by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
What follows is a letter I wrote to New Jersey’s principal newspaper, which is constantly trying to convince us that the huge pension deficits created by bad public policy decisions (or perhaps by intentional public union busting strategies) can’t be fixed without dismantling the whole system and starting over. All options to do this create great sacrifices by hard working servants of the people who were promised pensions in exchange for lower lifetime wages than the private sector would be paid for comparable work.
“Taxing the rich won’t solve pension problems” claims the Star-Ledger in its editorial. Their point is that the “millionaire’s tax” vetoed by Gov. Christie wouldn’t plug the current pension gap.
Money is fungible. Whenever tax revenue is deleted from the budget, someone’s ox has to be gored. For decades that ox belonged to State employees. Their pensions is part their wage package and the reason their overall compensation is roughly parallel with the private sector. Not funding it was a deliberate choice.
Another fact hidden in plain view is that revenue deleted from the budget doesn’t have a line item to remind us of what’s missing. We end up blindly subsidizing profitable corporations instead of properly compensating ordinary folks who work for us.
It’s disingenuous for politicians (or the Star-Ledger) to speak of pension reform without also discussing the massive tax breaks that created this crisis. If tax cuts for businesses and people who don’t need it were rescinded, there would be plenty of revenue to fund the pensions.
by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
Michael Brown was killed on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, touching off community riots. Michael was African-American. The officer who shot him was white. Frustrations and local suspicions of racially biased policing, since then confirmed by a federal investigation, was simmering in that community for years. There have been other recent cases in the national news. There was the murder of Walter Scott of North Charleston, South Carolina, the sad shooting death of 12 year old Tamir E. Rice of Cleveland, Ohio and the choke hold death of Eric Garner in New York, to name just a few.
These shocking cases have focused national attention on what seems like a rash of questionable police killings involving minority citizens. Until now there has been no way of telling if the perception of police bias is due to media bias, statistical flukes or real patterns of differential policing in minority neighborhoods. A big question hanging in the air:
Is the use of deadly force disproportionately used in Black or Latino communities?
I will answer that question below using newly gathered data. The question can’t be answered by standard government statistics. There is no mandatory or systematic reporting of police killings in America. With 17,000 law enforcement agencies acting mostly on their own, fatal encounters are seldom noticed beyond local news accounts, the bulk of these relying on local police statements. There is no public notification requirement when people are killed by police.
That’s why it is a big deal that several citizens have begun scanning the internet for local news accounts of police action fatalities and compiling a listing of them on their KilledByPolice.com Website. Shocking preliminary findings show that in just 23 months of record keeping 2,181 people were killed in police encounters. For some perspective, there were only 70 police killings in the past 90 years in Great Britain.
This analysis only looks at three demographic categories, White (non-Hispanic), Latino and Black. All other demographic categories are excluded because they are still too few in number for a meaningful analysis. The population totals and fatality data used here are only for these three study groups. This is not to diminish the importance of other demographic group, especially in the fatality data, but that analysis will have to wait until more data is available. Also, local news accounts often do not report the race, ethnicity, or even the identity of person killed. This forces us to assume unreported demographic information, if known, would reflect the population as a whole rather than the fatality patterns observed below. This data includes all cases where a civilian is killed in a police action whether accidental, justified or unjustified.
Below are four comparative bar graphs for each of the US Census regions of the United States. It compares the distribution of the total White, Latino and Black population in the region with the distribution of people killed in police encounters within the region.
If police action fatalities were random events then the demographic makeup of people killed should reflect the population. The four regional graphs above almost speak for themselves. In every region of the country Blacks comprise a significantly larger portion of those killed in police encounters than expected based on regional demographics. You will notice that Latino populations are also over-represented among police action fatalities in the West. I will discuss results in each region below and show some of the state data that may be significant in understanding these findings.
In the past 23 months there was a disproportionate number of police involved killings in the African-American community in the Northeast Region. There were 197 instances where people were killed in their encounters with police. This is the lowest number in any region, but this is also the region with the smallest population (for these three racial/ethnic categories). In 150 of these cases the ethnicity or race of the person killed was reported in the press. Blacks make up 13% of the population in the Northeast and 37% of police action fatalities. This is an unrepresentative finding. The numbers for Latino’s killed by police actions was slightly under represented. They represent 13% of the study population and 11% of those killed by police. Because the Northeast has fewer police action fatalities several states have fatality numbers too low for meaningful analysis. The three exceptions are New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
New Jersey had more Black citizens killed by police than White citizens in the past 23 months. There were 31 police action fatalities, 25 of which where race or ethnicity was reported. Blacks make up 15% of New Jersey’s population but 52% of police action fatalities in this data. Twenty-five cases is really too confirm a finding, but the trend is startling.
In Pennsylvania and New York there were higher numbers of fatalities than in New Jersey and evidence that these were also disproportionately Black lives,
Pennsylvania had 52 police action fatalities, 14 where race/ethnicity was not reported and 38 others. Blacks make up 11% of the three racial ethnic groups in this study and 34% of those killed in police actions. Latinos are 6% of this population and 8% of the fatalities.
New York had 56 incidents, 14 where race wasn’t reported and 42 others. Blacks comprise 17% of the study population and 43% of those killed in police actions. Latinos represent 19% of the study population and 9% of the casualties in police actions in the past 23 months.
The number of fatalities in Massachusetts were also disproportionately black, especially relative to the population, but the total number of police action fatalities was too small to be sure of the significance. Massachusetts had 26 police action fatalities of which race was not reported in 7 and 19 others where it was reported.
In the remaining states of Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont the total number of people killed by police was 32 with 6 cases where race was not identified. Of the other 26 cases, 18 were White, 4 Latino and 4 Black.
In the past 23 months there were 339 instances where people were killed in their encounters with police. In 255 of these cases the ethnicity or race of the person killed was reported. Blacks and Latinos each make up 13% of the study population but Black citizens made up 40% of all those killed in the Midwest during police encounters. Latinos were less likely to be killed in police actions. They were just 5% of the casualties. The states that had the most fatalities and largest disparities in the region were Ohio, Illinois and Missouri.
Ohio’s study population here is 13% Black yet 55% of those killed in police actions were Black. No Latinos were reported killed. There were a total of 61 cases where citizens were killed by police actions. Race was not reported in 10 of those cases.
Illinois had 63 citizens killed in police actions. No race or ethnicity was reported in 37% of those cases. Blacks are 15% of the study poplation but 55% of the police action fatalities. Latinos fared better, being 17% of population and 12% of the casualties.
In Missouri there were 49 citizens killed in police actions of which race was reported in 37 incidents. Blacks make up 12% of the study population and 49% of the police action fatalities.
In Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana the rate of Black fatalities in police encounters were also higher than expected, but the number of individual cases were to few for individual analysis. The numbers for these three states were combined. The result yielded 87 cases, 61 of which where race was reported. Of those 61 cases 36 casualties were White, 2 Latino and 23 Black. Blacks make up 11% of the population in this combined group and 38% of the fatalities in police encounters.
In the remaining states of Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota the combined total of people killed in police actions was 46 with race not reported in 15 cases. No minorities were killed in North Dakota or South Dakota. Blacks and Latinos were 15% and 11% of the total casualties and Whites were 74% of the total.
The Southern Region is the most populated of the four regions. There are many states with over 30 incidents in 23 months, partly because of higher populations. There were 890 cases where people were killed in their encounters with police. In 652 of these cases the ethnicity or race of the person killed was reported. The Southern Region has the highest population, the highest number of police action fatalities and the highest percentage of African-Americans in the population. Blacks make up 20% of the population and Latinos another 17%. White, non-Hispanics are 63% of the total population. Black casualties of police actions made up 40% of the total cases in the prior 23 months. Latinos had 13% of the police action fatalities.
Alabama had 31 police action fatalities in 23 months where race was identified. Blacks represent 27% of the study population and 55% of the casualties. There were 8 additional cases where the race of the victim was not identified. No Latinos fatalities were identified.
In Florida there were 140 police action fatalities with a very significant 35 cases in which race or ethnicity was not identified. Blacks make up 17% of the study population and 38% of the casualties while Latinos are 23% of the population but only 13% of the casualties.
Georgia had 42 cases with 18 additional cases were the identity of the casualties were not provided. Blacks make up 32% of the state and 55% of the police action fatalities. Latinos make up 9% of the study population and just 2% of the casualties.
Louisiana had 27 police action fatalities where race the race of the casualties were know and 13 where this information wasn’t initially reported. Blacks are 33% of the population and 595 of the casualties. Latinos were evenly represented at 4% of both the study population and the casualties.
Maryland had 31 cases in 23 three months plus an additional 12 where race was not identified. Blacks make up 23% of the population but 68% of the police action fatalities. The highest ratio in the nation. Latinos represent 9% of the study population and 6% of the casualties.
