"Officers, why do you have your guns out?"
- Kenneth Chamberlin, retired Marine and victim of police homicide
The long-festering problem of police violence in America has come into sharper and sharper focus in the past two years. In 2014, 1108 people met their end at the hands of people sworn to protect and serve. That’s more than three people every day, all year long. With numbers this big, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and lose sight of the individual tragedies that comprise this faceless, institutionalized horror.
In 2015, I decided to start taking a look at the faces of every person killed by police in 2015. I started to research them and learn more about their deaths. What I have found is deeply sad. Many of the victims of police violence were people experiencing mental distress – suicidal impulses or acute mental illness – whose families or friends had requested help from the people who killed them. In other cases, it’s unclear whether the victims were actually armed and dangerous, as the officers claimed after the fact. Still others were victims themselves – domestic violence and assault – that were accidentally shot by nervous, trigger-happy police arriving at the scene.
Police training and the use of force by police officers has come public scrutiny in the two years since I started this series. Citizens have questioned structures and policies that have disproportionately targeted communities of color and poor people.
As an artist, I am powerless to change the government structures and practices that result in the untimely deaths of so many people. Through my work, I can create more witnesses to these tragedies. My hope is that this series will spark a conversation that enhances police crisis training and changes gun use policies in the country that I love, protect and serve.