To watch the media's endless replay of bodycam or smart phone recordings, you would think the police get up in the morning eager to see who they can bully, slug, menace, grab, punch, push, throw to the ground or otherwise brutalize. I recall one episode recently in which a school security officer In Columbia, SC, was shown, in the words of Reason Magazine, as he "tackled a girl who was sitting in her desk, dragged her across the room, pinned her, and arrested her." The Reason article included a tape of the episode, which was re-played in the accompanying news segment not fewer than eighteen times.
Q: Why does it get re-played eighteen times?
A: To create the impression that this kind of thing goes on endlessly.
Q: How often does it actually go on, when we look at data rather than anecdote?
A: Next to never.
Q: How do we know that?
A: From this DOJ study, quietly released three weeks ago, which states, inter alia, "[A]n annual average of 44 million U.S. residents age 16 or older had one or more face-to-face contacts with police from 2002 to 2011, and an estimated 1.6 percent experienced the threat or use of nonfatal force during the most recent contact."
Or put differently, 98.4% did not. And this tracks the experience (1) as perceived unfiltered by the citizen, not as understood by the officer, and (2) it includes threats (i.e., words) in addition to actual force.
I regret to report that this sort of grossly misleading use of anecdote has become routine in public debate.