Black Children Are Six Times More Likely to Be Shot to Death by Police


A new study examining the use of force by police against children found that Black and Hispanic adolescents are significantly more likely to die from police shootings than their white peers.

Researchers at the Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC, analyzed national data from death certificates compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics, including cause of death and race and ethnicity.

They identified all adolescents between age 12 and 17 who died from firearm injuries due to police intervention between 2003 and 2018 and compared rates of these deaths across racial and ethnic groups based on U.S. Census Bureau data.

During the 16-year study period, 140 children died from police intervention, and of those, 113 involved firearms. About 93% of the children killed were boys, with an average age of 16.

The researchers found that Black children were six times more likely to be shot to death by police than white children. Hispanic children’s risk of death was almost three times higher than that of white children.

Our study confirms these disparities that are stark and unacceptable.

Dr. Monika K. Goyal, Children's National Hospital

The findings, reported in the latest issue of the journal Pediatrics, mirror the racial and ethnic disparities in police shootings of adults, the researchers said in a statement.

Monika K. Goyal, M.D., M.S.C.E., associate division chief of Emergency Medicine and Trauma Services and director of Academic Affairs and Research at Children’s National, led the research team. She pointed out that the study likely underestimates “the true toll of disparities” in police shootings of youth because it does not include non-fatal shootings.

The number of children shot and killed by police is small relative to the 6,512 adults who were fatally shot by police in the same 16-year period. But there’s a strong potential rippling effect, Dr. Goyal said, because the death of each child has a wide-ranging impact on the entire community.

“Any death of a child is devastating but when it is due to police violence, it leads to distrust in the system and undermines the primary mission to protect,” Dr. Goyal said. “The pattern of stark racial and ethnic disparities only adds to this tragedy, further oppressing and alienating communities of color. It’s important to investigate, identify and correct those policies and personnel that perpetuate and exacerbate these disparities.”