The Data Is In: Police Disproportionately Killed Black People in 2017

27 percent of people killed by police were Black. In all killings, only 1 percent of the officers involved were charged with a crime.

A 2016 protest over the fatal shooting of Keith Lamont Scott / REUTERS

In 2017, police killed 1,129 people. Officers were only charged with a crime in 1 percent of cases. And of the 1,129 people officers killed, 27 percent were Black — despite Blacks being just 13 percent of the population.

These are some of the statistics from Mapping Police Violence, which released its 2017 Police Violence Report at the end of December.

In the majority of the incidents — 631 — officers were responding to non-violent offenses or when no crime had been reported at all. Eighty-seven people killed had been stopped for a traffic violation.

Additionally, the data reveals:

• Most of the unarmed people killed were people of color (48 were Black, 34 were Hispanic, 2 were Native American and 2 were Pacific Islander — 50 were white, and 11 were unknown).
• Of those unarmed when they were killed, 35 percent were Black, and of those unarmed and not attacking, 37 percent were Black — despite only constituting 13 percent of the population.
• 92 percent of the deaths were shootings. The rest primarily involved Tasers, physical force, and police vehicles.
• About half of those killed by police had a gun on them at the time — but 1 in 5 of those people were not threatening anyone at the time they were killed.
• There were only 14 days in 2017 when no one was killed by a cop.
• During training, police recruits spend 58 hours — almost two and a half days — on firearms training — seven times longer than they dedicate to de-escalation training.
• Of the officers involved in killings that researchers were able to identify (534), at least 43 had previously killed someone, and 12 had multiple prior shootings.
• In the 12 instances officers were charged with a crime for the killing, nine had video evidence.

One argument is that Black people commit violent crime at higher rates than people of other races. According to FBI statistics, 26.9 percent of all people arrested in 2016 were Black. Of those arrested for murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, robbery and aggravated assault, 52.6 percent, 54.5 and 33.3 percent, respectively, were Black.

But this does nothing to explain the instances of racial profiling that exist even when no crime has been committed. In Missouri, for instance, Blacks were twice as likely as whites to be pulled over by police, but whites were statistically more likely to be carrying contraband.

Research supports the idea that the odds may be stacked against Black men specifically even where there’s no crime. A study published last year found that Black men are often perceived as being larger and more capable of causing harm than white men who are the same size.

“Racial Bias in Judgments of Physical Size and Formidability: From Size to Threat,” published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in March 2017, concluded that “people have a bias to perceive young Black men as bigger (taller, heavier, more muscular) and more physically threatening (stronger, more capable of harm) than young White men.”

“We found that these estimates were consistently biased. Participants judged the Black men to be larger, stronger and more muscular than the white men, even though they were actually the same size,” said John Paul Wilson, PhD, of Montclair State University, one of the study’s lead authors.

Regarding perceived harm capability, “Participants also believed that the Black men were more capable of causing harm in a hypothetical altercation and, troublingly, that police would be more justified in using force to subdue them, even if the men were unarmed,” Wilson said.

High-profile cases also exhibit stark differences in arrests. When Dylann Roof murdered nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., authorities apprehended Roof the following day in an uneventful arrest. Officers described the killer as “polite” and “quiet,” and pictures show what appeared to be a calm situation.

The arrest of Eric Garner was, unlike the arrest of Roof, violent and deadly. In July 2014, Garner was approached by NYPD for selling loose cigarettes. A verbal argument quickly escalated, and Garner was taken down and put in a chokehold. He repeatedly told the officers, “I can’t breathe,” but his pleas were ignored. Garner died from compressions to the neck and chest from being placed in the chokehold. Garner committed a crime very different from Roof’s and was treated very differently by law enforcement.

Previous research from the American Psychological Association (APA) drew similar conclusions. “The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children,” published in 2014, found that Black children and adults over the age of nine are seen “as significantly less innocent than White children and adults or children and adults generally.”

The police violence report also suggests that police are not using recommended best practices when faced with potentially violent situations.

For instance, 111 of people killed were armed with a vehicle. Of those people, 85 percent were killed because police shot at a moving vehicle. Researchers state:

“Experts, law enforcement groups, and the US Department of Justice recommend that police be banned from shooting at people in moving vehicles. These shootings are particularly ineffective and dangerous, since shooting the driver can make the vehicle an uncontrollable threat to both officers and the public.

“Despite this, most police departments continue to allow officers to shoot people in these situations.”

The data for the police violence report was put together by Mapping Police Violence. Two people involved with the report were DeRay Mckesson, an activist, supporter of Black Lives Matter and former candidate for mayor in Baltimore, and Brittany Packnett, a cofounder of Campaign Zero and a member of former President Barack Obama’s 21st Century Policing Task Force.

The last day data was collected was Dec. 26, 2017.

To view the full report click here.

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  • Disappointed Human

    Just looking for clarification: Were the statistics provided in the first 3 paragraphs put together by Mapping Police Violence (McKesson and Packnett)? Data can be misleading and I tend to withhold judgment until the source can be confirmed.

    • Yes, the statistics in the beginning of the article were provided by Mapping Police Violence. We have indicated this earlier in the article to make this more clear. Thank you for checking.

      • Disappointed Human

        Thank you. I admire and appreciate your utilization of quality references and (based on my quick review) reputable data sources. Is there a viable counter-argument to your assertion below?

