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

NEW! The Law of Self Defense proudly announces the launch of its online, on-demand state-specific Law of Self Defense Online Training.  These are interactive, online versions of the authoritative 5-hour-long state-specific Law of Self Defense Seminars that we give all over the country, but from the convenience of your laptop, tablet, or smartphone, and on your own schedule.  Click over for more information on our state-specific Law of Self Defense Online Training, and get access to the ~30 minute Section 1. Introduction for free.

Andrew F. Branca is an MA lawyer and the author of the seminal book “The Law of Self Defense, 2nd Edition,” available at the Law of Self Defense blog (autographed copies available) and (paperback and Kindle). He also holds Law of Self Defense Seminars around the country, and provides free online self-defense law video lectures at the Law of Self Defense Institute and podcasts through iTunes, Stitcher, and elsewhere.


Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.