Police Use-of-Force Is the Sixth Leading Cause of Death for Young Black Men

According to a new study led by a an assistant professor in the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey, police use-of-force is the sixth leading cause of death for young Black men in the United States. Police use-of-force, which includes asphyxiation, beating, a chemical agent, a medical emergency, a taser, or a gunshot, follows accidental death, suicide, other homicides, heart disease, and cancer as the leading causes of death for young Black men. Additionally, Black men have the highest risk of being killed by police.

For the study, the research team used data from the database, Fatal Encounters, a journalist-led effort to document deaths involving police. The reported deaths in the database are gathered and categorized using news reports and public records. They decided to use this database because other governmental databases rely on self-reported incidents from police departments. The researchers found that cases in which police are responsible for deaths are undercounted by about 50 percent.

“What motivated this study was a big gap in what was available in terms of basic estimates of how likely people are to be killed by police,” said lead author Frank Edwards of Rutgers University.

The results found that about 100 in 100,000 Black males will be killed by police during their lives, while only 39 White males per 100,000 are killed by police. This means Black males are about 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than White males. Women are about 20 times less likely than men to be killed by police. However, Black women had a higher risk of death from police use-of-force than White women.

“I think that our results really underscore that police killings are a lot more common than we might have imagined,” said study co-author Hedwig Lee, professor of sociology at Washington University in St. Louis. “Our work also provides more evidence that people of color, particularly African American men and women, but also American/Indian and Alaska Native women are at risk.”

The researchers plan to further investigate this issue to better understand what drives these patterns.

The full study, “Risk of Being Killed by Police Use of Force in the United States by Age, Race-Ethnicity, and Sex,” was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. It may be accessed here.

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