New Study Says Black Americans Twice As Likely To Face Use Of Violent Force By Police

Black Americans are more than twice as likely to face use of non-lethal force by police as white Americans, says a new study by the U.S. Department Of Justice. According to a report from The Guardian, the DOJ conducted an analysis of tens of millions of face-to-face encounters between citizens and police over the course of a decade, and the results don’t paint a pretty picture.

The study examined both street stops and traffic stops, and found that, in spite of having less encounters with police overall (or perhaps simply less reported encounters,) black Americans were far more likely to face either the use of violent force or threat of force in those encounters than white Americans.

The report follows in the wake of months of protest in the U..S over the treatment of persons of color by law enforcement; the Baltimore riots over the death of Freddie Gray, the Black Lives Matter movement, the events in Ferguson surrounding the shooting of Michael Brown. In fact, The Guardian suggests that their investigations have revealed that black Americans are twice as likely to be killed by the police, and twice as likely to be unarmed at the time.

Black Lives Matter activists stand in prayer over the police shooting of Walter Scott.
Black Lives Matter activists stand in prayer over the police shooting of Walter Scott. [(Photo by Richard Ellis/Getty Images]
DOJ researchers studying the use of non-fatal force in police encounters determined that use of force was reported by black Americans in 3.5 percent of police encounters; use of force in this case being defined as shouted at, cursed at or threatened, grabbed, hit, kicked, pepper sprayed, tasered, or “some other form of force” along these lines.

By comparison, only 1.4 percent of white people and 2.1 percent of Hispanic people reported a similar experience when encountering police, according to the police-public contact survey conducted by the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics.

As RawStory notes, and perhaps unsurprisingly, most people surveyed who had been subject to encounters with police involving the use of force felt that it was excessive and inappropriate. However, black respondents were most likely to report excessive or inappropriate force. Overall, all respondents who were hit, kicked, or threatened with a gun were the most likely to make an excessive force report. The definition of “use of force” and “excessive” were left to the respondents themselves to determine, according to the authors of the report.

“Survey respondents defined what they considered to be the threat or use of force and whether it was excessive according to their perceptions of police behavior.”

Interestingly enough, the report found that white Americans were actually more likely, on average, to have encounters with the police than ethnic minorities; in an average year, 20 percent of white Americans reported a face-to-face encounter with police, compared to 17 percent of black Americans and 16 percent of Hispanic Americans. That having been said, the white American population drastically outweighs the other two groups, and the nature of each encounter was undefined; “face-to-face” encounter can cover positive or peripheral encounters as well as negative, including taking statements from witnesses. Given the disproportionate application of force revealed by the report, it is not unlikely that the nature of the encounters is imbalanced as well.

Activists protest the shooting death of a homeless black man in Los Angeles.
Activists protest the shooting death of a homeless black man in Los Angeles. [Photo by David McNew/Getty Images]
All told, the study found that the vast majority of face-to-face encounters with police did not involve a use of force; of an average 44 million encounters per year, based on surveys from 2002, 2005, 2008, and 2011, and that the patterns did not change significantly from year-to-year. Having said that, the number of people killed by police in America has increased drastically from 2012 onward; from 2011 back, there were 736 people killed by police in America in history. From 2012 onward, there have been 1,923. Given that the rate of people killed by police has more than doubled in the years since those studied, and that violence against black Americans was already prevalent, it’s quite possible to extrapolate how things might have changed in the last four to five years.

The study also concluded that street stops were several times more likely than traffic stops or other encounters, and that black Americans were twice as likely to face use of force in them. It also found that black people were more likely to be searched by police.

One is left to wonder what those four missing years might reveal. Do you think use of force against black Americans has increased recently?

[Photo by Richard Ellis/Getty Images]

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