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'Gun death' at hands of police demonstrates public's need for relevant data

February 21, 2015
11:11 AM MST

What justification can government give for not keeping track of police shootings of citizens? Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images A woman has been shot dead by police in Gastonia, N.C. Betty Sexton had called 911 to have unwelcome guests removed from her home, and was in the process of obeying orders to put down an old musket she was protecting herself with when Officer LaDoniqua Neely shot her in the chest, WCCB Charlotte reported Tuesday, quoting the dead woman's sister.

Per Steve Watson of Infowars, "Gastonia Police have already shot and killed three people so far this year." In that report, he links to another in which Gastonia Police killed a sick veteran.

In the Sexton case, the State Bureau of Investigations has taken over. Additionally, and this is important, a neighbor warns against drawing "conclusions based off one-sided information. That's reckless."

That's a valid point. As we would expect a presumption of innocence until proven guilty, so too are law enforcement professionals entitled to the same rights. As has been pointed out in my explanation for the "Only Ones" meme established on The War on Guns blog, a main purpose of that feature is to ensure police are not exempted from standards of conduct "ordinary citizens" would be punished for. The flip side to that is, it would be grossly unfair to penalize a cop for shooting in a situation where gun rights advocates would support a non-LEO's self-defense claim.

Unfortunately, the scope of the problem is unknown, and that's something Neill Franklin, a "34-year veteran of the Maryland State Police and Baltimore Police Department," is trying to change.

Franklin has authored a petition posted at Change.org to "Create a national database for police shootings." To date, he's collected over 50,000 of the 75,000 signatures he's seeking

"[I]t troubles me that there is no national database to track police shootings of civilians," Franklin explains. "This means that we don't know exactly how many people are killed by police each year. And lawmakers and other authorities don't have the information they need when making decisions about policy changes that could save lives."

In his role as Executive Director of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition), Franklin has been a leading voice in opposing the "ignorance, stubbornness, unsubstantiated fear and greed"associated with criminalizing drugs, and now works "to reduce the multitude of harmful consequences resulting from fighting the war on drugs and to lessen the incidence of death, disease, crime, and addiction by ending drug prohibition."

With his additional effort to establish real knowledge about police shootings, Franklin is once more showing how positive change can be effected by those who value civil liberties working within law enforcement, and how citizens partnering with them can help to bridge the gulf of "us vs. them" mistrust.

Such a database would, of course, not affect the outcome of the current Gastonia investigation, but what it would do is ensure those results are properly recorded and categorized. That would provide a superior means of providing oversight, both by government investigators and private citizens acting in the capacity of lawyers, journalists and watchdog activists. That, in turn, should complement Franklin's ultimate goal when he's wearing his LEAP hat, "to reduce the multitude of harmful consequences ... and to lessen the incidence of death."