POLITICS

More Than 250 Black People Were Killed By Police In 2016 [Updated]

Too many.

07/07/2016 7:15 PM IST | Updated 01/01/2017 9:16 PM IST

U.S. police killed at least 258 black people in 2016, according to a project by The Guardian that tracks police killings in America.

Thirty-nine of these people were unarmed. Four were killed by police stun guns and another nine died in custody, a continuing problem in American jails. But the majority of black people killed by police were fatally shot.  

Based on a tracker from The Washington Post, at least 232 black folks were shot and killed. (The Guardian’s figures include all deaths resulting directly from encounters with law enforcement, while the Post counts only people who were shot and killed by police.)

The Post found that 34 percent of the unarmed people killed in 2016 were black males, which is quite disproportionate since black men make up only 6 percent of the U.S. population. There was also a considerable uptick in deaths caught on camera via cellphone and police cameras.  

Take the case of Keith Lamont Scott, who was shot and killed by an officer in Charlotte, North Carolina, in September. Scott was the 173rd black person to be fatally shot by police in 2016, based on The Washington Post tally. 

Police were searching for another man when they came across Scott, who they claim was armed. Charlotte police Chief Kerr Putney said in a news conference on Tuesday that officers told Scott to drop his weapon, but that Scott got back into his car and came out again still holding the gun. 

A woman who identified herself as Scott’s daughter recorded the shooting’s aftermath on Facebook Live. Scott, according to her and other witnesses, did not have a gun and was disabled. Scott’s killing has touched off violent protests in Charlotte.

A day before Scott was killed, police in Tulsa, Oklahoma, released several videos depicting the death of Terence Crutcher. The 40-year-old was shot and killed by police on Friday after officers saw his stalled SUV in the middle of the road. Initially, the police department said Crutcher had not followed orders to put his hands up. 

The released videos, however, show Crutcher walking toward his car with his hands in the air. 

Warning: This video contains graphic content. 

We’ve seen back-to-back deaths like this before. In July, Philando Castile was shot and killed in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. His fiancee, Diamond Reynolds, filmed a graphic video that showed Castile bleeding to death from gunshot wounds. The officer “shot him three times because we had a busted taillight,” Reynolds says in the clip.

The day before Castile was killed, Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old father of five, became the 135th black person killed by police in 2016.

Police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, fatally shot Sterling following an encounter with Officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake. The two officers were responding to reports of a man carrying a gun, threatening others and selling CDs in front of a Triple S convenience store.

Two videos of the incident, apparently filmed by witnesses, were released to the media. One showed a detained Sterling lying on the ground as officers hovered over him before shooting him at close range. A second video offered a clearer perspective, showing that Sterling wasn’t reaching for his pockets and didn’t have anything in his hands.

The Advocate
Alton Sterling was shot and killed by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in July.

Since the 2014 death of 18-year-old Michael Brown at the hands of police in Ferguson, Missouri, the media has reported extensively that police arrest and kill black men at far higher rates than other groups. Six out of 10 black men say they have been treated unfairly by police because of their race, according to a 2015 study.

Based on The Guardian’s data, black males between the ages of 15 and 34 are nine times more likely to be killed by police than any other demographic. This group also accounted for 15 percent of all 2015 deaths from law enforcement encounters, even though black males in this age range make up just 2 percent of the U.S. population.

In 2015, The Guardian estimates, at least 306 black people were killed by U.S. police. The Washington Post puts the number of black people who were shot dead in 2015 at 258.

Activists have called for diversifying America’s predominantly white police force. But interactions between black officers and black civilians can be stained by violence as well. A 2007 study found that black residents of Washington, D.C., felt as though black cops treated them more harshly than white officers did. A 2006 study of Cincinnati police records discovered black officers were more likely than white officers to arrest black suspects.

“Race is a trigger for police brutality,” Jack Glaser, an associate professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, told The Huffington Post in 2015. The reasons for this may lie in the history of policing in America and the fact that modern-day policing, at least in the South, can trace its lineage to slave patrols.

But statistics and history aside, Keith Scott, Terence Crutcher, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile didn’t deserve to die.

“Sterling was a black man who lived in an America that consistently devalues, disrespects and destroys black lives,” HuffPost Black Voices editor Lilly Workneh wrote in July. “Now is not the time to stay silent about these injustices. Black men and women have raised their voices to declare that black lives matter and to say the names of those who have died unjustly.”

“Alton Sterling, father of five,” Workneh added. “May he rest in peace.”

Same goes for all the others. May they rest peacefully.

This post has been updated to incorporate data on police killings through the end of 2016.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said The Washington Post estimates that police killed 285 black people in 2015. That number is actually 258. The article also previously misstated Scott’s middle name as “Lamar.”

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