        “One argument is that Black people commit violent crime at higher rates than people of other races. According to FBI statistics, 26.9 percent of all people arrested in 2016 were Black. Of those arrested for murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, robbery and aggravated assault, 52.6 percent, 54.5 and 33.3 percent, respectively, were Black.”

        While I do agree with you about the prevalence of criminal profiling, the only direct counter-argument I can come up with off the top of my head is the occurrence of systematic, institutional bias in the criminal justice system that artificially inflates the arrest rates for violent crimes by Black people. Certainly possible, but I’d need to do further research.

        • Last I looked, the top 17 people at the FBI were white. If Black people are such a problem, wouldn’t it make sense for the top 17 people to be Black?

          I think FBI statistics as suspect as their diversity efforts. A bunch of bull.

          • Greg Thrasher

            Ditto!!! Many cities in America do not provide their crime data to the FBI including Chicago


          • Disappointed Human

            My apologies, I don’t follow. Are you referring to the top 17 people in charge at the FBI?

            I just want to make sure I understand the logic. Crime statistics are always problematic and can be easily manipulated to suit an agenda. For example, the Mayor of New York claims that 2017 was ‘the Safest Year in New York City in Over a Half Century’. It is supported by NYPD CompStat data indicating the lowest murder rate this year, but “safety” can be so broadly defined that the statement is suspect at best and intentionally misleading at worst for residents and visitors.

          • Yes, that’s correct – the top 17 people at the FBI are all white – most of them men.

            That that fact supports your second paragraph. I don’t believe any of their data given the results of their human capital process. Rooted in the past, oblivious of the current situation and spring loaded to justify their reality, not solve the problem.

  • A great article, one to be saved, for breaking down the kinds of killings by race and color and situation. Many of us watch such trends, and know that if un-necessary killings occur, without sanction or adequate remedies even tried – there are major issues, but the research in the past has not tackled the places where bias, resentment (of those who perceived as criticizing police or USA) and unfamiliarity (across culture and race, speaking and self organizing styles, as well as physical differentiation), issues that confuse policing, along with lax of oversight ofvalue of focus on eliminating unnecessary force, all contribute to awareness of a fair system being broken. Thanks for the summary!

  • Greg Thrasher

    No criminal data nor mathematical ratios can validate or excuse away our police have for Black Americans

    The harassment of Black Americans by our police has no racial equivalency for any other collective in America. The police do more than shoot unarmed Black Americans they wage and uncivil war against Black Americans


  • If any of those who were shot done what the degenerate done in this story that took place near Ferguson, then what do you expect. Now this nice upper middle class retired Black neighborhood is faced with this perpetrators boarded up home causing a sore in the community and depleted property values. About a year or so ago another degenerate thinking idiot shot and killed a gasoline store attendant just 1/2 mile down the road. People get sick and tired of this preying type stupid behavior especially around this Black area. And the police officers did not immediately resort to deadly force even though they feared for their lives and to Ferguson’s protesters pleas. But guess what will become the procedures once again after this experience. These officers have a family and friends and are good employees in the community. Read: “Two police officers shot in north St. Louis County; Suspect in custody” then “Bellefontaine Neighbors man charged in killing of gas station owner”.

    • In some places I agree with you, but your lack of knowledge about history leaves off too many huge pieces of the problems. You seem to be speaking from the perspective of many who say that Black people cause their own problems – and I don’t know many who would disagree that drugs and alcohol make difficulties much worse than they might have been. Growing up in a family where parents were alcoholics, hidden behind affluence, I will speak always to the idea that drugs and alcohol in general but particularly when used by parents, are demoralizing and harmful to children and thus to neighborhoods. Yet historically, because of the life threatening nature of punishment meted out in white systems to Blacks, many Black families have hesistated to turn a frustrating relative over to the criminal justice system – they want things fixed, not their people and loved ones eliminated. I actually believe that widespread use hampers progress, distorts it, does not help men and women work together, to synchronize efforts to raise young.

      However…. without drugs, alcohol or crime involved, or with only minor crimes related to teenagers experimenting with an adult world, and making wrong choices – punishments for Black citizens has been historically a matter of brutality, fear, or locking them up for decades, and throwing away the key. Our systems in white leadership, liberal as well as conservative, are represented by institutions most often deaf to new information, running on bureaucratic rules and procedures, where it is horrifically difficult to add in information related to individuals – and particularly if any of those individuals are Black.

      So, you speak of depleted property values as if Black behavior caused that – but the history shows that white FEAR of Black behavior created massive separations on institutional levels – maintaining neighborhoods so separated by race that interchange of values was prohibited, and poverty builds in isolation. Meanwhile all separation of races is easily enforced, more with Black than any other group, through generations – because of widespread white lack of familiarity and avoidance, on a more unrelenting scale than with any other group – because Black citizens are so instantly identifiable even from a distance, as Black, not in terms of whatever is their lifestyle, character, age, class, culture or circumstance.

      So today we have some questions and generally, good conversations are sorting through more answers together, in each other’s view and presences, and hopefully this new opportunity will help us see values and efforts where they have been invisible, because only surface skin or other categories, were considered worth talking about.

      • Blacks themselves are sick and tired of the Ratchet Behavior and Predatory behavior being leveled

        • Blacks themselves are sick and tired of the Ratchet Behavior and Predatory behavior being leveled against certain groups of them by some of those who are indicated in this data. Blacks themselves will take flight to get away from such I know I am tired of it.

  • Washington Post has completely different statistics, how do you know that yours are correct?

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