, it's a bullet for you. But I don't have to respect your freedom or your life or your human and constitutional rights.

We have more respect for animals than we have for human beings. The great late Steve Irwin, Crocodile Hunter, never used a gun on an animal, unless it was a tranquilizer dart. He worked with man-eating creatures, venomous snakes armed with neurotoxins, deadly dangerous animals that you couldn't even talk to or relate to, but he would subdue them with his bare hands or a bag and a stick. Why? It was a choice he made to respect these animals as fellow living creatures whose lives had meaning and purpose in the world. So why do we not ask evolutionary biologists for better methods to handle wayward humans?

What is government? It is the monopoly of violence in a certain geographical area. That means, the government authorizes its agents to perform violence, while anyone using unauthorized violence then becomes illegal and criminal. The only way to bring down the level of violence then is to stop authorizing our government agents to perform violence on our own people.

We design our government, so we have to fix this. I want a government that protects and serves. I don't want any government that uses violence to solve problems. I want a government built like Baymax, the robot in the movie "Big Hero 6". That means we have to give the government tools of service and comfort and protection, instead of weapons. #nerfthegovernment

Apr. 23 2017 01:16 AM
IV Liberty from California

Here is one incident if you don't believe my previous comment.

Apr. 21 2017 03:13 AM
IV Liberth from California

Many of you are totally off base. You justify police violence (state sponsored violence) based on blacks having more contact with police? Huh?

There are stories you have yet to hear--like mine. I was detained over 20 times in a 2 year time span for no legal reason. I have contributed to the black crime and arrest rates even though I have never committed a crime. I have been detained while sitting at Target while my toddler was napping in the back seat; while leaving my car to go to the gym; while at the park sitting in my car reading a book; while leaving a job interview...I can go on.

I have been beaten, punched, hair pulled, thrown to the ground, etc. by police even though I did nothing wrong.

I have been arrested over 4 times for "resisting arrest" which is the police way of showing you who is boss if you dare to assert your 4th amendment rights. Such arrest are illegal and unconstitutional. But who cares? I have filed complaint after complaint only for all of them to fall on deaf ears.

Internal Affairs is a joke. They are only there to protect the officer. I have been to the Attorney General, Mayor, Congress, Senators, City Council, etc. to no avail. You really don't have a clue. I have lost everything fighting to restore my once pristine name.

Policing is a business. People are commodity. How many times have you been detained?

Apr. 21 2017 03:08 AM
Greg from San Jose, CA

Florida is not the 3rd largest state (fyi). It's number 22 by land mass, number 4 by population.

Apr. 20 2017 07:08 PM
Gregor Halenda from PDX

Thanks for covering this. I think you did a great job showing the senselessness of most police violence. Somehow we've come to an "us vs. them" situation. My feeling is that this stems from a breakdown of community. I grew up in a small town and know that a sense of community restrains you from doing things you would regret if you were to know that person. Sort of like the Florida cop and the taser incident in your story.

While police shootings are a huge problem I feel that civil forfeiture is a similar issue that dovetails with what is essentially a problem of police overreach and a disconnect from being a part of our society to what is a what we have now - a group that sees our larger society as the enemy.

We need to keep focusing on this because it is fundamental to our functioning society.

Apr. 20 2017 02:16 PM
Honest John from Juneburry Poland

Thank you Radiolab for having the boldness to put forward the fact that Black ppl are shot at a disparagingly rate compared to their white counterparts. These officers are racist and have no regard for Black people, Black communities or families. I would say that white officers in Black communities are the equivalency of the Gestapo in Nazi Germany. Unfortunately, because Black citizens are not valued to the extent of white citizens, one would be lambasted for making such a comparison. Nonetheless, as far as I am concerned, it remains a fact.

Apr. 15 2017 08:58 AM
Paul M from Cambridge, England

I stumbled on this just now.

Apr. 12 2017 05:40 AM
Dookert from Florida

The emotional priming off listeners to this show, about a show called "why do cops shoot" is outrageous. There is no pretense whatsoever at being objective and fair when approaching this controversial topic. You don't start a two part show on why cops shoot by emotionally priming the listener to presume the malice of intent on the part the officer, by subtle hinting and one sided victim stories. Pathetic.

Apr. 10 2017 01:18 PM

Had to stop listing to this episode, it is obvious none of you have ever studied any type of hard science or never taken a Statistics class in your life. The statistics you stated throughout your show ZERO relation to causality, ZERO data on neighborhood demographics, more importantly, economic demographics of where these are taken place. Where the majority of crimes are reported. What those neighborhoods look like? Utterly terrible statistical reporting. F-

Apr. 09 2017 03:13 PM

What happened to this once great show? It is just identity politics trash now.

Apr. 09 2017 01:32 PM
dc from nyc

I've listened to Radiolab for years and have never been moved to comment.

