Black men 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police violence in US than white men
A research team estimated the risk of being killed by police use of force in the US by age, race, and sex, and found that across all groups, fatality risk peaked between the ages of 20 and 35 years
Police violence is one of the leading causes of death for young men in the US, with the risk of being killed by police peaking between the ages of 20 years and 35 years for men and women and for all racial and ethnic groups.
Young men of color are particularly more likely to die from police use of force compared to young white men, according to the study by researchers from Rutgers University, Newark; Washington University in St. Louis; and University of Michigan.
Black men are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by the police over their lifetime as compared to white men, while black women are 1.4 times more likely to be killed by police than white women. The researchers emphasize that the findings reinforce calls to treat police violence - which has increased by as much as 50% since 2008 - as a public health issue.
Racial disparity has been tied to police encounters in the US, but the rates of fatal encounters have remained unclear. Accordingly, to determine how age, race, and sex affect fatality risk from police violence, the researchers analyzed 2013-2018 data from the National Vital Statistic System’s mortality files and Fatal Encounters, a journalist-led effort to document deaths involving the police.
Examining fatality risks during police encounters - about 11,456 between 2013-2017 - the researchers found that African-American men and women, American Indian/Alaska Native men and women, and Latino men face a higher lifetime risk of being killed by police than do their white peers.
“The inequality is not surprising. All you have to do is turn on the news to see that people of color are at a much greater risk of police-related harm. What we lack in this country are the solid estimates of police-related deaths because there is no official database where this information is stored,” says lead author Frank Edwards, assistant professor in the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University-Newark.
The analysis shows that risk is highest for black men, who (at current levels of risk) face about a 1 in 1,000 chance of being killed by police over the life course. The average lifetime odds of being killed by police are about 1 in 2,000 for men and about 1 in 33,000 for women.
The team found that the risk of death for each group peaks between the ages of 20 and 35 and declines with age. The highest mortality rate for men is between the ages of 25-29 when police use-of-force is considered to be one of the leading causes of death, just behind accidents - including drug overdoses, motor vehicle traffic death, and other accidental fatalities - suicide, other homicides, heart disease, and cancer.
“Police in the US kill far more people than do police in other advanced industrial democracies. Violent encounters with the police have profound effects on health, neighborhoods, life chances, and politics. Policing plays a key role in maintaining structural inequalities between people of color and white people in the US. The killings of Oscar Grant, Michael Brown, Charleena Lyles, Stephon Clark, and Tamir Rice, among many others, and the protests that followed have brought sustained national attention to the racialized character of police violence against civilians. Social scientists and public health scholars now widely acknowledge that police contact is a key vector of health inequality and is an important cause of early mortality for people of color,” says the team in their findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
They add, “Our results show that people of color face a higher likelihood of being killed by police than do white men and women, that risk peaks in young adulthood and that men of color face a nontrivial lifetime risk of being killed by police.”
The assessment reveals that American Indian men are between 1.2 and 1.7 times more likely to be killed by police than are white men, and American Indian women are between 1.1 and 2.1 times more likely to be killed by police than are white women. Latino men, says the team, are between 1.3 and 1.4 times more likely to be killed by police than are white men, but Latina women are between 12% and 23% less likely to be killed by police than are white women. The researchers found that both Asian/Pacific Islander men and women are more than 50% less likely to be killed by police than are white men and women, respectively.
“Among all groups, black men and boys face the highest lifetime risk of being killed by police. Our models predict that about 1 in 1,000 black men and boys will be killed by police over the life course. We predict that between 36 and 81 American Indian/Alaska Native men and boys per 100,000 will be killed by police over the life course. Latino men and boys have an estimated risk of being killed by police of about 53 per 100,000. Asian/Pacific Islander men and boys face a lifetime risk of between 9 and 23 per 100,000, while white men and boys face a lifetime risk of about 39 per 100,000,” says the paper.
Women’s lifetime risk of being killed by police is about 20 times lower than men’s risk, shows the study. Among women and girls, black women’s and American Indian/Alaska Native women’s risk is highest - the research expects between 2.4 and 5.4 black women and girls to be killed by police over the life course per 100,000 at current rates. The study says American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls are killed by police over the life course at a rate of about 4.2 per 100,000.
“Latina and white women and girls have similar lifetime mortality risks, at about 2 per 100,000. Asian/Pacific Islander women and girls are at the lowest risk of being killed by police for all groups, with a lifetime risk of about 0.6 per 100,000. However, when other causes of fatality are included in risk estimates, particularly vehicle-related deaths, risk estimates more than double for women across all racial and ethnic groups,” says the study.
The research team highlighted the need to increase the transparency of police use-of-force to decrease the number of civilian deaths in the US as a result of these encounters. Stating that both public interest and social science are “served by increasing transparency” with regard to police use of force, the team stateed that the Bureau of Justice Statistics needs to develop a comprehensive system that would track police-related deaths.
The researchers recommended reforms, including the creation of more social welfare and public health programs, adequate funding of community-based services and restricting the use of armed officers as first responders to mental health and other crisis situations where police killings have taken place.