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Data on police killings bucks media narrative

Data on police killings bucks media narrative

90% of those shot by police were armed with a deadly weapon

One of the dominant theories of our time is that police officers are waging a Terminator-like war against unarmed young black men, killing them with a ruthlessness and determination evocative of a genocide, all the while escaping legal sanction.

The Washington Post, certainly not a paper to shy away from fanning the flames of discord, seems to have stumbled upon some actual data on the subject.  Their reporting of this data is, as one might have expected, far richer in anecdote than analysis, but nevertheless the snippets of data that slip through are perhaps noteworthy.

We start with a data point showing 385 police killings of suspects so far this year.

Of these 385 killings, only about 25% involved a black suspect.  While it is certainly true that this 25% is disproportionate to the 13% or so of the US population that is black, it is also true that black suspects are disproportionately represented among those arrested for violent crime in general.

Police shootings. Source-Washington Post

Police shootings. Source-Washington Post


Crime statistics gathered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation are informative on this last point. The data on arrests indicates that black people account for 56% of those arrested for murder and voluntary manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault/battery, and burglary.

Of course, not all those who are arrested for a crime are necessarily convicted of that crime, or even of any crime at all, but there’s no reason that this caution would not apply similarly to every demographic group captured by the FBI data.  Thus the tremendous disparity in arrest rates for the most violent crimes remains remarkable, and this remains so even if the claimed cause for the disparity is racism.

The result then is that the FBI data suggests that roughly 56% of the most violent crimes are committed by black people, but the Washington Post data indicates only about 25% of those killed by police are black people.  This would seem to be a disproportion favorable to black people.

So much for the assertion that the police are waging war on black people.

None of this suggests, of course, that police officers never use their weapons unlawfully, sometimes against black suspects. Naturally, where such cases occur they should be prosecuted vigorously.  One case authorities believe to fall into this category is the shooting this past April in South Carolina of Walter Scott by Officer Michael Slager, which Legal Insurrection reported on here:  Cop Shoots Fleeing Unarmed Black Man, Charged With Murder, and here Dash Cam Footage of Walter Scott Shooting Released, and here On shooting fleeing suspects.  Slager was promptly charged with murder and arrested.

Also interesting, of the 385 police killings nearly 90% involved the shooting of a suspect who displayed a deadly weapon, or apparent deadly weapon (e.g., a realistic looking toy gun).

Victim armed or unarmed. Source-Washington Post

Victim armed or unarmed. Source-Washington Post


There goes the “unarmed victim” claim.

In addition, the data do not tell us how many of the remaining 10% were cases like the “unarmed” attack on George Zimmerman, or of the “unarmed” attack on Officer Darren Wilson.  Both of those attacks were adjudicated to entirely justify the victim’s use of a gun in self-defense to kill their assailant.

I haven’t the stomach or time to dive into the many anecdotal events stuffed into the analysis in an apparent effort to dull the sharp edge of the reality this data represents, but naturally you should feel free to read the whole thing.

–-Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

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The UK paper the Guardian has done a similar study on American deaths by police with similar results, but one thing that can be seen there is that persons of color, and especially Blacks, are more than twice as likely to be killed while unarmed than are Whites, as a percentage of each racial group. (And they include things other than firearms as weapons, such as vehicles, BB guns and airsoft rifles, machetes, swords and blunt instruments.) Only 38 of 238 Whites (16%) killed by police were unarmed, while 43 of 136 Blacks (32%) killed by police were unarmed. So it would appear that while the absolute change of being killed by police, at least based on the total numbers is smaller if you are Black (something that I don’t think comes as a surprise), there is a clear indicator that the level of reaction or aggression may be higher with Blacks, which is exactly what the #blacklivesmatter movement contends. Like the Post study, the devil will be in the details, however.

    Assuming that there is indeed a heightened reaction of police to black suspects, I wonder to what extent that heightened reaction is a rational response to the fact that black people commit violent acts of criminality in gross proportion to their population?

    To put it another way, if we know for a fact that a certain demographic is committing violent crimes at rates 300%+ their representation in the population, is that a fact that should be ignored by a police officer when encountering a member of that demographic who is a valid suspect of criminal activity?

    Personally, I drive more carefully when it’s icy out. 🙂

    –Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

    Ragspierre in reply to jcarter50. | June 3, 2015 at 5:45 pm

    “…there is a clear indicator that the level of reaction or aggression may be higher with Blacks…”

    On which side? Because you have NOTHING to support what it appears you are saying.

    Could it not be a function of young black criminals being physically aggressive PLUS coming from a culture of hopelessness?

    “Only 38 of 238 Whites (16%) killed by police were unarmed, while 43 of 136 Blacks (32%) killed by police were unarmed.”

    I wonder if there are other factors that contribute to these numbers, such as whether black or white suspects are more or less likely to be operating in groups rather than alone, or be significantly larger/stronger/more aggressive than the officers (disparity of numbers and of size/strength, from a self-defense law standpoint).

