The recent police killings of Black civilians such as Breonna Taylor and George Floyd—and the mass protests in response—have refocused national attention on violence and racism in law enforcement. But to understand the problems you need to know the basics.
The United States is home to some 18,000 law enforcement agencies employing more than 900,000 sworn officers. This includes agents in federal bureaucracies like the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration, state police officers (often called troopers), and police in city and town departments. It also encompasses county sheriffs and their deputies.
In many places the law enforcement budget far outpaces that of any other municipal service. Police are unique among public employees in that they are granted the legal authority to use force in the course of their work.
While individual police may “protect and serve,” solving homicides and rapes, patrolling to deter crime, or answering calls for help, all too often encounters between police and communities of color have ended violently.
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