The recent fatal shooting of an unarmed black male in Ferguson, Missouri and resulting protest started a debate on policing and the use of deadly force. Particularly in reference to blacks in America and the wide spread feeling that this group is much more subject to both harassment and killings at the hands of police. The data show that indeed blacks are much more likely to be killed by police than the population 13 percent vs. 32 percent. However when arrest rates are taken into account the difference is much smaller 28 percent vs. 32 percent (see graph below). This points to a possible bias but not mass discrimination in the use of deadly force on black suspects. Police homicides as a percentage of total deaths between whites (60.9 percent), Hispanic (63.1), and backs (61.3) are very similar furthering diminishing the notion that police are simply shooting blacks using different standards. The next post will consider arrest type by race and deaths during arrests which will shed further light on this issue.
The most likely type of crime to result in homicide is a violent crime that account for 14 percent of all arrests and 60 percent of deaths. You can see the rest of the arrest rates by crime above. Many of the types of searches resulting in arrests, blacks are believed to be subject to in disproportionate numbers, have very low homicide rates. Also the police homicides are down 76 percent in the last 30 years . Police killings on the street and in prisons in the not too distant past may indeed have heavily fallen on black suspects. That combined with the relative rarity of events in any given locality (data sources) could lead not just black but all Americans believing they are much more likely to be killed by police than the data shows.
This post used research based on the DOJ 2003-2009 on deaths during the process of arrest. Several states are missing in given year and the data relies on self-reporting so can be fraught with difficulties. The population data is averages over 2003-2009 and is reliable from the US census. Arrest data comes from the FBI while better than the DOJ data still has missing and self-reporting problems. “Other” includes Asians, American Indians, and Pacific Islanders.