Breaking Down the Numbers: Police Killings by Race in the US
The push against police brutality continues throughout the United States. Protests and demonstrations have occurred daily for months without any clear end in sight. And they should not, at least until some clear legislation is passed to address the continuing over-policing facing marginalized communities in the United States. Misinformation is one of the primary tactics used to push back against the efforts to drive police reform, with one of the main narratives focusing on the number of people killed by police officers. Unpacking those numbers show exactly why this tactic is yet another in the tired playbook use by racist voices looking to silence those from marginalized people.
To start this conversation, we must break down the numbers. The Washington Post has built a great database that tracks fatal shootings by police officers in the United States. This data goes back to 2015 across all 50 states. It is these numbers that are often twisted to push the narrative used to silence the outcry championed by this portion of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Since 2015 5,610 people have been killed by the police. Of that total 2,533 (45 percent) are white, 1,322 (23 percent) are Black and 924 (16 percent) are Hispanic. This is the main number that is highlighted by those looking to refute the fact that there is an issue with police killings happening within communities of color. But look what happens when you dive further into those statistics.
According to the United States population data (do not forget to complete your 2020 Census), 76 percent of Americans identify as white. This compares to 14 percent that identify as Black and 17 percent that identify as Hispanic/Latino. When you overlay those population statistics over the number of people that are killed by police officers, you see where the disproportions come into play. The Washington Post breaks those numbers out to show the differences.
- For every 1M people who identify as White in the US: 13 are killed by police
- For every 1M people who identify as Black in the US: 32 are killed by police
- For every 1M people who identify as Hispanic/Latino in the US: 24 are killed by police
The data shows that minorities are nearly two-times more likely to be killed by police officers than White Americans. What is even more troubling is when this data is overlaid with data from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which highlights the number of federal inmates by race. Thirty-eight percent of people in federal prisons identify as Black compared to 57 percent that identify as white.
The last data set that should be added into this conversation comes from the US Department of Justice which breaks down the annual race profile of arrests by year. Looking at the most recent data from 2018, 69 percent of all offenses are committed by white people compared to 27 percent for Black Americans.
As with any type of extensive research and data, the numbers tell only part of the story. Yet, in this situation the numbers presented tell a glaring part of the equation. Minorities make up small portions of the overall population of the United States. But they continue to make up larger segments of those people killed by police officers each year. What is even more frustrating is that these individuals are killed without any justification, investigations, or repercussions. When these situations involve Black and Brown people, the response is “well what was that person doing,” and an overt push to twist the outcome into one the person brought on themselves. One look at the recent developments in the Breonna Taylor case shows you how far law enforcement is willing to go to protect their own in these situations.
It is important to understand what data tells us when attempting to understand the plights of Americans today. Statistics can quickly be used to twist or frame a narrative, so dive into the numbers on your own to better understand what is happening. It is too easy and too lazy to believe what you are told to justify the hate in one’s heart. Do not be lazy.
Additional Resource: Mapping Police Violence