UM study: Police use of force is a leading cause of death for young black men

Posted at 10:31 AM, Aug 07, 2019

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (WXYZ) — Police use of force is the sixth leading cause of death for young black men, a new University of Michigan study found.

According to the study, black men are about 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white men; approximately 100 in 100,000 black men and boys will be killed by police during their lives, while 39 white men and boys per 100,000 are killed by police. The study was done in collaboration with Rutgers University and Washington University. Researchers used data from a journalist-led database, Fatal Encounters, which aims to document deaths involving police by using news reports and public records.

Study co-author and professor of sociology at Washington University in St. Louis Hedwig Lee said the findings prove police killings are more common than some might have imagined.

"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," Lee said.

For the study, 'use of force' includes asphyxiation, beating, a chemical agent, a medical emergency, a Taser, or a gunshot. The researchers did not include deaths that occurred in result of car chases or accidents.

Co-author Michael Esposito, a postdoctoral researcher in the Survey Research Center at the U of M Institute for Social Research, said that researchers previously didn't know whether police involved deaths were a widespread problem or simply highlighted by the media.

"It's a striking number," Esposito said. "This study shows us that police killings are deeply systematic, with race, gender and age patterning this excess cause of death."

The results also highlight that American Indian or Alaska Native women are twice as likely to be killed by police than white women. Women are also about 20 times less likely to be killed by police. Although Latina and Asian-Pacific Islander women are less likely to be killed by police than white women, black women, American Indian and Alaska Native women face a higher risk.

The study also found police killed approximately:

  • 36 American Indian and 81 Alaska Native men and boys per 100,000
  • 53 Latino men and boys per 100,000
  • Between 9 and 23 Asian and Pacific Islander men and boys per 100,000
  • 39 white men and boys per 100,000

"Because a lot of our talk about this in public spaces is focused on black men, we sometimes lose sight of other groups with elevated risk," Esposito said. "Conversations around who's most at risk have to incorporate the diversity and intersectionality highlighted in this study, fleshing out our narratives of why individuals with particular social traits have more or less exposure to police violence."

The researchers were motivated to conduct the study due to a lack of basic estimates of how likely people are to be killed by police, lead author and assistant professor at Rutgers' School of Criminal Justice, Frank Edwards, said.

While the Bureau of Justice Statistics does have a database on arrest-related deaths, that database relies on police departments to self-report the incidents, he added. The National Vital Statistics Report, archived by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also also tallies related to legal interventions, but researchers have found that cases in which police are responsible for deaths are under counted by about fifty percent.

Their next step is to explore what drives these patterns, Lee said.