I thought this was one of the worst shows you've have done, if not the worst. The issue of police violence against blacks is serious and worthy of being studied.

But you didn't do this.

Bizarrely, you make a gigantic deal about the lack of hard data on police use of violence and how we therefore rely on anecdote and haphazard reporting. Then you make this huge drumroll for this person who spends a year gathering data from Florida.

So obviously I'm looking forward to a show about the data--perhaps we'll see something really unexpected; or we'll see our perceptions confirmed but in a unique way.

Instead, you guys spend perhaps a minute on the data - revealing your bubble-lives by saying how 'surprising' that the numbers had been flat for years; you had thought police violence had been rising with reporting. What? How could you not be aware of police violence? I'm white and I've been aware all my life.

Then, incredibly, rather than pursue *any* facet of the data, you threw up your hands and literally said the data was too complex - what? - and then you... drumroll... spent the rest of the show on the most hackneyed anecdotes. Sad mothers (yes, really). Breakfasts in which a white man who very obviously is rarely around black people admiringly asking a black woman to list all that food those salt-of-the-earth black folks are eating. Can you imagine going to a grieving wealthy white mother's breakfast and asking her to list the food she's eating? Why wasn't the reporter black?

This is the worst white upper class virtue-signaling, hackneyed, oblivious 'reporting.' Devoid of science. Devoid of self-awareness. Devoid of anything substantive, only earnestness.

Radiolab evidently wanted their story, that police violence against blacks is disproportionate and due to racism. Obviously this was not confirmed by the Florida data--or else Radiolab would have happily reported it. Instead, since it wasn't, Radiolab discarded the data and filled the show with *anecdotes.* The same anecdotes they were complaining about in the beginning of the show!

If I wanted to read blogs, I'd read blogs. I listen to Radiolab for truly rigorous, inventive, data-driven investigation. If the data takes you to unexpected places, go there. It is antithetical to science and an insult to Radiolab listeners to ignore data that doesn't fit your narrative. Please never do this again.

Apr. 08 2017 05:52 PM
Tim D from New York

I really wish that you all would've crossed searched the officer's personal cellphone calls over the timing of "police shootings". Most officers keep the numbers low by not actually "calling it in". Instead, using their personal cellphones to make calls to other officers. Ever wonder why officers are always on their phones??? Why...if they have walkies and city issued phones?

Apr. 01 2017 01:51 AM
Radley Cooledge from Sydney

This is straight up propaganda, the only thing this episode uncovers is that black mums get sad when their kids die, we don't know if that is the same for whites or asians because they didn't bother to speak to any. They use anecdotes of an accident and a suicide to show what exactly I don't know. They do zero analysis of the statistics, don't even mention the high violent crime rate within the black community and do not even come close to answering the question they posed at the beginning. Such a waste of time. If you have a small percentage of the population committing a high percentage of the violent crime of course that population is going to be involved in more armed confrontations with police than other populations. This whole episode amounts to nothing but emotional noise, not a fact to be found, just a gross display of obfuscation and virtue signalling, absolutely disgusting, shame on you radio lab.

Mar. 31 2017 07:03 PM
Jose from Monterey, CA

You shouldn't be saying that you your show involves science or analysis. You have DATA on 800 cases when the Florida police used deathly force against citizens. And you present us with one-sided personal ANECDOTES about a handful of these incidents, not an analysis.

The big picture is that about 1000 Floridians are MURDERED every year (5+ per 100,000). The rate of violent crime in Florida cities is about 500 per 100,000. If all Floridians lived in cities, that would be 100,000 victims per year. Nevertheless, your show focused on about 130 incidents per year where the police used deathly force - perhaps 0.2% of such incidents in the state. If Florida is like other states, the majority of these incidents involved citizens armed with guns or other weapons, who did pose a deadly threat to police. In other cases, the police may have perceived a threat that wasn't present. Every police officer who uses deadly force - rightly or wrongly - knows that the incident will change his life forever. The idea that a significant portion of these 130 incidences per year involve a police officer deliberately killing or attempting to kill a civilian is absurd - especially for racial reasons. That is the big picture you should be presenting - despite the fact that a few exceptions probably exist.

This doesn't mean that the police are doing a good job. On the average, they treat minorities more harshly than whites. Many police officers become increasingly racially prejudiced and/or traumatized from working in dangerous minority communities with high crime rates (where they aren't trusted or appreciated by the local citizens). Those police who aren't racially prejudiced themselves often tolerate unacceptable behavior by their fellow officers. And when every officer depends on his fellow officers for backup and protection, few are will criticize or testify against the peers. In short, they are typical flawed humans attempting to a very tough job under very difficult circumstances. Minority families living in high crime areas have frequent contacts with the police and undoubtably encounter some at least several prejudiced officers who treat them differently from whites. In addition to all of the other challenges they face, Black and Latino males in high crime cities are being raised in a atmosphere of racially-motivated police oppression. It is not surprising they believe the police are killing their peers. RadioLab, however, should know better.

