This 1 Statistic Exposes the Awful Truth About the United States' Ongoing Police Problem
Between Jan. 1 and Dec. 15, 2015, police officers in the United States shot, beat, used stun guns on or otherwise killed an astonishing 1,152 people, according to a recently released report from law enforcement watchdog Mapping Police Violence.
The whole analysis is troubling: Officers with 59 of the nation's 60 largest police departments killed at least one individual or let someone die in custody at rates far above those in other developed countries.
But there's one statistic that stands out.
According to the report, 14 U.S. police departments "killed black people exclusively in 2015" — as in "100% of the people they killed were black." By comparison, Mapping Police Violence found just five U.S. police departments killed only white people.
Those cities include St. Louis, where massive protests have ensued since 2014, following the death of 18-year-old Ferguson man Michael Brown; Atlanta, where the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports police rarely face criminal consequences for dubious use of force; and Kansas City, Missouri, where the FBI is currently investigating the local police department's use of force following a string of controversial shootings.
The list also includes Cleveland, where a "jaw-dropping" Department of Justice report about the Cleveland Police Department issued in late 2014 documented systemic use of excessive force and unsafe policing tactics that put the public at risk; the DOJ reached a binding reform agreement with CPD in May. Baltimore, which boasts a dubious record as one of the U.S.' most-segregated cities, and also became the center of massive controversy when 25-year-old black man Freddie Gray died while in police custody, prompting protests and mass civil disturbances, also features on the list.
Other areas where 100% of police shooting victims in 2015 were black include Virginia Beach, Virginia; Boston; Washington, D.C.; Minneapolis; Raleigh, North Carolina; Milwaukee; Detroit; Philadelphia, and Charlotte-Mecklenberg, North Carolina.
Together, these departments police millions of Americans — and yet they only killed black people in 2015.
The report is full of other concerning details, such as there apparently being no immediate correlation between violent crime rates and rates of police shootings — the report's authors wrote this was yet more evidence the root cause of the killings is "a lack of accountability in the culture, policies, and practices of the institutions of policing."
The high rates of killings are also occurring as U.S. police increasingly stock up on equipment like armored vehicles, body armor and military-grade weaponry originally designed for military use, as described in a June 2014 report from the American Civil Liberties Union.
The 1,152 people tracked by the project do not constitute a complete and total list, merely a best-possible estimate compiled from various sources, including tracking websites and original research into media reports. The Death in Custody Reporting Act, which passed last December, requires all states to begin reporting the number of deaths in custody or during an arrest, but no prior mandatory database existed.
It may take years for a comprehensive system to be put in place.
Compared to other wealthy, developed countries, the U.S. remains a total outlier. In fact, police in the United States continue, on some days, to fire more bullets than entire countries like Norway fire in an entire year — and as these and other troubling stats show, the lead is disproportionately flying at people of color.