Police Violence and Race: Perceptions and Realities

A recently released Pew Study  (from August) found that blacks and whites have sharply different reactions to the police shooting of an unarmed teen in Ferguson, Mo., and the protests and violence that followed. Blacks are about twice as likely as whites to say that the shooting of Michael Brown “raises important issues about race that need to be discussed.” Wide racial differences also are evident in opinions about of whether local police went too far in the aftermath of Brown’s death, and in confidence in the investigations into the shooting.

Here are some of the charts depicting the disparate perceptions.

Pew Brown Shooting

Pew Brown Shooting 2

Pew Brown Shooting 3

Pew Brown Shooting 4

Read much more about the study  on PewResearch website.

Contrast those perceptions with studies demonstrating that blacks are significantly more at risk of being killed by police than whites.

From ProPublica:

Young black males in recent years were at a far greater risk of being shot dead by police than their white counterparts – 21 times greater i, according to a ProPublica analysis of federally collected data on fatal police shootings.

The 1,217 deadly police shootings from 2010 to 2012 captured in the federal data show that blacks, age 15 to 19, were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police.

One way of appreciating that stark disparity, ProPublica’s analysis shows, is to calculate how many more whites over those three years would have had to have been killed for them to have been at equal risk. The number is jarring – 185, more than one per week.

police-killings-2-graphic-630

From Vox

The FBI does collect some data, however. Many have reported that the FBI’s records say that there were 426 “felons killed by police” in 2012. Now, Vox has obtained FBI records that go beyond the raw number of police-involved homicides and reveal details about the victims and the circumstances surrounding their deaths. The data offers an important look at what the FBI knows about people killed by police in America.

KilledByPolice_circumstances_v3.0

The justifiable homicide victims of 2012 were overwhelmingly male — the FBI’s records included 11 women and 415 men. They were also, as are most people that interact with the criminal justice system, disproportionately black. Black Americans make up 13 percent of the US population, but the FBI’s data shows that 32 percent of the felons killed by officers in 2012 where black. Fifty-two percent were white, and 12 percent were Hispanic.

The men killed by police in “justifiable homicides” in 2012 were relatively young, with a median age of 32. But the age breakdown of victims varies by race:

KilledByPolice_ageRaceBreakoutsREV.0

From Lance Hannon (abstract of study):

The subculture of violence thesis suggests that African Americans are disproportionately likely to respond to minor transgressions with lethal force because of a culturally defined need to protect one’s reputation and a normative aversion to legal forms of dispute resolution. Using data on over 950 non-justifiable homicides from police files, the present study tests this hypothesis by examining race-specific patterns of victim precipitation (i.e., the victim’s role in initiating the homicide). If, as the theory suggests, African Americans are more likely to respond to minor affronts with lethal violence than Whites, then African American homicide incidents should have more victim precipitation, particularly in the form of minor acts of provocation. The results of the current analysis do not support this hypothesis and therefore are inconsistent with the notion that a unique subculture of violence among African Americans explains their disproportionately high levels of homicide victimization and offending.

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