RadioLab should move past one-sided anecdotes and provide their listeners with solid analysis that helps listeners understand the true nature of the problems we face. From what I've read, there is no evidence supporting a statistically significant increase in the use of deadly force by white police officers when confronting Blacks and Latinos. However, lesser forms of mistreatment are racially motivated.

Mar. 31 2017 04:17 AM
Mardou Fox from Montréal

Very Powerful and bittersweet episode.

Thank you!

Mar. 30 2017 07:52 PM

Geez radiolab.. . At one point I was still hoping in vain this episode would turn out to be about the science behind the ta
ser. Please find a new name for your show, it's changed so much it deserves one. Not a compliment.

Mar. 30 2017 12:44 PM
Roger Shaw from USA

My bad. Please delete my comment on this episode. I meant to comment on the Ponzi scheme. I had a brain freeze. Will comment on that episode.

Mar. 30 2017 10:21 AM
Roger Shaw from USA

This was a pathetic episode! Qualifies for tabloid podcast. The sound quality was really, really bad. Stick to science. That is your niche. And Robert, your juvenile assinine interjections are getting old. grow up!

Mar. 30 2017 10:18 AM
Robert Parsons

I thought this show was powerful......powerful Bull Shit.

Mar. 29 2017 08:20 PM
Nicole Rankins from Virginia

Thank you for this great episode. Whether people like it or not this is part of the narrative of police shootings and these stories deserve to be told. No one is saying that this is the norm. But this happens and it affects real people. RadioLab is NOT saying that this is everyone's story. Why are people so resistant to hearing it??

And for all those who bring up statistics that blacks disproportionately commit more crimes than whites, I disagree. Blacks are disproportionately convicted of committing more crimes than whites. Whites are less likely to be suspected of committing crimes, are more likely to get a pass particularly on minor offenses like traffic stops, and are more likely to have resources to get them off when they do commit crimes. When the playing field is level, then talk to me about crime rates classified by race.

Mar. 26 2017 12:16 PM

There was one part of this piece, at the beginning, that was upsetting:
"The biggest counter-intuitive line in this is that the numbers are flat: If you look at the numbers, what you see year after year, is that the numbers have stayed steady, about a 130 people shot by police each year [in Florida only], which seems odd because over the past few years, these videos that go viral, makes it seem like this is a new and intense problem, but the numbers show that that doesn't seem to be the case."

I was disappointed to hear these journalists entertain or legitimize the idea that police brutality is a new problem. Its an ahistorical reflection that's offensive to communities who have experienced state and police violence for generations, since the days when the police force's primary role was to catch, punish and return runaway slaves. Their conclusion also suggests that the decades of Black-led organizing/protesting against police brutality was not valid/real/necessary until now--now that white people can watch the videos and crunch the numbers themselves, and come to their own "counter-intuitive" conclusion that this problem isn't new. This type of language and framing ("counter-intuitive and surprising") disregards our despicable history of racial violence, most likely because acknowledging this history makes the average white American feel uncomfortable.

This piece helped remind me why it's so important to seek out journalism led by the people who are most directly impacted by these problems. While I understand podcasts like Radiolab play a crucial role in reaching white Americans and pulling them into the conversation, I hope that isn't used as a reason to perpetuate historical inaccuracy. I understand the urge to cater to white fragility in hopes of gaining new/more allies, but I think it ultimately does the cause [of justice] a disservice by placing the feelings of white people above the lived truth of oppressed communities.

Mar. 26 2017 12:11 PM
Paula from San Rafael CA

I am a long time RadioLab fan. What I've learned in the last 10 years is that your work makes me think, look at things differently and be willing to walk away with a new perspective.

As I read these comments, I'm surprised by the anger. I don't think this was anti-police, but rather a great discussion about the direction of policing in our country. The PERF program which promotes new tactics to slow down the interactions is fantastic. There ARE a lot of police who need retraining.

it is important to accept that this was the story about the mothers, about efforts to train officers to slow down and not a big indictment of all police departments. No need to overreact.

Mar. 25 2017 05:55 PM
Leon Connelly from Austin, Tx, formerly New Orleans

The police chief for Volusia, Mike Chitwood, sounds a lot like the (former?) police chief of Milwaukee, Edward Flynn.

I heard about Edward Flynn in the This American Life episode from 2015, Cops See It Differently.

Not only do these 2 men sound similar (from memory . . .), but they both speak intelligently about what seems the best way for police to conduct themselves on the job.

I wouldn't be surprised if both men were part of that Police Executive Research Forum (P.E.R.F.) . . .

