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Protesters march after a fatal shooting by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in On Tuesday 6 August, the police shot and killed a schoolteacher outside his home in Shaler Township, Pennsylvania. He had reportedly pointed a gun at the officers. In Grants Pass, Oregon, that same day, a year-old man was shot and killed after an altercation with police in the state police office.
And in Henderson, Nevada, that evening, an officer shot and injured a year-old suspected of robbing a convenience store. The boy reportedly had an object in his hand that the police later confirmed was not a deadly weapon. But data on these deadly encounters have been hard to come by. A pair of high-profile killings of unarmed black men by the police pushed this reality into the headlines in summer Those cases and others raised questions about the extent to which racial biases — either implicit associations or outright racism — contribute to the use of lethal force by the police across the United States.
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And yet there was no source of comprehensive information to investigate the issue. Five years later, newspapers, enterprising individuals and the federal government have launched ambitious data-collection projects to fill the gaps and improve transparency and accountability over how police officers exercise their right to use deadly force. Social scientists and public-health researchers have begun to dig into these records and have produced more than 50 publications so far — up from a trickle of papers on the topic before They are mining the new numbers to address pressing questions, such as whether the police are disproportionately quick to shoot black civilians and those from other minority groups.
But methods and interpretations vary greatly. A pair of high-profile papers published in the past few weeks 1 , 2 come to seemingly opposite conclusions about the role of racial biases.
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Scientists are now debating which incidents to track — from deadly shootings to all interactions with the public — and which details matter most, such as whether the victim was armed or had had previous contact with the police. They are also looking for the best way to compare activities across jurisdictions and account for misreporting.
St Louis of which Ferguson is a suburb has one of the highest rates of police shooting civilians per capita in the United States, whereas New York City consistently has one of the lowest, according to one database. Deciphering what practices and policies drive such differences could identify opportunities to reduce the number of shootings and deaths for both civilians and police officers, scientists say. In December , spurred by unrest in the wake of Ferguson, then-US president, Barack Obama, created a task force to investigate policing practices.
The data historically collected by the federal government on fatal shootings were sorely lacking. Almost two years later, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation FBI responded with a pilot project to create an online national database of fatal and non-fatal use of force by law-enforcement officers. Full data collection started this year.
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But outsiders had already begun to gather the data in the interests of informing the public. The database considered to be the most complete is maintained by The Washington Post. In , the newspaper began collecting information on fatal shootings from local news reports, public records and social media. Its records indicate that police officers shoot and kill around 1, civilians each year — about twice the number previously counted by the FBI. In and , UK newspaper The Guardian combined its original reporting with crowdsourced information to record all fatal encounters with the police in the United States, and found around 1, civilian deaths per year.
Extrapolating from that, the actual number of civilians shot by the police each year is likely to be upwards of 3, Unofficial national databases have also popped up outside the major news organizations. The results paint a picture of definite disparity when it comes to race and police shootings. Although more white people are shot in total, people from minority ethnic groups are shot at higher rates by population. One paper published in August found that a black man is 2.
The difference, albeit smaller, is also there for women.
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But the authors did not make any conclusions regarding racial bias of police officers, in part because not everyone has an equal chance of coming into contact with the police. Crime rates and policing practices differ across communities, as do the historical legacies that influence them. Aggressive policing over time can increase local levels of violence and contact with the police, says Frank Edwards, a sociologist at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey, and an author on the paper.
Researchers have used various approaches to try to determine the best benchmarks for the data, such as looking at the arrest rates where the shootings occurred or factoring in the context of encounters that end in a shooting.
Did the suspect have a weapon? Were officers or another civilian being threatened? In a study 3 , for example, Nix determined that black people fatally shot by the police were twice as likely as white people to be unarmed. Those findings align with many studies published since suggesting that racial biases do influence police shootings. Some research runs counter to this conclusion. This July, authors of a study that pulled information from The Washington Post and The Guardian databases, as well as directly from police departments, said they found no evidence of biases against black or Hispanic people 2.
In addition to factoring in the crime rates of the communities where the shootings happened, the authors looked at the race of the officers involved. Several scientists have taken issue with their methods, however. To sidestep some of the questions about encounter rates, the study authors started from the pool of people shot by the police and then calculated the chance that they were of a certain race.
Jonathan Mummolo, a political scientist at Princeton University, New Jersey, argues that the real question to ask in order to detect racial bias is the reverse: does a citizen of a certain race face a greater chance of getting shot by the police?
Spotlight on a blind spot
And answering this question requires knowing, or at least reasonably approximating, that elusive encounter rate. Body cameras worn by police officers can capture crucial information. Newspapers were actually used to get the news. Now that there's YouTube and Twitter to get all the latest news instantly, newspapers are best used for arts and crafts projects. They had to use actual paper maps to get from point A to point B. They had to manually turn their clocks back during daylights savings.
The digital powers that be didn't magically change all their clocks back for them. They wrote their papers on huge computers the size of TVs.
There were no laptops. They couldn't stalk their crush on the sly. They had to actually call people on the phone.
Skipping class required serious acting skillz. They couldn't send their teachers an email at the last minute with their paper attached telling them they were too sick to actually come to class. They had to call them and try to pretend to be sick. No online shopping. They ordered clothes by filling out forms from catalogues and sending them in the mail with a check.
Which means they were constantly going through their mail, like:. They had to politefully disagree about things. Because before Twitter and the YouTube comments section existed, people had to express their opinions in person instead of behind anonymous profiles.
When there was nothing to, they had to find something semi-productive to do. In other words, when there were no friends to hang out with, or anywhere fun to go, they were forced to do things like read, write, paint, exercise, and other productive things like that. Entire weekends couldn't be spent on the couch binge-watching their fave shows. Can you believe this is how your parents lived as teens?
What part of the Interwebz can you not imagine living without!? Share in the comments below! Type keyword s to search. Today's Top Stories. It worked a little something like this: 4.
Which means they were constantly going through their mail, like: