12 Numbers We Need to Talk About When We Talk About the LAPD's Killing of a Homeless Man


Officers of the Los Angeles Police Department killed an unarmed homeless man Sunday morning as onlookers captured the incident on video.

Five shots can be heard in the recording. The Los Angeles Times reports that the victim went by the name "Africa," and that witnesses claim he tried to grab an officer's gun in the scuffle before he was shot.

Sadly, the shock of seeing this man killed in broad daylight is matched only by its predictability. As a homeless and reportedly mentally ill black man, Africa faced an intersection of risk factors that led to a disproportionately high likelihood of being targeted by the police. 

The numbers that contextualize Africa's death paint a disturbing portrait of race, mental illness and poverty in the Golden State. Far from offering satisfactory explanation for his death, these numbers should be a wake-up call:

Richard Vogel/AP

610,042: The number of homeless people in the U.S. on a given night in January 2013, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Even this figure is limited, as it "excludes people temporarily living in hospitals, mental health or substance abuse centers, or jails with nowhere to go after release," University of California, Berkeley's Policy Advocacy Clinic reports.

22%: The percentage of America's homeless population that resides in California. For context, California houses 12% of the national population, and has the highest rate of unsheltered homeless individuals in the country.

Jae C. Hong/AP

53,798: The number of homeless people living in Los Angeles County in 2013. In the U.S., only New York City has more, with 64,060.

8,000 to 11,000: According to the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, the estimated number of homeless people in 2005 living on Los Angeles' Skid Row. Skid Row is the 50-square block section of downtown L.A. that houses a significant portion of the city's transients, and, according to the Los Angeles Times, is where Africa was killed on Sunday. (California's homeless population decreased 5.9% between 2007 and 2013, so it stands to reason these figures may have also changed slightly.)

Damian Dovarganes/AP

38%: The percentage of Los Angeles' homeless population that is black. This is the highest rate of any demographic in the city. For comparison, black people make up just 9.6% of L.A. residents on the whole.

20% to 25%: The estimated rate of mental illness among homeless individuals nationwide, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. That's compared to 6% of the general population.

David McNew/Getty Images

Comparing the aforementioned numbers to the figures below illustrates the unique way people like Africa are further confronted by the law and its enforcers.

76: The number, at minimum, of unarmed black people killed by police from 1999 to 2014, according to Gawker, citing a series of posts on the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund Twitter account.

Half: The estimated percentage of people killed by law enforcement every year who have some form of mental illness, according to a joint report from the Treatment Advocacy Center and the National Sheriff's Association.

7.5 to 11.3: A history of homelessness is between 7.5 and 11.3 times more common among incarcerated populations in the U.S. than the general population, according to the National Health Care for the Homeless Council.

500: The minimum number of active laws that criminalize homelessness in the state of California. This figure comes from a sample set of 58 California cities. According to the Law Policy Advocacy Clinic, the activities for which they legalize prosecution include "standing, sitting and resting in public places," "sleeping, camping and lodging in public places, including in vehicles," "begging and panhandling" and "food-sharing."

59%: The percentage of America's anti-homeless laws enacted by the state of California since 1990, easily the most in the nation.

77%: The percent increase in arrests for these so-called "vagrancy" offenses in the state since 2000.

Meanwhile, according to the Berkeley Law Policy Advocacy Clinic report, arrests for drunkenness and disorderly conduct have gone down over that same time period, "suggesting that homeless people are being punished for their status, not their behavior."

It's a troubling state of affairs. And although the details around Africa's death are still being uncovered, it's easy to see why a man in his predicament — a homeless, mentally ill black man in Los Angeles — would face a greater threat of police targeting and violence than his peers. The state and nationwide policy failures that fuel homelessness require a dramatic overhaul if change is to happen, while the determining factors of homelessness, race and mental illness among them, speak to centuries of oppression and stigma we have yet to overcome.