Mar. 25 2017 03:34 PM
David from Northern Ireland

This might be the episode that makes me unsubscribe. We're all used to Police being vilified, but this bias should not filter into Radiolab reporting. You should be above that.

I sincerely hope this is rectified in part 2.

Mar. 24 2017 07:12 AM
Walter Sobchak

Of course Jad & Robert know that the crime demographics in Florida don't match the population demographics - but their narrative is not directed at those who have a basic understanding of statistics & are capable of making that distinction.

Mar. 23 2017 11:42 PM

I've been a Radiolab fan FOREVER. Fell in love with your Sperm episode. But this episode at 48:00 minutes was disgusting. This was bad and insensitive reporting. This woman, mother, just described how her son was killed and you wanna man-splain to her how most cops are good? That was horribly horribly insensitive. I hope you issue her an apology.

Mar. 23 2017 03:19 PM
DB from San Diego

Epic fail of an episode. One-dimensional and one-sided against police (of whom I am no particular fan). Assumes that every single police shooting was unjustified without any description of the surrounding circumstances, much less the cop's point of view. Of course there are unjustified shootings based on race; far too many. But that's no excuse to trumpet unjustified statistics. For example, African-Americans are NOT 40 times more likely in general to be shot by police than whites (I think that was the multiple quoted). Only African-Americans who find themselves in circumstances where shots are fired are. And that usually happens only when the person shot puts themselves at risk, for example, by committing a violent felony or behaving dangerously on drugs. Again, we are all aware of the exceptions where the victim has done little or nothing to provoke the police's response. But it's a fact of life that, for reasons of institutional racism (economics, lousy schools, etc.), a disproportionate number of crimes are committed by African-Americans compared to whites. The problem of racism is pervasive enough without Radiolab carelessly distorting the facts and smugly presenting only one side of the story while acting like it's being even-handed.

Mar. 23 2017 03:12 PM
Brittany from Columbus OH

I thought this episode was very powerful. Thank you for sharing this story.

Mar. 23 2017 01:40 PM
Steve Shannon from California

Agree with many epic fail by Robert and Jad. So let me get this straight...they set up/ballyhoo the creation of a historic data base of cop shootings, then quickly conclude that it is too hard and complicated to understand, and does not fit their narrative, then move on to cherry pick a few sad stories. These sad stories are indeed horrible and hard to defend, but they totally lose the plot of the average story of the 160+ shootings per year. And they miss the 9th grade statistics fact. While AA's are 17% of the population and 40% of the shootings, what % are they of criminals? The causes of this criminality are deep and complex, and we can each share in the blame, but to not acknowledge this is intellectual dishonesty of the highest order.And BTW...any thought of showcasing one caucasian victim of police shooting, since they represent 60% of shootings?

Mar. 23 2017 12:03 AM
Damian Cooper from Sydney

Hi guys,

As someone outside the US it is hard for fathom the underlying issues that lead to stories like these.

One thing I am not clear on. It seems like most of these police shootings are predicated on the idea that the cops are fearful for their safety and as a result 'shoot first'.

My question is this, how many cops are shot by young black men during traffic stops?

The heart of my question is how real is the risk to the cops?

In Australia is unimaginable that a cop would shoot anyone during a routine traffic stop.

Mar. 22 2017 06:21 PM
Jim from Omaha

Yeah I agree the old podcasts were great but radio lab has really gone down hill.

Mar. 22 2017 11:42 AM
Robert T from Omaha, NE

Its not a bad episode and it brings up some good points, but I'm a bit sad after listening. It seems to me that the science focused RadioLab that I grew to LOVE and donate money to has passed on. In the last 18 months the show has seemingly become just another public affairs podcast with very little to distinguish itself from 100's of other podcast on the net. I will listen to part 2, but after that I think I'll hit the 'unsubscribe' button on my Iphone and just occasionally check back and download any episodes hat involve science. I used to love RL, now I just kinda like it....sad really.

Mar. 22 2017 11:11 AM
Daryl t from Sydney

How did the best podcast available descend into a fact starved, immotive forum for social justice warriors?

Mar. 21 2017 09:59 PM
Dre from Monterey

I'm sorry radio lab, I didn't mean a new low. I have been amazed by the quality of all of your episodes. Except this one. Do a little research, you are talking about violent crimes and death against black people. How about you use Wikipedia and look up Sandra, I posted the Wikipedia above. You will see that she had 6 to 7 or whatever it says run-ins with the law owed six or $7000 , her bail was $500. Which her "Texas friend" ignore the bail bondsman, she was a known activist on police brutality, and from what I've read I believe she hung her self to be some kind of martyr. Then her mom gets a 1.9 million wrongful death settlement, so that's why she smiling making you breakfast. I can't even finish the episode. Disappointed.