North Carolina had 48 cases and 11 more where the racial or ethnic identity was not reported. Blacks make up 22% of the state and 55% of the police action fatalities. Latinos are 9% of the state and 4% of the casualties.
Oklahoma, with the smallest population in the South, had 45 police action fatalities where race was identified and another 12 where it wasn’t. Just 9% of the population is Black and they represented 38% of the fatalities. Latinos make up 10% of the population and 18% of the police action fatalities.
Tennessee had 31 incidents and 9 more cases where the racial identity was undisclosed. The state is 17% Black and Blacks made up 29% of the fatalities. Latinos are 5% of the population but 0% of the fatalities.
Texas has a large population and there were 153 police action fatalities where ethnicity or race of the casualties was identified. There were 51 other cases where this information was not reported in the local press. That is the highest number in this category. Blacks are 12% of the population and 25% of the police action fatalities. Latinos are 40% of the study population but only 37% of the casualties. The high number of cases where race or ethnicity was reported could substantially change these percentages.
West Virginia is note worth for having no minority police action fatalities. There were only 13 cases with 5 White casualties identified. The state is mostly White.
Turing attention to the West, there were 697 people killed in police encounters in the past 23 months. Of those, the race of those killed by police was reported in 491 cases. In this Region Blacks make up 6% of the study population and 14% of the police action fatalities. This is the lowest percentage of Black casualties in absolute terms but still over twice what it should be by chance alone. The Western region, on the other hand, has the highest percentage of Latinos of the four regions. It is also the only region where Latinos have a higher rate of police action fatalities than chance would allow. Latinos comprise 33% of the population and 38% of people killed in fatal police encounters.
Arizona had 94 police action fatalities in the past 23 months and the race of the person killed was released in 67 cases. Blacks comprise 5% of the population under study here and 9% of the casualties. Latino fatalities were more disproportional. They make up 32% of the population and 42% of the people killed in police encounters.
California had the most civilian fatalities in police encounters in the country and is also the most populated state. It had 351 police action fatalities of which the race of the casualties was reported in 251 cases. Blacks represent 7% of the population and 20% of the police action fatalities. Latinos are 45% of the population and 47% of the casualties.
Colorado had 43 police action fatalities of which 16 cases provided no information on race. Blacks are 4% of the population and 7% of the casualties in a police encounter. This is among the most representative of Black demographics for any state among high population states. On the other hand, Latinos comprise 22% of the population and 45% of the police action fatalities. This is the most disproportional rate for this group nationwide.
Nevada had 32 people killed in police encounters of which race was not reported in 12 (38%) of the cases. Blacks comprise 9% of the population and 15% of the casualties in fatal police encounters, while Latinos represent 30% of the study population here but 15% of the fatalities.
New Mexico had only 28 fatality incidents and just 3 cases where the race of the casualties was unreported. Blacks comprise 2% of the study population and 8% of those killed in police encounters. Latinos are 52% of the population and 48% of the civilian casualties.
Oregon had 29 fatal police encounters, 19 in which the race of the people killed was reported. Blacks are 2% of the study population and 5% of the casualties. Latinos make up 13% of the population and 11% of those killed in police encounters.
Utah had 25 police action fatalities, 23 in which race was identified. Blacks account for about 1% of the study population and 9% of the fatalities in police encounters. Latinos are 14% of the study population and 13% of the total, which is essentially a representative proportion.
In Washington State there were 58 cases were civilians were killed in police encounters. In 23 cases (43%) the race of the persons killed was not reported. Blacks comprise 4% of the study population and 11% of the fatalities. Latinos represent 13% of the population and 17% of the fatalities.
Wyoming had only 4 police action fatalities and all of the casualties were White.
If my hypothesis is to disprove that African Americans are more likely to be the casualties in fatal encounters with law enforcement (the null hypothesis), then this journalistic analysis failed to prove it.
It might still be true that there is nothing to the perception that Black Americans are more likely to die in police encounters, but the evidence here strongly suggest the contrary, they are a disproportionate class of people killed in police encounters in virtually every region of the country. It can be said that this isn’t true in every state, but that is of little comfort to minority communities.
This review of this newly collected data supports the suspicions that minority communities may be subject to differential police tactics or over-policing. The depth and breadth of these finds are disturbing. Blacks are simply more likely to be killed in police encounters in every area of the country and a majority of state. Latinos are also more likely to be among the fatalities in the West. Fatalities in these police encounters are also overwhelmingly men. The gender basis of these findings have yet to be studied or even noticed, One might be tempted to think this higher rate of Black men being killed in police encounters is connected to so many young Black men being unemployed and on the streets, yet the average age of those killed by police is 36.9 years. This is almost exactly the average age in the U.S. population. This means there is no statistical bias due age which rules out a young black male theory.
