Updated April 5th, 2018
Data collected by the Washington Post on the use of lethal force by police officers in 2015, 2016, and 2017 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 bottom blue bar) according to the US Census estimates of 2015 (the most recent available), 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, 22% 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 (45% in 2017), BUT they also make the majority of the population (62% in 2015). As of April 2, 2018, 58 Blacks (21% of the 277 people), 121 Whites, and 37 Hispanic/Latinos had been killed by police.
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 2015, 2016, and 2017. While the number of unarmed Blacks killed by police dropped by half between 2015 and 2016, from 38 to 17, 2017 shows no sign of further decline with 19 deaths. 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 April 2, 2018, four Blacks that were unarmed have been killed by police this year.
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 are 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. As of April 2, 2018, 28 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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“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.
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.
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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