Mar. 21 2017 08:45 PM
Dre from Monterey

Wow... 50.9 percent of the 40 percent black people shot were carrying a gun..... are you kidding radio lab.... this is Florida as well, Miami zombies Casey Anthony, Zimmerman.... so you saying black people in Florida... who by these numbers half are carrying a gun, or another 20 percent knives, so 70% of thes people running or brandishing a weapon at cops at one point.... this a new low for radiolab. Which is my favorite podcast. Please don't fall into this black lives matter bullshit. Because all lives matter. But don't act surprised... why not show some transparency... how many of the other people shot brandishing guns or knives.... I doubt 50%.... just wow

Mar. 21 2017 08:16 PM
mark from california

Doug from Albuquerque, NM you have no merit because you said this "you never noted the total # of violent crimes committed by black people. This is critical because it indicates the percentage of times the police interact with black residents where a pattern of violence and disdain for the law has already been established." the reason i say this because you assume that every one of those interaction with police was the black perosn was in the wrong giving the police the benefit of the and not the black person. because in your statement you used violence and disdain. topical racist excuse to justify killing blacks.

Mar. 21 2017 05:41 PM
Alison from NY

I was moved by the extreme vulnerability that so many of the family members shared with us in this episode. Ms. Clemons, I want to tell you, I wept with you and I was stunned by your bravery in letting us in to the rawness of your grief. I was shocked when Jad and Robert did not thank you by name at the end of the show. Thank you for being such a powerful witness to the devastation that our culture of police brutality and white ignorance has on real lives, real people.

Like others who've written, I'm a long time fan of RadioLab who was truly disappointed by the tone-deafness that Matt displayed in his interpretation of Ms. Clemons' grief. I actually could not believe I was hearing him say those words, when he asked if she ever put herself in the mind of the two police officers who killed her child. How could anyone think to ask a parent that so quickly after that parent has learned those officers have taken her child with impunity? And what possibly could she or we, your listeners, hope to gain from hearing Matt noodle on in apologia, essentially: "not all police"? That was an exploitative low point, quickly followed by ending the episode without thanking the family members who exposed themselves so bravely, by name.

I'm really hoping the surprise next episode is Matt, in a spray tan, interacting with the police. Not because I want him harmed, but because I don't understand why Radiolab chose to air that clumsy "interview" unless it was in preparation for Matt to put himself on the line in such a way. Otherwise why not at least acknowledge that gulf he pondered is due in large part to white guys having no idea what it means to walk so vulnerably in the world.

Mar. 21 2017 02:32 PM
Cotie Jones from Washington, DC

As an African American middle-aged man (rarer than you might think), a father of a black boy (and 2 girls) and native Floridian, thank you for this superlative, well-done story. I was especially captivated by the disagreement between the bereaved mother and the story author on whether bad intent played a role in her son's murder, and her belief that his perspective might change, if he were "Black Like Me." I would love to know if that question had an effect on his belief.

Mar. 21 2017 12:38 PM
Nathan from Georgia

A few of the comments below assert that the number of police shootings of African Americans can be justified on the grounds that African Americans commit a disproportionate share of violent crimes, and so they are more likely to encounter police in violent circumstances.

This perspective assumes that we actually know who commits violent crimes. Since the role of the criminal justice system is to ascertain this, we cannot take it for granted.

The hypothesis that African Americans commit more crimes, and are therefore more likely to be shot by police, is consistent with the data. It is not implied by the data. Another hypothesis is that they are more likely to be targeted for investigation and conviction, or for unnecessary arrest, due to *unconscious* bias on the part of witnesses, officers, attorneys, judges, and jurors. This hypothesis is also consistent with the data, and it is unfortunately also consistent with American history.

I suspect the real situation is more complex than either story fully conveys. Regardless, I hope that going forward we can repeal unjust laws and find more peaceful ways of enforcing just laws.

Mar. 21 2017 11:52 AM
Jim from Omaha

The real problem in this country is Overcriminalization. The U.S. is 5% of the worlds population but we are 20% of the worlds prison population. We have more of our population locked up than any other country on the face of the planet.

Mar. 21 2017 11:35 AM
TJ from CA

Thank you to all involved for this reporting & program. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Let's hope more people hear it & learn... Not judge... Not second guess the "whys" of an action... Just learn.

Mar. 21 2017 01:24 AM

Ms. Sandra, why in the world did you just not put OUT your cigarette and get OUT of the car? I don't understand!

Mar. 20 2017 03:16 PM
Cicero from Miami

and another yesterday:

Mar. 20 2017 08:52 AM
Eric from American living in the UK

Listening to your show the number of killings sounded so unbelievable I decided to try putting them in perspective. Using the Washington Post police shootings database and Wikipedia numbers for fire-arm related deaths this is what I found:

Police in America kill more people per capita than all gun related deaths (homicide, suicide, and accidental) in the United Kingdom, India, Poland, Singapore, Qatar, Romania, South Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong.

