WASHINGTON — An analysis of more than 12,000 police homicides collected by the FBI over a 30-year stretch reveals that young black men were some 21 times more likely to be shot and killed by police than their white counterparts.
The analysis, by the award-winning outlet ProPublica, says its "risk analysis on young males killed by police certainly seems to support what has been an article of faith in the African American community for decades: Blacks are being killed at disturbing rates when set against the rest of the American population."
The data analysis is on the heels of the recent shooting deaths of a pair of young black men in Missouri. The Justice Department launched an investigation into the killing of one, 18-year-old Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri, this past August. On Wednesday night, an off-duty police officer shot and killed another 18-year-old, Vonderrick Myers, in nearby St. Louis. The killings sparked protests across the country and have become a flashpoint in a long-standing debate about the deadly use of force in policing young black men, racial profiling, and community relations with police.
The shootings have also raised additional questions about the racial composition of police departments across the United States.
There is no comprehensive federal database on police shootings, and according to ProPublica, "vast numbers of the country's 17,000 police departments don't file fatal police shooting reports at all, and many have filed reports for some years but not others."
Our examination involved detailed accounts of more than 12,000 police homicides stretching from 1980 to 2012 contained in the FBI's Supplementary Homicide Report. The data, annually self-reported by hundreds of police departments across the country, confirms some assumptions, runs counter to others, and adds nuance to a wide range of questions about the use of deadly police force.
Colin Loftin, University at Albany professor and co-director of the Violence Research Group, said the FBI data is a minimum count of homicides by police, and that it is impossible to precisely measure what puts people at risk of homicide by police without more and better records. Still, what the data shows about the race of victims and officers, and the circumstances of killings, are "certainly relevant," Loftin said.