Unarmed Black Men Seen as ‘Greater Threat’ by US Police: Study

Protesters in Ferguson, Mo., chant "Hands up, Don

In the United States, Black men accounted for 40 percent of the 93 fatal police shootings of unarmed people in 2015.

Unarmed Black men in the U.S. were shot and killed last year at disproportionate rates, according to a new academic study conducted by criminal justice researchers from the University of Louisville and the University of South Carolina.

The report, “Fatal Shootings by US Police Officers in 2015: A Bird’s Eye View,” set to be released this week, found Black men accounted for 40 percent of the 93 fatal shootings of unarmed people in 2015, despite African Americans making up just 12 percent of the U.S. population. In total, 38 of those killed were Black, 32 were white and 18 were of Hispanic descent.

“The only thing that was significant in predicting whether someone shot and killed by police was unarmed was whether or not they were Black,” said Justin Nix, a criminal justice researcher at the University of Louisville and one of the report’s authors.

“Crime variables did not matter in terms of predicting whether the person killed was unarmed.”

Researchers, who used data compiled by the Washington Post on police shootings in the U.S., wrote in their analysis of the 990 fatal shootings in 2015 that “police exhibit shooter bias by falsely perceiving Blacks to be a greater threat than non-Blacks to their safety.”

The study also found the Black people shot and killed by police were less likely to have been attacking police officers than the white individuals who police killed, suggesting police bias develops over time.

“This just bolsters our confidence that there is some sort of implicit bias going on. Officers are perceiving a greater threat when encountered by unarmed black citizens,” Nix said. “In other words, the police – who are trained in the first place to be suspicious – become conditioned to view minorities with added suspicion.”

The authors said they hope the report, which is set to be shared this week with members of the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association, will encourage better training of police officers in order to reduce bias.

In the first three months of 2016, 12 percent of Blacks killed by police were unarmed, compared to 6 percent of whites, according to The Washington Post.

 

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