If you look at just homicides the list expands to include 29 countries including most of Europe.

That's pretty shocking. US police are more deadly than all criminals, mentally unstable, gangsters, or however else people like to explain away shootings, in many parts of the world. But when you consider nearly all police killings are ruled to be legal and justified you have to wonder if police shootings are just a symptom of a much bigger issue in the way we've built our society.

Mar. 20 2017 06:57 AM
c3p from Germany

I know you love your guns and all that, but as a european: Police probably would be a lot more relaxed if not everybody could get out a hidden handgun at every Moment.
...just sayin

Mar. 19 2017 04:40 PM
Cameron Brooks

I really appreciate this story, but cannot shake a looming unanswered question that arises at the very beginning of the show: Exactly WHY are there no national database or records on shooting (but there are on other incidents)? I've heard reporting and allegations to the effect that laws passed by congress restrict and prohibit agencies such as FBI, CDC and other from compiling this information. This seems both deeply relevant to the story and a perfect thing for RadioLab to bring some clarity and illumination.

Mar. 19 2017 01:34 PM
LD from On the Road

Yet another mansplaining about how women "have fun" expressing their grief. Really Radiolab?! You can do better. Get some women covering these types of stories if you can't get it right.

Mar. 19 2017 12:32 PM
Allyson from Ontario, Canada

I am very disappointed with this episode. I felt that Matt Kielty, Robert and Jad displayed a real lack of compassion and imagination in the portrayal of and reaction to people who lost their loved ones to police shootings. Is it really so hard to believe that these mothers have connected with each other and become close friends? That they became the 'mothers of the movement'? That people who are bullied by police see police as bullies? These are all important facts, but I found the big pauses and *wow* (insert swelling music here) moments insensitive and offensive. It smacks of privilege and condescension. Come on, guys--you can do better than this.

Mar. 19 2017 07:49 AM
Truss from Philadelphia

Guys. This is Radiolab. The beauty of Radiolab is that when you're halfway through the story - and we are, which is why this is called "Shots Fired: Part 1" - you're pretty sure you already knew all this stuff. And maybe you want to argue about how it's being presented or just think you already have all necessary facts and the show is redundant. And then at some point during the second half they take it further or change direction or just totally surprise you. And then you think, "Well played, RK & JA. You clever beasts. Never saw that twist coming!"

Anyway if you don't want to take my word for it, here's the brief description of Part 2 from the podcast page:

"And next week, we bring you another, *very different* story of a police encounter gone wrong."

Stars(*) added for emphasis.

Mar. 19 2017 07:33 AM

I'm sorry, but looking at the 17% of African American population in Florida and extrapolating that 40% of people shot are African American is wrong.

Here's a scenario, you have a restaurant and are trying to determine how many dishes are broken by the dish washing team separated by race.
If you want to know which racial group in the team brakes the most dishes you can't poll from the entire population of restaurant workers because it will tell you nothing about the team, you must divide the dish washers by race and then calculate the percentages.
Just like in this case you have to look poll of people who commit crimes divide that by race and then start extrapolating (and even there you can subdivide further to violent crimes etc.).

The worst part is that this is such an obvious mistake that it is hard to put to simple error.

Radiolab please stop lying to your listeners.

Mar. 19 2017 01:57 AM
Rico from midwest

As a police officer I am glad you are talking about this issue. I have chosen to work in internal affairs. I judge actual uses of force every day. I could feel you trying to be as fair as possible, but the slant of the story still was anti-police. It is hard to balance out grieving mothers so I expected that. My biggest concern was with your ending note that police are bullies who don't care about consequences and purposefully kill the innocent. That could not be further from the truth. Police officers today are afraid of losing their jobs at every incident. The last thing 99% of officers want to do is use their guns. Only in the last few years did I have to start citing officers for NOT using force (sometimes causing other officers to be hurt because of their inaction). Police officers are growing more afraid to act and intervene. You will see the results more and more of police inaction.

Being in internal affairs, I see the problems with officers, such as being reluctant to criticize each other. But widespread racism and homicidal behavior is simply not there. White officers are relieved when they use force on a white subject because the scrutiny is far less. I'm also amazed how everyone who thinks white police are racist forget about all the minority police officers that have to make these same difficult decisions in split second situations. There are no statistics showing white officers kill more black people than minority officers do.

Police kill around 1,000 people are year. Roughly 800 of those are completely fine. Around 200 are good shoots, but better tactics could have had a CHANCE to change the outcome. Then there are a dozen or so left that are bad shoots. That is MINUSCULE compared the number of contacts citizens have with police every year. This is not a widespread problem and trying to blow it way out of proportion (causing hysteria, riots, police hatred) does not make society safer or more peaceful.

