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Mapping police violence against Black people in the United States

by Nellie Peyton | @nelliepeyton | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 24 June 2020 16:41 GMT

FILE PHOTO: New York Police Department (NYPD) officers are pictured as protesters rally against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Times Square in the Manhattan borough of New York City, U.S., June 1, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

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A new study shows that police brutality and racial violence vary widely by location

By Nellie Peyton

WASHINGTON, June 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Protests over racial injustice have swept the United States and ignited debates about defunding the police. But there remains little accurate and comprehensive data on how much police violence against Black people occurs around the country.

As the Black Lives Matter movement grows, analysts are combing through data to identify where in the country these problems are worst.

Researchers at Harvard University on Wednesday published a study analyzing fatal police violence in the United States from 2013 to 2017. Here are some key takeaways:

Why does data on police violence matter?

Despite decades of complaints about police brutality, a lack of comprehensive reporting by police agencies has meant there are few reliable figures on the disproportionate violence experienced by people of color around the country.

The lack of data has made many Americans unaware of the scale of the problem and police less accountable for their actions.

There are exceptions: the Washington Post built a team of researchers and data editors to gather information about every fatal shooting by police, including the race, gender and age of the person killed and the circumstances of the shootings.

How big is the problem?

An analysis of data collected by the citizen initiative Fatal Encounters showed police violence accounted for one in 12 of all homicides of adult men between 2012 and 2018.

The same data showed that about one in 1000 Black men could expect to die at the hands of police in their lifetime.

For Black men in their 20s, police violence was a bigger cause of death than diabetes, pneumonia, chronic respiratory disease or cerebrovascular disease.

What does the new study tell us?

Black people were 3.23 times more likely to be killed by police compared to white people, according to the researchers' analysis of more than 5,000 incidents across the country.

This rate varied widely by location. In the Chicago area, the rate of killings by police was 6.5 times higher for Black people than for white people. 

Where does it happen?

The highest overall rates of deaths caused by police violence were in the West and Southwest and the lowest overall rates in the Northeast and Midwest.

The parts of the country with low rates overall, such as the Northeast, were also where Black people were more disproportionately affected.

Why does police violence occur more frequently in some areas than others?

The study does not explain why police violence is so much worse in some places than in others.

However, several factors that likely contribute are level of segregation, differences in police training and police department protocols and local gun laws, the authors said. 

What's next?

So far 16 states have introduced or amended more than 150 police reform bills and at least nine have become law since Floyd's death.

Some of the measures that lawmakers are proposing include banning chokeholds, restricting "no-knock" warrants and giving states more power to investigate and prosecute police misconduct.

Related stories:

In a U.S. first, California city set to ban predictive policing 

End racial injustice? Abolish prisons, some U.S. activists say

George Floyd: America's racial inequality in numbers 


(Reporting by Nellie Peyton; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)


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