Another factor some folks bring up is the high crime statistics in minority neighborhoods and a greater chance that minority folks act like criminals. First of all, there are very few crimes that carry a death sentence, which is was is administered by law enforcement where there are safer ways to apprehend a suspect. And crime statistics are mostly a sensitive measures of policing policies, tactics, training, law enforcement priorities and the culture or attitudes of those doing the policing. If you target any given group to enforce laws their crime statistics will climb. A secondary result of economic disparity and heavy handed policing is the contempt for the law that is often seen in poor and minority neighborhoods. The latter follows as a consequence from the former in nearly all cases.
As for minority folks acting like criminals, who is making that judgement and what is the evidence?
I have reviewed dozens of specific recent cases at this point and can say that some of these police action fatalities are completely justified but in most cases there aren’t enough detail to form any judgments. There are also many cases where it seems law enforcement had other options to avoid the use of deadly force. Very few cases involve independent investigations of the incident or judicial reviews. They rely on mostly local police accounts with no eyewitnesses or video cameras. The police are policing themselves.
To the best of this knowledge this is the first look at what is probably the most comprehensive collection of information about police action fatalities. This is more a journalist exercise than a scholarly study and this information badly needs a more scholarly treatment. Still, I believe the original question asked here can be tentatively answered in the affirmative:
The use of deadly force is disproportionately used in the Black community in every region of the country and in the Latino community in the West.
by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
On April 4, 2015, Walter Scott, an African-American resident of South Carolina, was stopped for having a broken tail light. He was stopped by Officer Michael Slager, a White, North Charleston police officer. A few minutes later Scott was shot several times in the back while trying to flee. The incident was presented as a justifiable use of force by authorities until a videotape surfaced Slager calmly aiming his service weapon and firing into the back of Mr. Scott as he was running away. It was national news.
Stories of people killed by local police action rarely get national attention. Unless there is some dramatic twist or shocking video, the incidents are only reported in hyper-local community newspapers. The only sources for these reports are usually a police spokespersons and sometimes friends or grieving family members. When cases like the Scott shooting do capture regional or national attention they also raise significant, unanswered questions. Just how many citizens are killed in police actions in this country? Is this rare? Who is keeping track of the numbers? Does this sort of thing happen mostly in certain areas or departments? Is it just a few bad apples or are there larger patterns?
There are no national databases to track civilian deaths that result from police actions. The FBI does maintains a partial database of “justified police homicides,” but reporting by state and local authorities is voluntary. Only 750 of the more than 17,000 law enforcement agencies in this country submit their data. This limited reporting yields about 400 police homicides per year,
Almost two years ago a group of dedicated citizens began searching through local newspaper accounts of police involved civilian deaths throughout the country. They started a Website called KilledByPolice.net. They compile names of civilian casualties and added links to the initial news accounts. They also open a Facebook page on each person killed to post follow-up news accounts and to collect any local comments about these cases. Most of these fatalities are police homicides, justified or otherwise, but the data also includes murder/suicides by police officers, fatal DWI accident where the officers were intoxicated, police assisted suicides of mentally ill persons and other such categories. This effort turns out to be the most comprehensive data resource I’ve seen so far on police action fatalities. Based on this raw material I have begun my own analysis of the data.
Here is a brief summary of my initial findings to date.
Between May 1, 2013 and April 4th, 2015 there were 2,181 people killed by police officers in the United States. That works out to around 95 per month or 3 police action fatalities per day. There is clearly a gender bias in police action fatalities. Almost all are males, 2,044, with only 135 females killed in this 23 month period. In six other case the gender was undisclosed.
The full identity of 565 fatality victims were not disclosed to the media as of yet. The average age of the known fatality victims is 36.9 years, which is also the national median age of the population. This means that there is no age bias in police action fatality. Younger people are not more likely to be killed in a police action, for example.
Regarding race and ethnicity, Latino’s make up 18.7% of the general population and were 17% of the fatality victims during the past 23 months, suggesting their rate of police involved fatalities is proportional on a national scale. This may not be uniformly true in every locality.
Whites make up 77% of the population but only 48.1% of the victims. African-Americans make up just 13.2% of the general population but 30.5% of the total fatalities. This clearly suggests a racial bias in police action fatalities.
