In the U.S. , police killed or injured more than 55,400 people while conducting “legal” stops, searches and arrests in 2012, according to a study published in Injury Prevention, a British peer-reviewed BMJ medical journal, Deutsche Welle reports. Unsurprisingly, researchers involved in the study also found that police targeted black people, Native Americans and Latinos in disproportionate numbers. However, while the use of deadly or debilitating force didn’t vary by ethnicity, increased contact with police created considerably more risk for people of color.
The Study Findings Challenge Our Perceptions
The findings fly in the face of what many of us believe. We read all too often about black people being shot by cops — Philando Castile and Alton Sterling among them. And even more recently Charles Kinsey, a therapist trying to protect his autistic patient was shot by police. Fortunately he survived and his patient was unharmed.
For the study, researchers analyzed 12.3 million police interventions in 2012. They combed through data collected from numerous sources, including the Vital Statistics Mortality Census, hospital data, FBI data, and two newspaper censuses.
That’s how they found out the alarming statistics that show 55,400 people were killed or injured by cops during legal stop and search incidents in just one year. About 1,000 people were killed — with most dying from gunshot wounds. The remaining 54,400 wound up in the hospital with serious injuries — due for the most part from blunt objects.
Of course some injuries or deaths were justified to protect innocent people or police officers from lethal violence, but the study’s authors concur that the numbers nevertheless reflect an “excess exposure” of people to police violence.
“In one in 11 cases where someone died because someone else intentionally shot them, a police officer pulled the trigger,” Ted Miller, of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation and the study’s lead author told Vocativ.
The U.S. already has an enormously high rate of gun deaths compared to other countries, but the fact that cops are responsible for nearly 10 percent of firearm-related homicides is cause for alarm. It’s well beyond the time to rethink how police interact with the public nationwide.
And this is where people of color come in. Miller and his colleagues found that blacks were either stopped, or arrested by police four times more often than whites. But while the study found that minorities are targeted with greater frequency, the likelihood of being injured or killed during these stops was equal for all groups.
“Blacks and Hispanics are much more likely to be arrested when the police stop them than whites or Asians. This differential may well result from racism,” said Miller. “But once you are stopped or arrested, the likelihood that you will be killed or seriously injured during that police interaction does not depend on your race.”
The murder of Philando Castile at the hands of police tragically illustrates this point. As The Free Thought Project notes, he was stopped an astonishing 52 times on non-criminal offenses. There were also no victims in the offenses. And he was assessed at least $6,588 in fines and fees, even though more than half of the 86 violations were dismissed. Castile wasn’t a criminal, he was a well-beloved member of the community, who was nevertheless targeted by police dozens of times.
He wasn’t a criminal, but police treated him like one.
And the while the study noted that people of color were stopped much more often, it didn’t really examine the reasons that led to stops and arrests — for example, whether police may be consciously or unconsciously profiling by skin color, Deutsche Welle notes. It did, however, conclude that “given a national history of racism, the excess per capita death rate of blacks from U.S. police action rightly concerns policy analysts, advocates and the press.”
The authors are calling for people of color to receive training about appropriate behavior during police stops.
Miller and his colleagues also say that police need to receive better training on how to de-escalate dangerous situations. They need to be taught how to better manage stops or arrests in ways that are safer for themselves and for the people they are dealing with. Miller is calling for a return to community-oriented policing, where officers becoming better acquainted with the people on their beats.
All of these ideas are a step in the right direction. Each time a person of color walks out the front door, they shouldn’t have to worry about becoming a statistic. It’s tragic that they even have to think of that.