Getting Shot By Police Is A Leading Cause Of Death For Black Men In US

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Black men in America have a one in 1,000 chance of being killed by the police, according to new analysis. 

The study, looking at deaths involving law enforcement officers, found that black men and boys are two-and-a-half times more likely to die at the hands of police compared to white men and boys.

The analysis also showed black women and girls, Native american men, woman and children, Latino men, and boys are more likely to be killed by police than their white peers.

Frank Edwards, a sociologist at Rutgers University and leader of the study, told the Los Angeles Times

That one in 1,000 number struck us as quite high. That’s better odds of being killed by police than you have of winning a lot of scratch-off lottery games.

To put the number into context: according to the National Safety Council, black men and boys have less chance of dying due to drowning, fires or choking compared to being killed by a police officer in the US.

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Edwards, along with co-authors Hedwig Lee and Michael Esposito, concluded that police violence was one of the leading causes of death in the years 2013 to 2018. 

According to The Washington Post, 570 people in the US have been killed by police so far this year, with 130 of those being black.

Stories of debatable police behaviour and violence against black people in America are common: this year, a police officer in Kansas mistakenly shot an unarmed black man when she pulled out her gun instead of her taser; and recently, a Facebook Live stream of police officers in Royal Oak, Michigan, questioning a black man for reportedly ‘looking suspiciously’ at a white woman went viral.

Protesters and activist groups have been shining a light on police brutality after Michael Brown, an 18-year-old unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed by a police officer in August 2014.

Later that month, Eric Garner, also black, died after a New York police officer subdued him with a chokehold. In 2015, 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was carrying a pellet gun, was fatally shot by a police officer. These are three high-profile cases in a storm of disproportionate use of force against people of colour in the US.

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The researchers said that accumulating the numbers of police killings and calculating the true rate is difficult due to the limited, ‘conservative’ data.

Edwards added:

We believe these numbers, if anything, are a little bit conservative, maybe a bit too low. But we think that these are the best that can be done in terms of just getting a baseline risk estimate out there.

Edwards and his colleagues turned to Fatal Encounters to pull the numbers together – it’s a journalist-led system, endorsed by the federal government’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, that collects information on police violence that’s available through news coverage, public records and social media.

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With a combination of Fatal Encounters and the National Vital Statistics System, the team calculated police violence rates according to age, race and gender – cases police described as suicides and those involving a vehicle collision or accident such as an overdose or a fall were excluded.

Native American men are 1.2-1.7 times more likely to be killed by police, whereas Latino men and boys face a risk 1.4 times higher than white men and boys.

Black women were about 1.4 times as likely to be killed by police as white women, while Native American women were between 1.1 and 2.1 times as likely to be killed as their white peers.

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The researchers found that the early 20s are a particularly dangerous time for young men – police use of force accounted for 1.6% of all deaths of black men between the ages of 20 and 24 during the study period.

Justin Feldman, a social epidemiologist at the New York University School of Medicine who called the mortality rate for black men and boys ‘staggering’, told the Los Angeles Times:

That’s quite meaningful. If it’s not you being killed by police, it’s someone you know or someone in your community.

The United States is unique among wealthy democracies in terms of the number of people that are killed by its police forces. I think the number one thing it comes down to is a lack of accountability by police departments, both legally and politically.

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Abigail Sewell, a sociologist at Emory University who did not work on the report, said ‘it was a really unsettling paper’. She cited unnecessary police contact as an aggravating factor, and that psychiatric help for officers could perhaps lessen the amount of fatal violence, as well as diminishing the racial disparities.

Sewell told the Los Angeles Times

But I’m not sure if the disparities would disappear altogether. These women and these men… are living in neighborhoods that are over-policed, where the police are very brutal in the way they treat citizens.

The researches say they need more information to help combat the problem: for example, information on police stops, regardless of whether they end in arrest, would help in aggregating the incidents to show whether there is a definite racial bias. Retired police officer Neill Franklin told the Los Angeles Times the officers need to be monitored more.

Franklin explained: 

We need to do a much better job on monitoring the interactions of our police officers as they’re going about their daily duties. I think we would be foolish to believe that we have solved to any great extent the issue of racial profiling in this country regarding police.

The researchers added that acquiring this information will require steadier co-operation from the country’s police departments.

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