The level of racial bias in American policing is overwhelming. Today, there is ample evidence to show Black people in the United States are far more likely to die at the hands of police, and the Black Lives Matter movement is calling it an urgent public health crisis.
According to a new study, currently there is no national, publicly-funded system tracking these deaths nationwide, but they can still be measured using public health data, and you can bet independent researchers are counting.
A new analysis of 5,494 police-related fatalities between 2013 and 2017 in the US reveals Black people are, on average, 3.23 times more likely to be killed than White people.
The data comes from a citizen science initiative called Fatal Encounters, which systematically verifies deadly police interactions using paid researchers who comb through online media reports and public records.
The findings are extremely worrisome, and match plenty of other studies. Previous research using this same database revealed 1 in 1,000 Black men can expect to die at the hands of police in their lifetime.
"In the wake of George Floyd's death at the hands of the police in Minneapolis and the following surge of protests against police violence, uncovering specific data on police-related fatalities in the US has never been more critical," the authors of the new analysis write.
Using complex multilevel models, the team estimated the rate of fatal police violence in every Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) in the US.
Comparing the results, it is clear that geography matters. On a national level Black people are much likelier to be killed by police, but in some places, the authors say the difference between races and ethnicities is "enormous".
In Chicago, for instance, Black people are more than 650 percent more likely to be killed by police than White residents.
In Atlanta, on the other hand, Black fatalities involving police occurred 180 percent times more than White fatalities.
Across all groups - Latinx, White and Black - fatalities were higher in the West and South than in the northern Midwest and Northeast.
"People's risk of fatal police violence varies hugely from one metro area to another," the authors write.
"[S]ome metros have death rates nine times those of other cities, which points to how preventable these deaths are and why so many people are protesting police violence across the country."
These findings are, of course, limited. Not all fatal police encounters are reported, and very often, a person's race or ethnicity can be misclassified.
Nevertheless, the authors argue Fatal Encounters is the most comprehensive dataset on deadly police force in the US right now. In fact, the team claims, it is more comprehensive than official numbers published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics' (BJS) and the FBI's Supplementary Homicide Reports, which have generally underestimated police-related fatalities; the BJS has actually endorsed Fatal Encounters.
What's more, other studies have settled on similar numbers, which suggests we're on the right track to uncover the whole picture. In 2019, research found Black men were up to 3.5 times more likely than White men to be killed by law enforcement.
"We have enough evidence that tells us that action needs to be taken," Justin Nix, a criminologist at the University of Nebraska Omaha told Lynn Peeples at Nature News.
"One thousand deaths a year does not have to be normal."
Preventing fatal police violence will likely require unique solutions for different areas, but monitoring and mapping these encounters is critical if the US public is to hold the government and police force accountable, while also preventing further needless deaths.
The study was published in PLOS One.