    Also, the University of Washington ran a “deadly force” lab experiment last year, finding that responding officers take longer to pull the trigger against black suspects than against white or Hispanic suspects. It’s almost like the officers are double-checking themselves in the moment to make sure a black suspect is actually a threat before shooting, which lends credence to my question above about other contributing factors.

    The devil’s always in the details, but that doesn’t preclude him from being in the main thesis, too.

    BrokeGopher in reply to jcarter50. | June 3, 2015 at 6:10 pm

    That doesn’t indicate a different attitude by police toward black people. It could indicate that black people are more likely to force the police into using deadly force than are others. This would be consistent with the overall crime data.

    Bigurn in reply to jcarter50. | June 4, 2015 at 4:53 am

    Mr. Carter,

    Your supposition that “unarmed” = “non-lethal” is a logical fallacy. Wherein do these data show the hostile intent of an unarmed perpetrator? They don’t, and we can only surmise. But I wonder if there are more Mike Browns out there, unarmed but still willing to tangle with an armed officer?

    And before you tell me that “unarmed” cannot = “lethal”, take a minute to research how easy it is to inflict damage, including death, using only the body.

      jcarter50 in reply to Bigurn. | June 4, 2015 at 11:19 am

      As I said, the devil will be in the details. They could well show that some of the unarmed deceased were acting lethally in some way and there can be no doubt that the legal system has said that the vast majority of the killings were legally justified. But part of the #blacklivesmatter campaign (indeed, the most serious part of it in my opinion) does not contend that the officers were not legally justified in doing what they did, but instead that the officers could have taken steps prior to the confrontation to reduce the chance of that confrontation happening in the first place.

    Kerri in reply to jcarter50. | June 4, 2015 at 2:35 pm

    “43 of 136 Blacks (32%) killed by police were unarmed a clear indicator that the level of reaction or aggression may be higher with Blacks,”

    Ferguson…. Michael Brown at 6’4″, and well over 200lbs was unarmed.

    Could it be some blacks are more likely to be less cooperative and more aggressive towards police which results in the heighten stats?

“Unarmed” doesn’t seem like a particularly useful statistic.

Perhaps we should be distinguishing “committing a violent attack” from “just standing there”.

Trayvon Martin was unarmed. So was Michael Brown. Neither shooting was wrong.

In contrast, that guy who was carrying a gun with a license in a store and had someone call the police — he was shot just standing there threatening no one.

Armed and unarmed is absolutely the wrong thing to look at.

    clintack in reply to clintack. | June 3, 2015 at 7:37 pm

    Erik Scott was the name I was looking for.

    Gremlin1974 in reply to clintack. | June 4, 2015 at 12:24 am

    Yes, but “unarmed” better fits the narrative that is being sought.

    healthguyfsu in reply to clintack. | June 4, 2015 at 11:20 am

    I can’t fault the study for using unarmed based on how they probably acquired the data.

    On the other hand, you can ABSOLUTELY fault the media (who are smarter than they pretend to be) when they don’t take considerations like yours into account when crafting their BS narratives.

The Washington Post is saying that of the 365 men shot dead by police so far this year, 171 of them were white.

Those statistics are wrong and clearly raaaaacist.

Why, Chris Rock told us all just last week on Twitter that the police in the U.S. never shoot and kill white boys, just black ones.

So the Post is wrong . . . or those cops were colorblind . . . or something.

Hands Up, Don’t Shoot! Black Lives Matter! Protect the Narrative At All Costs!

    Char Char Binks in reply to Observer. | June 3, 2015 at 8:25 pm

    Chris Rock is desperately trying to keep from getting Cosbied after his “Nl6&r3z vs. Black People” bit and his “How Not To Get Your Azz Beat By the Cops” video.

    Gremlin1974 in reply to Observer. | June 4, 2015 at 12:26 am

    Yea and according to Geraldo citizens with guns “never help stop crime”…..well other than about the 2 million times the FBI reports that he is ignoring.

Char Char Binks | June 3, 2015 at 8:27 pm

If #BlackLivesMatter, why do blacks seem to take so little care in staying alive? They walk around with bb guns with the orange tips taken off and don’t seem to be aware when cops are not messing around.

More blacks are killed from abortions than being shot by the cops. Yet, no one seems to think that does not matter. Where are the black activists on this issue? Oh that is right, they support abortion in any stage of pregnancy.

How many of those black deaths are suicide by cop? Or do they even want refine that statistic?

Missouri CCW | June 4, 2015 at 8:11 am

So 49 unarmed people killed in the US in 2015. The US population is 318.9 million. Over 151 days, that’s 48.1 billion person-days. With 49 killed over 151 days, that’s 0.00000000102 people killed per day on average per capita over that period. The article was clearly meant to incite faux rage.

I could run the same statistics any given weekend in Chicago and the numbers would be orders of magnitude worse.

healthguyfsu | June 4, 2015 at 8:18 am


I lived 40 years of my life rural America WVa . I can tell you . There are areas of 99% white areas that are ghettos where the majority of whites live and that is where most of the crime is and people get hurt or shot in confrontations with police.The media does not understand statistics. They just understand agenda