314 Black Americans Have Been Killed By Police Since Michael Brown’s Shooting

Photo: Jay Shaw Baker/NurPhoto/Rex/REX USA.
It's been almost exactly one year since Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer named Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. In the last 365 days, 314 more Black Americans have reportedly lost their lives during interactions with law enforcement. Of course, that's not a statistic that's easy to find. In fact, it's not one that the federal government publicly tracks at all. "We have the technology. This is something that can be done," Ezekiel Edwards, director of the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project, told Refinery29 during a discussion about why the government doesn't make the police's fatal-shooting statistics available. "For the last few decades," he went on, "we have had the ability to collect and collate and analyze many different kinds of data points electronically." Which leads to the question: Why hasn't it been done? The answer is manifold and complex. At least one reason has to do with the fact that the numbers themselves are fairly damning — and therefore, in the minds of many, worth keeping off the radar. Mapping Police Violence (the organization that gave us the figure of how many Black people have been killed by police in the days since Michael Brown died) began researching and compiling fatal encounter accounts in the wake of the Ferguson tragedy. What it found is nothing short of frightening. A few of the more disturbing highlights: Black people are three times more likely to be killed than white people by a police officer. Roughly one-third of Black victims are unarmed when they are shot. In 17 of the largest American cities, police killed Black men at higher rates than the total U.S. murder rate in 2014. What's more: It's not getting better. It's actually getting worse. "It’s a fairly constant trend, with a slight increase," Samuel Sinyangwe, a policy analyst and data scientist with Mapping Police Violence, told Refinery29 on the phone. His organization draws its information from the the largest and most comprehensive crowdsourced databases on police killings in America: FatalEncounters.org, the U.S. Police Shootings Database, and KillbyPolice.net. Sinyangwe noted that the vast majority of that data is derived from local media accounts that are compiled by independent parties. Mapping Police Violence verifies this information against the public police data that is available, along with extensive original research via social media, obituaries, and police reports. The ultimate goal is to accurately represent fatal encounters and break them down by race and other metrics. "Ferguson is everywhere," Sinyangwe added after rattling off these saddening statistics. (Mapping Police Violence created a map that backs that statement up.) This is where our tax dollars are going, he expanded. "Instead of keeping us safe, our police are contributing to the violence." Edwards shores up that point — which has been made by many, especially over the past 12 months — with his own insights. But, he also issues a reminder that the problem of police and excessive force in communities of color didn't begin with Michael Brown. "Separate even from having a national database on fatal encounters is a much deeper, even more important discussion about race," he shared. "It's not just about our police practices, but racial equality in our country." Inequality has been writ large in the headlines since last August — which is a far cry from saying America has made any true progress since then. Though Mapping Police Violence has done an unparalleled job of aggregating the information necessary to look at larger trends and specific issues, the question goes beyond, as Sinyangwe explained, making the information usable and actionable. "How do we move past a place where we're saying we don't have data into a question of what to do next with the data we have?" he asks. Once again, there is no simple answer, but using data as a lens of accountability is a first step. "We need to be able to hold people to the number, to decreasing the number and, ultimately, eliminating the number." Put another way: We can’t leave it up to the police to police themselves. If the data set is right, 314 Black people were killed by police since one year ago today. Next August, it could be more. Something very clearly must change.

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