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Police Brutality: The Statistics

When discussing police brutality, one common argument is that minorities are disproportionately affected by police brutality. Read further to learn about the sources of these statistics.



The Study:


In 2015, the Washington Post began logging every fatal shooting by a police officer. Since then, there have been around 5,000 such shootings. Using data that’s constantly updated, the Washington Post has been able to easily identify concerning issues when it comes to police brutality. One such issue is the over-representation of minorities when it comes to those fatally shot by police. Minorities make up around 40% of the United States’ population according to the 2019 census, so accordingly, it would be expected that they account for 40% of fatal shootings as well. However, that is clearly not the case.


While minorities consist of 40% of the population, they make up over 50% of fatal shootings by police. White people consist of 60% of the population, but they only account for 50% of fatal shootings. While minorities are clearly killed at a higher rate than white people, the Black community finds itself at the heart of the discussion around police brutality more often than any other race, in large part because Black people are killed at a higher rate than any other race. We can break down the data sourced by the Washington Post even further, to see the injustice more clearly.


Black people make up 13% of the United States Population, but 26% of all killings, and 36% of killings while the suspect was unarmed. They are killed at a rate that’s twice as high as white people, which should be enough to see that there is a clear issue within our policing system as a whole. If, in the eyes of the law, all races were equal, then police shootings would reflect that belief and display that shootings are distributed proportionally throughout all races.


The Counterargument:


However, there are many critics who bring up several arguments in opposition to this data, citing opinions such as “Black people are more violent,” or “Black people commit more crime, so it would be logical that they would be shot more often.” This is a counterargument that must be considered, so it’s important to take a step back and examine the issues with the data presented by the Washington Post. While they are an incredibly reputable news source, the data that they gathered included instances of shootings that were not found in FBI or individual department reports. They relied on news reporting and social media for a portion of the data collected, so in cases where departments chose not to report the killing, the event was still factored into the data pool produced by the Washington Post. While this is a valid source of information, as police departments don’t always report every instance of a shooting, it opens up their methods of data collection to some degree of criticism by those who argue that unreported shootings cannot be added into the data pool, which is a fair observation.


So let’s look at another study done.


The Second Study:


In March of 2020, a group of researchers set out to conduct a study in which the data pool only used instances of police shootings that were registered by the police departments themselves. This way, the data used was self-reported by the departments, and therefore wouldn’t be subject to criticism. The researchers found that from 2014 to 2015, there were 616 civilian deaths that occurred as a direct result of a firearm discharged by an on-duty police officer. Then, the researchers categorized that data into seven types of incidents. The seven categories included situations in which police officers were responding to violent, in-progress crime scenes and domestic violence calls, among others. But one of the categories, category 6, was classified as having a “notable lack of apparent threat or assault by the victim.” Put simply, the person who was killed showed no threat to law enforcement. In this category, 35.4% of people killed by police while they showed no apparent threat were Black. Remember, Black people only make up 13% of the population of the United States. In comparison, white people made up only 33.3% of victims in category 6, while they consist of 60% of the population. Through this study, we can clearly see that Black people are over-represented in all data sets that deal with police brutality. Whether they were actively posing a threat or not, they still are shot and killed by police at higher rates than any other race. This is an undeniable fact, and one that cannot go overlooked.


Police brutality is an issue that affects all races across America, but as we saw two different studies prove, Black people are disproportionately affected, especially in instances where they aren’t posing a threat to law enforcement. These disparities are reflective of a much more widespread issue when it comes to policing.



Sources:


https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/PST045219


https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/08/09/what-weve-learned-about-police-shootings-years-after-ferguson/?arc404=true


https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/investigations/police-shootings-database/


https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11524-020-00430-0#Sec1