When the data was sorted by U.S. Census regions, 41.5% of all police action fatalities took place in the Southern states. Add California’s 730 incidents to the Southern total and the subsequent total account for 58.4% of all cases nationwide. In contrast, police action fatalities in the highly populated Northeast make up 9% of the total. (see pie chart) The large regional differences strongly suggest that these incidents are not the random acts of a few bad apples, as some suggest, but real differences in police training, policy and culture.
The states with the highest rate of police action fatalities, in descending order, are Alabama, Wisconsin, Washington State, Arizona, Oklahoma and New Mexico. Wyoming, Vermont and Idaho have the lowest rates. The states with the highest annual average of civilian fatalities are California (193), Texas (112), Florida (93), Arizona (50) and Illinois (33).
The data contained in the KilledByPolice Website is far more extensive since in contains reports of the police accounts and some follow-up articles, but this information is not yet in a form that allows for statistical analysis. It seems that most of the reports I reviewed so far involve police shootings, but this remains to be verified.
Defenders of law enforcement will say, with some justification, that the vast majority of police officers are honorable, law abiding and competent professionals who put their lives on the line to serve and protect the public. This is a true statement. As a whole the incidents of police action fatalities involves a tiny fraction of the overall mortality rate and it is sure to be a tiny fraction of all incidents of police engagement as well. This, however, is not a high standard to judge whether the current rate of fatal outcomes is significant. To help put these numbers a national context, there were only 70 civilians killed by the police in Great Britain in the last 90 years.
The better standard to judge the significance of this problem is to ask how many of these civilian casualties could we have avoided. Even when a police shooting is ruled a justifiable homicide, for example, different tactics and better training might still have avoided a fatal confrontation. The justifiable use of deadly force is predicated on existing policies, procedures, tactical training, departmental culture and the careful vetting of law enforcement personnel, to list just a few factors. It is our obligation police action casualties and protect the life and safety of every citizen, including those who are subject of police actions. The problem is very real and it deserves public attention.
by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
On April 4, 2015, Walter Scott of South Carolina was stopped by a North Charleston police officer for a burned out blinker on his car. It was Saturday morning. Scott had no prior criminal history and was unarmed. At some point Scott exited his vehicle and according to the police officer Scott reached for the officer’s Taser. The officer drew his weapon and fired multiple shots, killing Walter Scott. The officer said he feared for his life and was justified in using deadly force.
That’s the way things stood until three days later when a video tape by an anonymous witness surfaced at the New York Times and other media outlets. The video clearly shows Scott running away and the officer calmly taking aim and firing multiple shots into Scott’s back. The officer then handcuffed Scott, ran back to where the office had fired his gun, picked up an object and then dropped it beside Scott’s body. The video was turned over to investigators and Officer Michael Thomas Slager was charged with first-degree murder for the shooting death of Walter Scott. Michael Slager is white. Walter Scott is black. This is a nightmare story that is all too common.
Between May 1, 2013 and April 4th, 2015 there were 2,178 citizens killed by police officers in the United States according to an extensive search of public news accounts. These media accounts include police homicides, justified or otherwise, murder/suicides involving police officers and their family, DWI accidents involving officers under the influence of alcohol or drugs, police assisted suicides of mentally ill persons and other such catagories. A more detailed analysis of this database
is pending and will be published here when completed. But there are a few quick facts off the top that you should know.
In 23 months news accounts reported 2,178 civilian fatality incidents at the hands of the police. That means there are about 94 per month or around 3 police homicides per day. Fatalities are almost entirely men, 2,044, with only 135 woman killed and 6 whose gender was undisclosed.
The identities of 565 victims were undisclosed to the media. The average age of the known fatality victims is 36.9 years. Latino’s make up 18.7% of the general population and were 17% of the fatality victims during the past 23 months. Whites make up 77% of the population but only 48.1% of the victims. African-Americans make up just 13.2% of the general population but 492 of the victims of police related fatalities, or 30.5% of the total. If there is a perception in the Black community that they are disproportionally targeted by police, these facts only confirm their fears.
The vast majority of law enforcement officers are good, law abiding men and woman who put themselves on the line to protect us. So, it may seem impossible that any officers could wantonly direct deadly force towards otherwise law abiding citizens of color without legal justification. The Scott video is graphic evidence that it does happen. You can see for yourself here, but a warning: video is disturbing.
A full and fair discussion of racism, the law and the American Justice system is overdue. The urgency is now. People are dying.