Mar. 18 2017 09:08 PM
Garrett from Brooklyn

This episode blew me away. I was moved, intrigued, shocked, educated.... keep up the amazing work.

Mar. 18 2017 06:43 PM
CC from Endicott, NY

Just listened to this episode. I was very interested because I am an activist whose main cause is ending the drug war. As you can imagine when studying this issue I cringe at how unfairly our criminal justice system is meted out toward black and poor communities. I recently read something about the first thing the cop that killed Michael Brown said to MB and his friend as he rolled up on them
...his first interaction with those young men that day was to tell them to "get the f on the sidewalk".....?! To me, that is why MB is dead. The cop could have handled that situation with humor and/or respect for who he was talking to, but instead he chose to humiliate and shame young men who are at age that testosterone flows at the highest human levels through their veins. I then thought about an upper middle class suburb not too far from where I live. People walk and jog in that area quite often and I tried to imagine a cop driving through that area telling people to "get the f on the sidewalk" and realize something like that would only happen in my imagination, because a cop would probably be fired if he did that more than once. The deeper I dig into the prison industrial complex, the more I see slavery never ended in this country. I often tell my friend if I were a black man, I'd be very scared to leave the house. I do think poor communities in general are targeted by the police state, and upper and middle classes are pretty much ignored (even though statistics say drug use is exactly even regardless of race or social class). A couple other things I'd like to share is 1. A great documentary related to the prison industrial complex (13th) 2. A database of people killed by cops, and unlike what you reported early in this podcast, I'm seeing a definite increase in these events:
Unfortunately, I don't have much optimism for America right now. I do believe most of the population outside of the elite are enslaved by the state; if not in body, in mind. People seem only to fight about which party is violently controlling them, instead of focusing on the fact that they are being violently controlled. Thanks for the great podcast.

Mar. 18 2017 12:13 PM
Cicero from Miami

Mar. 18 2017 09:35 AM

Very interesting show as always Radiolab... However I am hoping that part 2 looks at this from the other side of police shootings.

Please strike out and tell the story rarely told. The story about the families of police officers. From personal experience I can tell you it's a whole other world of emotions. Specifically the death threats aimed at officers involved in shootings that were or weren't justified.

Mar. 17 2017 05:55 PM
Adonté from Atlanta

This episode has completely misrepresented to circumstances of the police arrest of Sandra Bland. Very deceptive and selective editing on the audio from the day of the arrest was used in this episode. Radio Lab is not being honest.
In the full Sandra Bland audio she was the aggressor being very Rude, foul mouthed and extremely disrespectful to the officer. She caused her own arrest like so many others do.
Her death days later is a tragedy and should have never happened.
In the full audio the officer tried to talk reason with her just offering a written warningfor majority of their encounter.
I have link the full audio and video below. See and listen for yourself.

Mar. 17 2017 04:01 PM

This episode has completely misrepresented to circumstances of police shooting. Selective editing on the Sandra Bland audio from the day of the arrest was used in this episode. Radio Lab is not or being honest. In the full Sandra Bland audio she was most definitely the aggressor.
Search for full audio and hear for yourself.

Mar. 17 2017 03:47 PM
Melinda from NY

I really appreciate this episode and the reminder, amidst the political tumult that is currently consuming so much of our public discourse, that there is so much important work yet to be done on the issue of implicit bias in policing.

However, I felt compelled to comment due to Ben's discussion with Natasha at the end of the program about seeing the other side of the issue, cops having good intentions but making bad decisions, not wanting to "bully" people. While I agree with the general premise Ben posits, setting aside the notion of the proportion of "good" vs. "bad" cops within the police force, I think ignoring the presence of police officers with bad intentions is a mistake, and a hurtful one. I found it particularly striking in light of the story we heard just prior concerning Natasha's son, which dripped of abuse of power to my ears. Pulling the young man over on a bogus seat belt charge? Calling him "boy," which is demeaning to any man and also racially-charged in this context? And the audio of the Sandra Bland arrest is similarly disturbing for the power trip that that officer seems to be operating under.

I am a white woman, just to be clear, so I have not been subjected personally to such treatment, but I don't understand why Ben seems to be blind to the clear subtext of at least some of these incidents. Given that subtext, it felt like an obtuse and cruel question to ask of this grieving mother, to stand in the shoes of a "good" cop. I hope she knows that there are white people who understand that some police officers really are bullies, regardless of whether we personally experienced that bullying. Eradicating the system of such officers is an important problem to tackle, no matter how widespread.

Mar. 17 2017 01:49 PM
Charles Peden from Omaha NE

Totally in love with the Daytona police force now. Really brilliant and true heroes!

Mar. 17 2017 11:53 AM
Doug from Albuquerque, NM

I appreciated the effort put into this reporting but thought that some critical information was ignored.

