Great America

Compared to What?

The Gene McDaniels principle on police shootings.

The late Gene McDaniels came up as a jazz singer but in 1961 he scored pop hits with “A Hundred Pounds of Clay” and “Tower of Strength,” co-written by Burt Bacharach. McDaniels went on to write “Compared to What,” performed in fine style at the 1969 Montreaux jazz festival by Les McCann on piano and vocal, Leroy Vinnegar on bass, Donald Dean on drums, Benny Bailey on Trumpet and Eddie Harris on tenor saxophone. As this group confirms, jazz can indeed rock out, but there’s more to it.

In this tune, McDaniels tackles issues from materialism (“possession is the motivation”) to the Vietnam War (“folks don’t know just what it’s for” ) to King Tut (“he did it now”), and after each verse comes the refrain: “trying to make it real compared to what?” 

Today, in the quest for reality on the prevailing issue of police shootings, some like comparisons are in order. 

Through a Washington Post database, conservative commentator Larry Elder learned that U.S. police in 2019 killed nine unarmed African Americans. On the other hand, that same year police killed 19 unarmed whites, and “more cops are killed each year than are unarmed black suspects.”

According to the FBI, 89 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty in 2019, and of those, “48 officers died as a result of felonious acts.” Of the slain 45 officers, 45 were male, three were female, 40 were white, seven were black and one was Asian. “Offenders used firearms to kill 44 of the 48 victim officers,” the FBI explains, including 34 slain with handguns, seven with rifles, and one with a shotgun. 

Six of the victim officers were conducting traffic stops, and four were performing investigative activities. Three officers were involved in arrest situations and attempting to restrain offenders. Two of the officers were slain in an ambush and one was serving a court order. On the suspect side, 36 of the assailants had prior criminal arrests and 12 offenders were under judicial supervision. 

To make it real, compare that to the nine unarmed African Americans killed by police officers in 2019, this in a nation of more than 300 million people. Compare also what could be the worst police shooting of all time, which did not even take place in the United States.

In the run-up to the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, thousands of students assembled in Tlatelolco Plaza to protest the dictatorship of Mexico’s Partido Revolucionario Institucional, in power since the 1920s. On October 2, 1968, as NPR recalled, “police officers and military troops shot into a crowd of unarmed students” and thousands fled as “tanks bulldozed over Tlatelolco Plaza.” 

Eyewitnesses described “the bodies of hundreds of young people being trucked away. Thousands of students were beaten and jailed, and many disappeared.” Estimates of the casualties range as high as 3,000 and “under an authoritarian regime, no formal investigation into the killings was ever initiated.” 

Unlike Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with the murder of George Floyd, and Garrett Rolfe, charged with the fatal shooting of Rayshard Brooks at a Wendy’s in Atlanta, no one has ever been held accountable for this mass murder of unarmed students by Mexican police and soldiers. Television journalists like Jorge Ramos, essentially a Mexican government mouthpiece, tend to stay quiet on this mass murder but like to get vocal about injustice in the United States. To take this guy seriously, as Gene McDaniels put it, you’d have to be “some kind of nut.”

In America, critics of the police tend to ignore murder sprees such as the 18 homicides in a single day in Chicago. As ABC News noted, “between 6 p.m. on May 29 and 11:59 p.m. on May 31, Chicago police responded to at least 73 incidents in which 92 people were shot, including 27 who were killed.” Police were responsible for none of the shootings.

Last year, 89 police officers were killed in the line of duty, including 48 by felonious acts and 44 slain with firearms. Seven of the slain officers were African Americans and 40 were white. As Gene McDaniels asked, try to make it real, compared to what?