Are Blacks killed more often by police? U.S. arrest-related deaths by race

The death of George Floyd is just one of numerous recent, high-profile deaths of Black citizens at the hands of the police. While the overall number of U.S. citizens who die in police custody, or in the process of being put into custody, is dishearteningly high, the question is whether there is a notable difference along racial lines.

On July 14, President Trump disputed this, saying that “more white people, by the way” are killed by the police.

In a sense, the President isn’t wrong. More white people are killed by the police than any other race or ethnicity. Readers of this site should by now be used to the idea that overall numbers aren’t all that important when it comes to matters of equality. We need to see that the data lines up proportionately to the overall population.

When looked at that way, there is no doubt that a significantly disproportionate number of Black citizens are killed by the police.

Using the Justice Department’s Arrest-Related Deaths report for the years 2003-2009 (reflected in the table below), we can see that 2,026 non-Hispanic Whites were killed by police during those six years. That represented 42.1% of all arrest-related deaths over that period. Meanwhile, 1,529 Blacks died during arrests, or 31.8% of all arrest-related deaths. Of the current U.S. population, Blacks account for 13.4% of all citizens. During the period 2003-2009, the proportion of Blacks in the citizenry was even lower (in 2006, for example, it was 12.2%).

The data is relatively old at this point, but comprehensive data from the Justice Department beyond this is not readily available. However, there’s no reason to believe this has drastically changed, as a pilot study of a new methodology for counting arrest-related deaths during June to August of 2015 showed 25% of arrest-related deaths to be Black citizens. This is somewhat lower than the 31.8% during 2003-2009, but on a small sample and still roughly twice the representation of Blacks in the general population.

In other words, if you are Black in the U.S., the data shows that you are at least twice as likely to be killed during arrest than other races and ethnicities.

U.S. arrest-related deaths by race, 2003-2009

2003-2009 total 2003-2009 %
White, non-Hispanic 2,026 42.1%
Black, non-Hispanic 1,529 31.8%
Hispanic 949 19.7%
Other 150 3.1%
Unknown 159 3.3%
Total 4,813 100.0%
Source: Bureau of Justice, Arrest-Related Deaths (ARD) report 2003-2009.
https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/ard0309st.pdf

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