While the total police shootings of black men as a percentage of the total was noted (~40% of shootings were of black people whereas their % of the population was much less), you never noted the total # of violent crimes committed by black people. This is critical because it indicates the percentage of times the police interact with black residents where a pattern of violence and disdain for the law has already been established.

The state of Florida publishes crime statistics by race available right now from 1998-2015. From this one can see that the total number of police shootings is on part with what one would expect, perhaps even a little low, given the percentage of violent crimes which involve black people. In the second link, I have added a tab to an excel table which totals the crime stats across all years.
http :// cms/FSAC/Data-Statistics/UCR-Arrest-Data.aspx
https :// goo dot gl / 870auQ
(remove spaces, replace dot with a period)

Murder 53%
Forcible Sex Offenses 35%
Robbery 58%
Aggravated Assault 42%
Burglary 36%
Larceny/Theft 33%
Motor Vehicle Theft 46%


Regarding the officers' statement about people with gun permits being good people, I would never assume that if I was a cop. I'm a gun owner and the vast majority of my friends are as well. I have taught my kids what my friends all practice when carrying. When pulled over one needs to place one's hands on the steering wheel, inform the cop of that one has a concealed weapon's permit and gun nearby, and ask him/her how to proceed. This tells the officer not only that one has a gun but that one wants to co-operate in a non-threatening manner, and it's just common sense. Telling an officer that you have a gun and then reaching for your back pocket when he is screaming at you to put your hands on the wheel is a very threatening action. The right to bear arms (especially in a concealed manner) comes with extreme responsibilities due to the inherent danger and purpose of weapons. Making sure police know that you don't pose a danger to them is one of those responsibilities.

Mar. 17 2017 11:48 AM
Riley P from West Tennessee

Brian, I came here to see what others might be saying about this episode and I am so glad to see an individual who really tries to understand rather than blindly jump to one side or the other. I whole heartily agree with you. There is context of these cases that is either breezed by or simply not addressed, and I think that can be a big mistake. I am not saying this to say what happened to these victims was right or they "deserved' it, but reporting should tell both sides equally. I believe 100% there is corruption in law enforcement but more on the side of what you said with not pushing the officer to the level that anyone else would. I believe the process of becoming a police officer should also be looked into and made a little more difficult. That being said I think this is important to discuss but this episode felt a little one sided.

Mar. 17 2017 11:10 AM
Brian from boise, id

I honestly had a very hard time with this episode. Before I start: I am a firm believer in aggregating data on police shootings and I am certain that body cams are necessary in improving policing. Added to that, I very liberal on most fronts, certainly a far cry from any Trump supporter. There are inevitably going to be police abuse and violence. Cases like Philando Castile are prime examples of how police officers can be firmly in the wrong.

That said, I wholeheartedly agree with the anecdotal nature of these cases. When I see the Mothers of the Movement gain prominence I see this as creating a potentially toxic narrative.
1. You mentioned Sandra Bland. I believe this case can be an good example of how not to treat inmate check-ins and handle traffic stops. Casting doubt on the suicide however is venturing into the area of outright conspiracy. There is absolutely not evidence of this being anything other than suicide. In fact, Sandra wrote in her Booking Form that she had a recent suicide attempt. The family won a lawsuit against the County for this very reason. Please, please, please do not encourage conspiratorial behavior, this will only breed further distrust and divide. Sandra's inclusion in this discussion is even less toxic than that of Trayvon Martin, however, because Martin (who certainly was an emotional and tragic death) did not at all die at the hands of law enforcement and yet is constantly thrown into this discussion.
2. I have an issue with your portrayal of the Rodney Mitchell shooting. You described this scenario "Rodney, who was twenty three years old, was back from college and was driving his car". I will not assume ill intent in your reporting but I really want to take issue with the exclusion of Rodney's DUI conviction. Days earlier he had been told he cannot keep driving on a suspended license under threat of escalated consequences. I reference this, not to impune his name, but to give the case context. With this context in mind, his alleged failure to comply doesn't seem illogical (similar motivation as Marlin Brown). This does not negate the polices actions but it is very important to understanding their claims. Further, you really should bring up the third party forensic analysis that corroborated the deputy's claims. I realize this is a lot more detail than you might want for a story like this but in the search of truth we really need to move past narratives and misrepresentation.
3. Finally, I love you guys. I honestly wish the next installment gets into something we don't often see in reporting of these shootings. You need really need a legal perspective. Part of the narrative is that cops are corruptly being let off the hook (something I am sure happens) but especially in these high profile cases this is simply not the case. There are clear guidelines for justified force. If there are laws that are allowing these instances, target them. A withdrawn and unemotional look doesn't make good radio but it is needed too.

Mar. 17 2017 09:36 AM

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