A new study from Rutgers University-Newark has found that police are a leading cause of death among young — especially Black — men in America today.
The study, which compiled data on police-involved deaths in the U.S., estimated the risks of being killed in a law enforcement encounter by age, race and sex. In short, it found African American men and women, Indigenous men and women and Latino men are the groups with the largest risk of being killed by police in comparison to white people.
The researchers, Frank Edwards, Hedwig Lee and Michael Esposito, used data from the National Vital Statistics System’s mortality files and Fatal Encounters, a journalist-run database containing police-involved deaths through public records and news coverage.
Chokeholds, shootings and other uses of force — whether warranted or not — are now the sixth leading cause of deaths of young men in America. Other leading causes of death for young men include cancer, heart disease, homicide, suicide and accidents (including overdoses, car accidents and other accidental deaths).
Compared to their white peers, Latina woman and Asian/Pacific Islander men and women face a lower risk of being killed in police encounters, according to the study. It also found that the average lifetime odds of being killed are about 1 in 2,000 for men and 1 in 33,000 for women. However, for Black men specifically that statistic doubles, meaning their risk of being killed by police is 1 in 1,000.
Though women and girls are about 20 times less likely to be killed in the hands of police than men, Black and American Indian/Alaska Native women and girls are the most likely to be killed. The report estimates between 2.4 and 5.4 Black women and girls out of 100,000 will be killed by police over a lifetime, based on current rates. For Indigenous women, the number is 4.2 per 100,000, compared to white and Latina women, who have lifetime mortality risks due to police of about 2 per 100,000.
Young people from all demographic groups are most likely to be killed in police encounters, with risk peaking between 20 and 35 years of age.
With the killings of Black men and boys like Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin Tamir Rice and Alton Sterling, these numbers reign true and increasingly critical.
The report acknowledges policing plays a key role in maintaining structural inequalities between white people and people of color. It also notes police in the U.S. kill far more people than police in any other “advanced industrial democracy.” Additionally, it points out that prior to the study, basic information on police-involved deaths is lacking, due to the absence of official data on the matter.
In its discussion, the report recommends the Bureau of Justice Statistics renew efforts to better document police-involved deaths. Though it does not evaluate the effects of policy, the study also suggests better social welfare and public health problems could help remedy the problem of law enforcement being a catch-all response to social problems. Finally, it says if the public were more engaged in regulating policing through means like investigatory commissions and participation in police union negotiations, officers could better be held accountable.