Freudian slip? Sign of the times? Open mouth, insert foot? During a press conference following an officer involved shooting in Bardstown, Kentucky, Nelson County Sheriff Ed Mattingly made a statement that has people in a quandary.
In response to a question regarding a potential “backlash in the community” the Sheriff responded with, “We are glad that he is white, and we shouldn’t have to be worried about that,” then went on to say that “we do not want any backlash or violence in this community because people have been misinformed. I think that the public needs to know how the criminal justice system works and… what officers are able to do.”
This statement comes on the heals of several high-profile officer involved shootings that resulted in protests and even riots within the black community. Mattingly acknowledged the increased attention on police over the past year following the deaths of “unarmed” black men in New York City, Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, among other places.
“We must take notice of previous cases and how the media has handled those situations. We want the public to be informed and accurately informed. We do not want trouble,” Mattingly said during the Monday press conference. “The media has not done a very good job of informing the public, and the public is not educated on how the system actually works.”
The suspect, John Kennedy Fenwick, had mental issues. The Nelson County Sheriff’s office says within a 24 hour period before the shooting, they were contacted about Fenwick’s mental state. What began as a routine traffic stop by Bardstown police initiated due to an alleged reckless while Fenwick hung out the window yelling at the officer. A police chase ensued in which Fenwick rammed multiple police vehicles, causing one to burst into flames. Using the stolen red truck he driving as a weapon resulted on officers firing on the truck and injuring Mr. Fenwick. Police say Fenwick is currently in serious but stable condition at University Hospital. The multiple officers involved sustained no serious injuries.
Now we have to ask ourselves, were his comments racist? Were they an expression of honest relief that his community would not have to endure what so many others have gone through lately? Is the “black community” disproportionately “policed” due to institutional racism within law enforcement?
Here’s some facts, as best we can ascertain from the data available:
- Between 1999 and 2011, almost TWICE as many whites as blacks were killed by police. National Crime Victimization Survey.
- Whites make up roughly 63% of the population vs. 12-13% of the population being black. www.census.gov/
- From 2011 to 2013, 38.5% of people arrested for murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault were black. That is triple their population percentage. The vast majority of those crimes are committed by black males between 15 and 34, who make up only 3% of the population. According to FBI crime stats.
- In 2012, only 217 (or 1.2%) of all police departments even file fatal police shooting reports and of those that do, they are predominantly large urban areas with a disproportionately high black population vs. the national 13% national population.
Black vs. white crime, police shootings, etc. have a horrible data collection from which to draw definite answers. Lacking definite answers, the media typically “fills in the blanks” with sensationalism and junk science. So the questions remain:
- Is race an issue in law enforcement?
- Is the over-representation of blacks in crime statistics a race issue or a poverty issue?
- Was Sheriff Ed Mattingly wrong to express relief at the suspects skin color?
- Was he justified in being concerned about how the media would cover it otherwise?
- Is the media being irresponsible in the coverage of racial issues?