The police are a statistically significant threat to Black Americans.

Edrick Truitt saved his own life. In a viral video, he refused to comply with a police officer’s order to turn his car off. Instead, he remained calm and made sure his hands were visible at all times. The officer screamed repeatedly for him shut the car off, which would have forced Truitt to put his hands out of view. The officer then screamed to the surrounding officers that Truitt had a gun. Truitt had no weapon within reach. There was a firearm in the trunk of his car that the police did not know about. He was unarmed at the time. No doubt Truitt had seen videos and social media posts of police shootings of unarmed Blacks. His cool head kept him alive.

The social media posts of unarmed Blacks shot by police are getting harder and harder to watch. Then you want to scream when you see biased news coverage that questions the victims actions at best, and criminalizes innocent men, women, and children at worst. The media and of course the police downplay the deep seated racism that is embedded within police departments. Racism within the police is historic and begins at the foundation of American policing. In 2006, an FBI report warned that local police departments are vulnerable to infiltration by Klan and skinhead groups. The idea that police target Blacks for execution is not far-fetched. Are the police killing us because we are Black, or are we just getting emotional over social media posts while Whites are killed at similar rates?

Disclaimer: This is an adult topic. I will be discussing the behavior of the US police as a group. I have no way to determine motives or racism of individual police officers. If you or your family/friends are police and you feel that they are not racist, congratulations!

The Washington Post curates a dataset on all fatal police shootings within the US from 2015 to the present. The dataset shows the race and gender of the victims along with subjective attributes of the killings, including whether the victim was attacking the police and whether the victim had a weapon. I used this dataset to statistically examine police behavior in fatal police shootings. A statistical analysis will confirm or refute our perceptions of the constant barrage of killings on social media. For instance, what if the police are killing Whites at the same rates, under the same circumstances as Blacks?

Different categories of shootings indicate different behavior by police and suspects. The most serious situation a police officer can face is an encounter where a suspect is attacking with a gun. A police officer facing a situation where a person is attacking with a gun constitutes a time when lethal force is clearly necessary. This category is the largest category of fatal police shooting. The vast majority of fatal shootings of suspects attacking with guns are not likely to have a racial bias. The situation is too dangerous. Who has the presence of mind to be racist with a gun pointed at them? The next situation is where a police officer is facing a person with a weapon that is not a gun. The threat-level of these weapons is highly variable. They include everything from knives, staplers, an air conditioning unit etc. A third category describes unarmed people shot and killed by police. These deaths are inexcusable (all lives matter). Police should have the training and capability to arrest an unarmed suspect without killing them. Armed and dangerous suspects, some of whom have killed police are routinely arrested alive and well, so unarmed suspects should not be shot.

An unarmed White person is fatally shot by police a median of every 9.5 days, and for Blacks a median of 11 days. Given the sizes of their populations, this constitutes a rate of 0.04 (per million) fatal shootings for Whites and a rate of 0.24 (per million) Blacks. Unarmed Blacks are being killed at six times the rate of unarmed Whites. While the dataset is limited, it does allow me to detect a change in police behavior towards Blacks. That is shown in the graph, where police killings of Blacks attacking with firearms is similar to the proportion of killings of Whites attacking with firearms. The proportion of armed Whites and armed Blacks attacking with weapons other than firearms that were killed by police are similar to each other as well, but it is the proportion of unarmed Whites and Blacks that shows a large difference.

This graph shows that police behavior is similar between Blacks and Whites except when facing an unarmed person.

Comparing armed (both with and without firearms) and unarmed Blacks and Whites shows targeting of unarmed Black people by police. The data in the graph show a highly statistically significant pattern. The proportion of killings of unarmed Whites is much lower than the proportion of unarmed Blacks (0.057 vs. 0.099). This increased rate of fatal shootings of unarmed Blacks shown in the graph is highly significant (p <0.0001). It indicates that the higher proportion of Blacks killed by police is not random.

The images on social media are not sensational. Police are behaving differently when encountering unarmed Blacks. The data on police shootings are not ambiguous. Unarmed Blacks are more likely to be killed because of their race. Black Americans are the only group with this distinction. There is no statistically significant difference between Hispanics and Whites or Asians and Whites. All of this suggests that these are targeted killings. If a large portion of the killings of unarmed Black Americans were not targeted, the difference between Blacks and Whites would not be statistically significant.

For White Americans the police are public servants, for Black Americans police are an occupying force at best and terrorists at worst. In the US in 2017, 17 Americans were killed by islamic terrorists, out of a population of 327 million people. In that same year, 21 unarmed Black Americans were killed by police, out of a population of 48.5 million. The police are a significant threat to the typical Black American. Which takes us back to that 2006 FBI report. Local police departments appear to be infiltrated by domestic terrorists seeking to kill Black people.

This is lynching without the noose. It is public, and appears to be targeted. The fact that these murders are not a major topic in democratic primaries, that they barely make the news, and escalating and aggressive police behavior toward unarmed Blacks is seen as justified, tells me that the larger society condones this pattern. This is a difficult pill to swallow. Any presidential candidate who brings this issue up in a meaningful way has no chance of winning. It is foolish to wait for a society that clearly has no interest in stopping these murders to pass meaningful laws or realize that killing unarmed Black people is wrong. For Black Americans, any interaction with police is a dangerous one, where we could be killed without provocation. The larger society is happy to provide the justification after we are dead.