One in four killed in Texas law enforcement homicides are Black

Thousands of people raise their fist at a rally at Huston-Tillotson University on a hot day in Austin, Texas.
Outrage over black deaths by law enforcement, and particularly the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, has sparked protests and rallies calling for justice worldwide. In Austin, thousands attended the #JusticeForThemAll rally at historically black Huston-Tillotson University on Sunday, June 7, 2020. Used with permission by photographer, Christina Fisher (@crissyfish)

Many in America have been quick to condemn the death of George Floyd, and to pledge to keep something similar from happening again. But Floyd was only one of hundreds of individuals every year who have died in the custody of law enforcement before even being booked into jail.

At the Texas Justice Initiative, we collect and make available to the public data on the interactions with law enforcement agencies that are often the most contentious: officer-involved shootings and deaths in custody. Our data can be analyzed and filtered in many different ways. But in light of the death of George Floyd and so many other black individuals at the hands of law enforcement, TJI wants to provide some context to the conversation about black in-custody homicides.

Over the past 15 years, the number of people who have died in homicides by law enforcement before being booked in jail on suspicion of committing a crime has crept up, year over year. In 2005, there were 42 pre-booking homicides of people of all races in Texas; in 2019, that number more than doubled to 93. Pre-booking homicides by law enforcement of blacks in Texas tripled over that time — from 7 in 2005 to 24 in 2019.

In total, since 2005, 1,172 people have died in the custody of law enforcement in Texas before being booked in jail — and 282 of those individuals, about 25 percent, were black. About 37 percent of the 1,172 people killed in these homicides were white, with Hispanics accounting for 34 percent. Individuals with races listed as “other” or “unknown” made up the remainder. (Comparatively, in 2019, the Texas population was estimated to be about 41 percent white, 40 percent Hispanic, 12.8 percent black, 5 percent Asian and 1 percent American Indian.)

Some 94 percent of the black individuals killed by law enforcement before being booked in jail were men, and 134 of those killed — nearly 50 percent — were under the age of 30. In Texas, black men are dying at rates disproportionate to their population, at young ages and in situations that suggest origins of violence, poverty and hopelessness.

The circumstances of these homicides vary widely, but the one thing they do have in common is that none of these hundreds of Texans had been charged with a crime. Among the names of black Texans killed by police are Rayshard Scales, 30, who was shot and killed in May after Houston police said he reached into the pocket of his hoodie for a replica gun that appeared to be real; Javier Antonio Ambler II, 40, whom law enforcement in Central Texas chased, then Tasered, and who died after begging for his life as reality TV cameras rolled in 2019; and Pearlie Golden, 93, who shot by an officer in Hearne after refusing to drop her gun in 2014. The same policeman, who was fired, had shot and killed a 28-year-old black man named Tederelle Satchell in Hearne two years earlier.

These data, even when combined with names and anecdotes, don’t answer all of the questions — honestly, they probably bring up more new ones than they solve. And, our data is just one small sliver of what might be available and helpful. It takes both the quantitative and the qualitative data — and a whole lot of both kinds of data — to properly analyze interactions between blacks and Texas law enforcement officers.

I invite you to dig into these cases, learn their names and the circumstances of their deaths, and draw your own conclusions. What do racial breakdowns of deaths compared to local demographics look like in urban counties like Harris, Dallas, Tarrant and Bexar look like as compared to rural counties? How does Texas stack up against other states?

We’d love to see your findings, if you’re comfortable sharing them, via Twitter, Facebook or email. And, if you’re so moved to help us continue this work — to add more data sets and continue to provide transparency into an otherwise opaque system — please consider making a financial contribution or joining our team of volunteers.

Eva Ruth Moravec is a freelance reporter and executive director of the Texas Justice Initiative in Austin.

This post has been updated to correct the year related to cited Census data.

Executive director of the Texas Justice Initiative, a nonprofit building a portal for criminal justice data in Texas; Austin-based reporter-for-hire