Young Black Men Are 21 Times as Likely as Their White Peers to be Killed by Police


A new study reports that African Americans are dramatically more likely to be shot during encounters with police officers. ProPublica analyzed 1217 fatal police shootings from 2010 to 2012 and found that Black boys age 15 to 19 were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males that age were killed by police.

The news organization’s investigation included detailed accounts of more than 12,000 police homicides from 1980 to 2012 collected by the FBI from hundreds of police departments nationwide. Although the data is incomplete, ProPublica reported that it tends to show “Blacks are being killed at disturbing rates when set against the rest of the American population.”

Police have shot to death a shocking number of very young Black children. From 1980 to 2012, police killed 41 children age 14 or younger; the overwhelming majority (27 kids, or 66 percent) were African American. Most of them were killed by white police officers, who were responsible for 68 percent of people of color killed. Black officers account for slightly more than 10 percent of all fatal police shootings.

The data also suggests that police use deadly force against Black teens without adequate cause or justification. Police fatally shot 151 teens who police said were fleeing or resisting arrest; 67 percent of those teens were Black. Most recently, from 2010 to 2012, police officers shot and killed fifteen teens who were running away. All but one of them were Black.

In many deadly police shootings, the circumstances were listed as “undetermined.” Of the cases where police provided no explanation for a fatal shooting, 77 percent of the victims were Black. After the United States Supreme Court decided in 1985 that deadly force is justified only if the suspect posed a threat to the officer or others, the percentage of cases in which police officers listed “officer under attack” as the cause for a deadly shooting nearly doubled.

ProPublica’s analysis confirms that too many young Black men in America are burdened with a presumption of guilt – the automatic assumption that they are dangerous and suspect. When police officers harbor this attitude, confrontations with young Black teens can too easily turn deadly.

EJI’s race and poverty project is attempting to challenge the persistence of these problems by confronting narratives that perpetuate racial bias and discrimination in American society, particularly in the criminal justice system.