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Police Violence A Leading Cause Of Death For Young Black Men In US, Study Says


Protesters in counter-demonstration against the far right’s Unite the Right 2 rally in Washington, DC in August 2018. Anton Bykov/Shutterstock

Police violence is a leading cause of death in young black men between the ages of 20 and 35 in the United States, according to new research.

Men between the ages of 25 and 29 experience the highest mortality rate, with police use-of-force being the sixth leading cause of death after accidents like drug overdoses and car accidents, suicide, other homicides, heart disease, and cancer.  


“We haven’t really known for sure how often these killings have been happening because the data hasn’t been good enough,” said study lead author Frank Edwards, from the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University-Newark, in a statement. “But if we are going to try and change police practices that aren’t working, we need to track this information better.” 

Throughout the life of a young man living in the United States, about one in every 1,000 black men can expect to be killed by police – 2.5 times that of non-Hispanic white men – with peaks occurring between the ages of 20 and 35 years of age for both men and women of all racial and ethnic groups. In general, black, American Indian, and Alaska Native people are “significantly more likely” than white men and women to be killed by police. Black women are 1.4 times more likely than white women to be killed by police brutality, while men overall are 20 times more likely than women.

Researchers turned to data compiled by Fatal Encounters, an effort led by journalists to document police-related deaths identified through media coverage and police records and then validated against published documents. Focusing on use-of-force deaths that excluded vehicular collisions, suicides, and accidents such as overdoses and falling, the researchers found that police-involved deaths varied across social groups and differed by race and sex.

“We find that African American men and women, American Indian/Alaska Native men and women, and Latino men face higher lifetime risk of being killed by police than do their white peers,” wrote the researchers in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, adding that “Latina women and Asian/Pacific Islander men and women face lower risk of being killed by police than do their white peers.”


The lifetime odds of men being killed by police are one in 2,000 – for black men, that rate doubles. Of course, the study is quick to point out a number of limitations. For example, the dataset included any death associated with police in any capacity such as those that may have involved violent offenders.

Regardless, the growing issue of race and police brutality continues to play in the center of national debate. An analysis by Mapping Police Violence shows that police killed 1,147 people in 2017. Black people were 25 percent of those despite being just 13 percent of the overall population, making them three times more likely to be killed by police than white people. Of those, nearly one-third were unarmed in 2015 compared with one-in-five white victims. Taken altogether, the researchers say their findings call for a more dynamic and accountable way of collecting data on police-associated killings. 

Generally speaking, young adults are more likely to be killed violently than those of older age, a phenomenon called the age-victimization curve that explains how younger people are more likely to engage in risky behavior. According to the study authors, police in the US kill far more people than police in other advanced industrial democracies, particularly when it comes to people of color and African Americans. The killings of Oscar Grant, Michael Brown, Charleena Lyles, Stephon Clark, and Tamir Rice have sparked national attention and protests and brought the question of racialized police violence to the scientific realm.

Stop Mass Incarcerations Network sponsored a children's march on the one year anniversary of Tamir Rice police-involved death in Cleveland, Ohio. a katz/Shutterstock


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