Saturday, July 9, 2016

#BLM, we're in this together: The odds of being killed by US police are not significantly different, regardless of your race

Dear Reader, I majored in English, so if my math is wrong, please don't hesitate to say so. I'm always grateful for the chance to correct a mistake.



If you hang out in the places I do, you'll constantly hear it's more likely for a black person to be killed by the police than a white person, but you won't hear the actual odds, so I thought I'd run the numbers using data from United States Demographic Statistics and The Counted: people killed by police in the United States – interactive.

Since I'm lazy and 97.6% of Americans identify as being of a single race, I'll just use the numbers for people who identify as black only and non-Hispanic white only.

Total US population: 281,421,906
Total number of people killed by the police in 2015: 1146
Which means:
The average American's chance of being killed by the police in 2015 was .0004%.
or
The police killed four Americans per million in 2015.
Total US black population: 34,658,190
Total number of black people killed by the police in 2015: 306
Which means:
The average black American's chance of being killed by the police in 2015 was .0009%.
or
The police killed nine black Americans per million in 2015.
Total US non-Hispanic white population: 194,552,774
Total number of non-Hispanic white people killed by the police in 2015: 581
Which means:
The average white American's chance of being killed by the police in 2015 was .0003%.
or
The police killed three white Americans per million in 2015.
So it's true that a black American is three times more likely to be killed by the police than a white American.

But to put those numbers in perspective, according to Guns are now killing as many people as cars in the U.S. - The Washington Post: "In 2014, the age-adjusted death rate for both firearms (including homicides, suicides and accidental deaths) and motor vehicle events (car crashes, collisions between cars and pedestrians, etc) stood at 10.3 deaths per 100,000 people." 10.3 divided by 100,000 equals 0.000103. Which means:
The average American's chance of being killed by an automobile in 2014 was the same as the chance of being killed by a gun, .01%.
or
Guns and automobiles each killed one hundred Americans per million.
Now, I'm not offering these numbers to excuse a single police death. Many other countries show that the US could and should do much better—see By the numbers: US police kill more in days than other countries do in years.

I'm offering these numbers to show that we're all in this together. Privilege theorists may insist that being in a group that has three police killings per million per year is an example of privilege and being in a group that has nine police killings per year is an example of oppression, but that's missing the point: American police need to be demilitarized so they can put all their effort into protecting and serving everyone.

Related: The 3-to-1 rule, or Using race to ignore class

ETA:  From The Counted, a breakdown of people per million killed so far in 2016 by the police:
3.4 per million Native American
3.28 per million Black
1.59 per million Hispanic/Latino
1.42 per million White
0.56 per million Asian/Pacific Islander
ETA 2: Surprising New Evidence Shows Bias in Police Use of Force but Not in Shootings - The New York Times

ETA 3: This study found race matters in police shootings, but the results may surprise you - The Washington Post: "we found that officers were slightly more than three times less likely to shoot unarmed black suspects than unarmed white suspects."

A primer on jailhouse suicides - The Washington Post: "Men are much more likely to kill themselves in jail than women. White people are more than three times more likely to kill themselves than black people."

ETA 4: Police Kill Too Many People—White and Black | TIME.