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FactCheck: Yes, Black people are disproportionately affected by fatal US police shootings

Black people are fatally shot by US police at a higher rate than white people relative to their proportion of the population.
Apr 30th 2021, 6:00 AM 16,250 0

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A FACEBOOK POST that has been viewed tens of thousands of times has been used inaccurately to claim that concerns over the treatment of black people by US police are invalid.

The post contains a photo of a Fox News broadcast that aired a table labelled “2021 fatal police shootings through April 12″.

The table said that 52 black people and 109 white people had been fatally shot by police this year.

Three of the black people were unarmed and five of the white people, it said.

The post was uploaded to Facebook on 22 April by Irish Angel, a “support network” for military and law enforcement personnel based in New York.

It was shared with the caption “let that sink in” and “#blesstheblue”, a hashtag used on social media to indicate support for police officers, and has been viewed 34,800 times.

Some social media users who have engaged with the post have claimed that the numbers disprove concerns raised by movements like Black Lives Matter around the treatment of black people by the police – but this isn’t backed up by the facts.

Several commenters said that the figures prove that “we [the US] don’t have a race problem”.

One described Black Lives Matter as a “terror group”, while another said that the statistics “[do] not meet the standards for [its] agenda”.

“The reality that nobody wants to hear. They have to play the victim game,” said one person.

However, analysis of statistics for 2021 and previous years show that black people are disproportionately affected by fatal US police shootings and are killed at a higher rate than white people relative to their proportion of the population.

The evidence does not back up claims which suggest otherwise.

The Evidence

The Washington Post has kept a detailed database of fatal shootings by police officers in the US since the start of 2015, for which it has won a Pulitzer Prize.

To date in 2021, the Washington Post has recorded 292 people who have been shot and killed by police.

114 were white and 62 were black as of today’s records. 

14 of these –  five white people and nine black people - occurred on or after 12 April, which means the figures shown on Fox News were broadly correct.

38 were Hispanic, four were counted as other, and 74 are unknown.

Eleven of the people killed so far by police were unarmed, and in 27 cases, it it unknown whether or not they had a weapon.

Of the 11 people who were unarmed, five were white, four were black, and three were Hispanic.

174 of the 292 had a gun, including 62 white people, 42 black people, 21 Hispanic people and one person categorised as other. Race is unknown for 48 cases.

The figures give a further breakdown of how many of the people killed by police had a weapon or a vehicle with them at the time of their death. A total of 47 had a knife (26 white people, seven black people, six Hispanic people, and eight unknown); four had a toy weapon (four white, one Hispanic, one other and one unknown), and 13 had a weapon classed as “other” (six white, one black, two Hispanic and four unknown).

In a direct comparison, more white people have been shot and killed by police in the US this year than black people – but relative to their proportion of the population, black people were impacted at a significantly higher rate.

The US Census Bureau has a publicly available breakdown of its population estimates by race.

It gives two categories for measuring the number of white people – one that includes “white alone”, and another than includes “white alone, not Hispanic or Latino”.

When Hispanic or Latino people are excluded from the category, white people account for 60.1% of the US population. If they are included, the category comprises 76.3% of the population. 

13.4% of people in the US are categorised as black or African American.

Indigenous people – “American Indian and Alaska Native alone” – are 1.3%, and “Asian alone” is 5.9%.

People who are counted under “two or more races” make up 2.8% and Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders are 0.2%. 

Hispanic and Latino people, if counted separately to other race categories, are 18.5% of the population. 

In short, 60.1% of the US population are white (not including Hispanic or Latino people) and 13.4% are black.

But 39% of the people shot and killed by police so far this year were white, and 21% were black. A further 13% were Hispanic.

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This means that black people are disproportionately negatively affected by fatal police shootings relative to the percentage of the US population they represent, while for white people, the opposite is true.

It’s also important to note that for one in four cases – 74 of 292, or 25.3% – the race of the person who was killed is currently recorded as unknown.

Analysing the data for the five years of its records, the Washington Post found that the rate of shootings annually (around 1,000) and the demographic trends have remained steady.

The rate that black people are shot and killed by police (36 per million) is more than twice as high than for white people (15 per million).

“Although half of the people shot and killed by police are White, Black Americans are shot at a disproportionate rate,” the Washington Post reported.

“They account for less than 13 percent of the U.S. population, but are killed by police at more than twice the rate of White Americans. Hispanic Americans are also killed by police at a disproportionate rate.”

Researchers at Yale and the University of Pennsylvania who analysed the data from 2015 to 2020 found that the rate of fatal police shootings for black people, indigenous people and other people of colour (BIPOC) was constant across the period.

The study found that “BIPOC have significantly higher death rates” compared to white people in the “overall victim pool”.

In a press release from Yale, assistant professor of emergency medicine Dowin Boatright, the author of the study, said the researchers found that in areas with police killings, “the Black population reports worse mental health”.

The study’s co-author Emmanuella Asabor said that black people are “disproportionately killed by police even when they are unarmed”.

The Journal has contacted Fox News but has not received a response at the time of publication.

The Verdict

It is accurate that, so far this year, more white people have been shot and killed by police in the US than black people, according to the data that are available.

However, black people are fatally shot by police at a higher rate than white people relative to their proportion of the population.

The photo shared on social media also leaves out other important figures on the number of cases where race was unknown and the number of people of other races who have been fatally shot.

As a result, we rate this claim as misleading.

As per our verdict guide, this means: The claim either intentionally or unintentionally misleads readers.

The Journal’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here

Have you gotten a message on WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter that you’re not sure about and want us to check it out? Message or mail us and we’ll look into debunking it. WhatsApp: 085 221 4696 or Email: answers@thejournal.ie

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Lauren Boland

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