A report by the Washington Post found that twice as many people were being killed by police as FBI figures previously accounted for, while the Guardian showed how much more likely blacks were to be shot.
A protestor hangs a banner atop the flagpole of the Oakland Police Department Monday, Dec. 15, 2014, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
WASHINGTON — Two reports improve on the government’s incomplete statistics about America’s epidemic of police violence, showing just how deadly cops have become.
According to statistics compiled by the Washington Post, two people were killed by police officers every day since the start of this year, for a total of 385 killed as of May 30. The report’s authors carefully documented each killing, and each incident is broken down by race and gender. The study only examined deaths by police shooting, ignoring other causes of death like stun guns.
According to the Post:
“About half the victims were white, half minority. But the demographics shifted sharply among the unarmed victims, two-thirds of whom were black or Hispanic. Overall, blacks were killed at three times the rate of whites or other minorities when adjusting by the population of the census tracts where the shootings occurred.”
Over 80 percent of those killed were armed with a “potentially lethal object,” ranging from gun possession to cases in which the victim had been “revving vehicles” at police. But about 16 percent of those killed were either unarmed or holding a toy weapon when they were killed. The statistics were drawn from a broad array of sources, from police and news reports to Internet databases like Killed by Police and Fatal Encounters.
Meanwhile, just 14 police officers were killed during the same period, backing up previous reports of the relative safety of policing, compared to other industries, like roofing, mining or farming.
The Guardian published its own independent analysis of police killings on Monday. That report showed that of 464 people killed by police in America so far this year, 102 were unarmed at the time of their death. The higher total in the Guardian includes additional killings, including those who died from being hit with stun guns and struck by police vehicles, as well as those who died after being brutalized in custody.
The authors write: “Guardian reporting found that 32% of black people killed by police in 2015 were unarmed, as were 25% of Hispanic and Latino people, compared with 15% of white people killed.”
These new statistics highlight the need for better tracking and more oversight of police killings and violence in the United States. The Post says its figures show police killings occurring at twice the rate previously estimated by the federal government, whose figures are infamously incomplete.
“It’s ridiculous that I can’t tell you how many people were shot by the police last week, last month, last year,” said FBI Director James Comey, as quoted in Matt Ford’s May 31 article, “The Missing Statistics.”
According to Ford, the lack of government data on police killings is just one of many poorly tracked statistics, from the number and racial makeup of prisoners in solitary confinement (at least 80,000, according to some estimates) to the percentage of non-whites with criminal records (about 25 percent of Americans overall have records).
Ford writes that better data is crucial to helping policymakers and activists push for solutions to the systemic racism of America’s criminal justice system.
“Now that a growing bipartisan consensus recognizes the problem exists, gathering the right facts and figures could help point the way towards solutions,” he concludes.
Both the Washington Post and the Guardian will continue tracking police violence this year.