Updated August 24, 2018

Data collected by the Washington Post on the use of lethal force by police officers since 2015 indicate that, relative to the portion of the population, Blacks are over-represented among all those killed by police under all circumstances. As is evident in Figure 1 below, (looking at the top blue bar) according to the US Census estimates, Blacks made up 13% of the population. However, in 2015 they accounted for 26% of those that were killed by police, in 2016, 24%, and in 2017, 23% of all those killed by police. In other words, Blacks were the victims of the lethal use of force by police at nearly twice their rate in the general population. Whites make up the plurality of victims of police use of lethal force (47% in 2017), BUT they also make the majority of the population (61% in 2018). For the first half of 2018, Blacks make up 20% of all those killed by police under all conditions. The “other” category for so far in 2018 is noticeably larger than previous years. Currently, 86% of this category is the result of no racial or ethnic category being listed. This may change as further details emerge in each case.

The incidents that drive the protests and organization of Black Lives Matter are largely focused on the police use of lethal force on unarmed blacks. Figure 2 below, shows the cumulative number of unarmed Blacks (no weapon of any kind) killed by police in from 2015 through half of 2018. While the number of unarmed Blacks killed by police dropped by half between 2015 and 2016, from 38 to 17, in 2017 and the trend so far in 2018 shows no sign of further decline. While lacking data-backed statistical analysis, it is no stretch to imagine that the Black Lives Matters protests contributed to the decline. The impact of protests likely drove police departments (in locales of protest or distant police departments wanting to avoid the same lethal errors) to adopt new policies seek out new training, or more widely distribute less lethal tools like Tasers.

In comparison to the number for Blacks illustrated in Figure 2 above, 25 Whites were unarmed when killed by police in 2017, down from 30 in 2015. Twelve unarmed Hispanics were killed by police in 2017, down from 19 in 2015.

As of the end of June 2018, of the 102 Black individuals killed by police, eleven were completely unarmed (11% of the Blacks killed by police). Fifteen of the 211 Whites killed by police were unarmed (7.1%). Of the 68 Hispanics killed by police so far in 2018, two were completely unarmed (3%). Blacks account for 38% of the unarmed citizens killed by police so far this year. That’s three times the percentage of Blacks in the US population. Whites account for 52%of the unarmed citizens killed by police so far this year and Hispanics 7%.

While someone confronted by police without any weapon certainly does not deserve to be killed by police gunfire, I would argue that even those with a weapon other than a gun, should be able to be apprehended by police without the use of lethal force. Police should have the training, skill, and expectation that an encounter, even with a non-cooperative or fleeing citizen, should be resolved by means other than lethal force. Unfortunately, as is evident in Figure 3 below, compared to Black victims with no weapon at all (as seen above in Figure 2), those with no gun that were killed by police show a less dramatic decline between 2015-2017. In 2015, 115 Blacks who had no gun on them (but may have had a knife, a pipe, or been driving a vehicle) were killed by police. In 2016, the number of victims under the same conditions was 88 and in 2017 it was 92. Through the end of June 2018, 49 Blacks that were killed by police this year had no gun. That’s 48% of the Blacks killed by police.


Figure 4 above shows the percentage of each race/ethnicity that was unarmed when killed by police from all of those killed by police by race/ethnicity. In other words, in 2015, of all the Whites killed by police, 6.04% were unarmed, in 2016 4.51% were unarmed, and in 2017, 5.69% were unarmed. In 2015, of all the Blacks killed by police, 14.67% were unarmed, in 2016 we see a significant drop to 7.30% that were unarmed when killed by police, and in 2017, 8.76% of Blacks killed by police were unarmed when killed. Of all the Blacks killed by police, a higher percentage of them are unarmed compared to Whites and Hispanics. While we see a decline from 2015, in 2017 Blacks were still 54% more likely to be unarmed when killed by police compared to Whites.

Teach well, it matters.

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Here is an attempt at documenting all the unarmed people of color killed by police from 1999-2014

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 9.10.41 PMAlso, see some of my other related posts on this topic (click on the titles below to go to the full post):

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Click on the image below to go to the full story and polling data

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A recent study arguing that the militarization of the police helps neither them nor the community’s view of the police. Read more here

A recent article on the predictors of Black Lives Matter protests. Click on the image to link to the full article.

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“A review of the shootings of unarmed people shows that officers were reported to be under physical attack in about 40 percent of the cases. The remaining 60 percent involved a variety of circumstances, including individuals’ making provocative movements or verbal threats (31 percent) or fleeing, or being shot unintentionally or in undetermined circumstances, according to a review of news reports and video of the incidents. The news accounts cited in the Post database are typically summaries based on information provided by police at the time of each event.”

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“Instead of making officers more accountable and transparent to the public, body cameras may be making officers and departments more powerful than they were before.  …  First, many officers are (either earnestly or conveniently) forgetting to activate their cameras when they’re supposed to. Take the case of Terrence Sterling, an unarmed 31-year-old black man who was fatally shot this month by local police officers in Washington, D.C., after his motorcycle crashed into their car. Contrary to District of Columbia policy, no officer at the scene activated their body camera until after the shooting. The city released footage of Sterling’s final moments this week—but that video begins more than a minute after shots were fired. …. The third threat is that many states have introduced or passed new laws that restrict public access to footage while preserving police access.”


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The federal government will soon require police departments and law enforcement agencies to report information on the deaths of any citizens when interacting with police – during a traffic stop, after arrest, in jail, etc. The data will be gathered quarterly and will hopefully address any the gaps in the data that others, like the Guardian above, have tried to fill.

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The Washington Post also kept track of people killed by police in 2015 and they continue to do so in 2016. Their final count for 2015 was 990 people killed by police, compared to the Guardian’s count of 1,136 for the same period in the US. The lists will have to be analyzed more closely to determine the discrepancies between the lists. Similar to the Guardian, The Washington Post allows people to sort by race, gender, weapon (if any possessed by the victim), and age. However, they also allow for the sorting by any signs of mental illness of the victim and “threat level” that includes under attack, other and undetermined.

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The Washington Post data for 2015 indicates that there were 38 unarmed Black people (compared to 32 unarmed Whites) killed by police in the US, the Guardian reports 79 unarmed Black people (compared to 103 unarmed Whites) killed by police.

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And from earlier, this article explains why other national data is highly problematic, click on the image to link to the full article

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Also from last year, an article exploring the weakness in the FBI data on civilians killed by police. Click on the image to be linked to the full article.

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“With increasing use of police body cameras come new tests of transparency and trust. This half-hour documentary looks at the consequences for law enforcement and communities, from the rollout to the courtroom.”


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