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Getting shot by police is a leading cause of death for black men in America

Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

"They know that young black men are singled out as being inherently suspect," he said.

Accurately measuring the mortality rate associated with police violence right alongside those of cancer, heart disease and other major causes of death is a crucial step toward mitigating its damage and even "treating" its root causes. But calculating the true rate of police killings is difficult because official data are limited, researchers said.

The National Vital Statistics System captures some of these deaths, but it appears to underreport them, researchers said. This might have to do with the information given to coroners and medical examiners, or with the way they code deaths; the researchers can't say for sure.

To pull those numbers together, Edwards and his colleagues turned to Fatal Encounters, a journalist-led system that collects and combines information on police violence that's available through news coverage, public records and social media. While not an official database, it appears to provide comprehensive information on recent police killings and has been endorsed as a sound source of data by the federal government's Bureau of Justice Statistics, the researchers said.

By combining and then analyzing information from Fatal Encounters and the National Vital Statistics System, the team was able to calculate the prevalence of fatal police violence overall and according to race, age and gender. Cases that police described as suicides were excluded, as were those involving a vehicle collision or accident such as an overdose or a fall.

For Latino men and boys, the risk was up to 1.4 times higher than it was for whites. For Native American men, the risk was 1.2 to 1.7 times higher.

 

Overall, women's risk of being killed by police was roughly 20 times lower than the risk to men. Even so, there were clear differences by ethnicity and race.

For instance, black women were about 1.4 times as likely to be killed by police as white women, the researchers found. Native American women were between 1.1 and 2.1 times as likely to be killed as their white peers.

Among Asians and Pacific Islanders, both men and women were less than half as likely as their white peers to be killed by police.

And Latina women were between 12% and 23% less likely than white women to meet that fate. (Edwards called that finding "interesting," but he hesitated to speculate about it without studying the issue further.)

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