In the US, Black People Are Over Three Times More Likely To Be Killed By Police Than White People

March of Silence in Seattle, Washington, on June 12, 2020, in support of Black Lives Matter. VDB Photos/Shutterstock

Katy Pallister 24 Jun 2020, 19:00

As protests against police violence continue, new statistics reveal that Black people are 3.23 times more likely than White people to be at the end of a fatal police attack in the US.

Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Massachusetts, used data from the comprehensive and independently-validated database Fatal Encounters. Their analysis focused on the 5,494 police-related fatalities recorded in the US between 2013 and 2017, the vast majority from gun-shot wounds. As the information covered every metropolitan statistical area (MSA) in the US, surpassing the geographical precision of previous work in this field, conclusions could be drawn across both race and area.

“Nationally, Black people are at much higher risk of being killed by the police, but in some places the difference is truly enormous: Black Chicagoans are more than 650 percent more likely to be killed than White Chicagoans,” co-authors Gabriel Schwartz and Jaquelyn Jahn said in a statement.

These areas of greatest Black-White inequities are the same MSAs with the lowest overall rate of police-related fatalities (Northern Midwest and Northeast). Yet in the MSA with the smallest inequity, Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, Black fatalities were still 1.81 times greater than White fatalities. The overall statistics also point to large variations across the country.

“People’s risk of fatal police violence varies hugely from one metro area to another; some metros have death rates 9 times those of other cities, which points to how preventable these deaths are and why so many people are protesting police violence across the country,” Schwartz and Jahn said.

Whilst the researcher’s data originated from the most comprehensive source on police-related fatalities at this time, there are some limitations to be considered. For example, not all incidents are reported. There is a possibility of racial/ethnic misclassification as it is not self-reported, and the cause of death could too be wrongly stated (such as accidental versus non-accidental). But the overriding conclusions still stand – racist policing has a fatal impact on Black people.

“This work points to historically-rooted racism, manifesting, for example, in different patterns of residential segregation, criminal justice policy, and policing practices across different regions of the United States as well as contemporary anti-immigrant racism, particularly in the Southwest,” Schwartz and Jahn concluded in their paper, published in PLOS One.

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