Fact check: Police killed more unarmed Black men in 2019 than conservative activist claimed
The claim: The U.S. police killed eight unarmed black men in 2019
In response to the nationwide Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd, Charlie Kirk, founder and president of the conservative group Turning Point USA, posted a statement on Facebook.
Kirk claimed in a video posted on Facebook during the Blackout Tuesday campaign that police killed eight unarmed black men in 2019, according to the Washington Post database of police shootings. Other Facebook pages have re-released the video, increasing the number of viewers.
Kirk uses this number while arguing that systemic racism does not exist within law enforcement. In the video, he did not mention that black Americans make up 13% of the population, "but are killed by the police more than twice as often as white Americans," the Post said. He also failed to mention, as Naomi Zack explained in her book on racial profiles and police murder, "when 4.4 million random stops and frisks were performed in New York City between 2004 and 2012, even though blacks did." Highlighted disproportionately, the frequency of further police operations was lower for blacks than for whites. "
Kirk's claim that the police killed eight unarmed black men in 2019 is false for several reasons.
Kirk cites the Post's database, which only lists people who were shot by the police and were not killed by other means, such as beating or tasers. He also cites a database that is incomplete. The number of unarmed black men shot and killed by the police is likely to be higher than the number of mails due to the lack of extensive police records that Kirk does not recognize. Despite these issues, Swiss Post's database shows that the police shot 13 unarmed black men in 2019, not eight.
What the data show
Swiss Post's database documents fatal police shootings that have taken place since January 1, 2015. The Post said their team relied on "mainly news, social media posts, and police reports" in addition to their own reporting.
These data do not include "deaths in police custody, fatalities by non-duty officers, or non-shooting deaths".
Post data shows that the police shot 13 unarmed black men in 2019, five more than Kirk claimed. The police also shot an unarmed black woman, Atatiana Jefferson, 28, on October 12, 2019 in Fort Worth, Texas. Swiss Post's database only includes shootings. Deaths caused by beating, tasers or vehicles are not included. The death of George Floyd, who died in police custody after a policeman kneeled on the back of his neck for several minutes, would not be recorded in the Post's record.
Swiss Post regularly updates the database as soon as information on cases is published. So it is possible that at the time of Kirk's release of the video, there were eight unarmed black deaths instead of 13. It is also possible that the number will continue to increase as more information about deaths becomes known in 2019.
Mapping Police Violence, a crowdsourcing database that includes shootings, vehicle deaths, tasering, and beatings, estimates that unarmed black men were killed by the police in 2019.
Fact check: Columbus, Ohio, doesn't have the highest rate of African-American police deaths
Deaths in 2019 include 28-year-old Michael Dean, who was killed by police in Texas on December 2, 31-year-old Christopher Whitfield, who was killed in Louisiana on October 14, 54-year-old Melvin Watkins, who killed the police in Louisiana on September 14 and 33-year-old Channara Tom Pheap, who killed the police in Tennessee on August 26.
Post's analysis found that the police have killed roughly the same number of people each year since data collection began - around 1,000. The data for 2020 are at the level of the previous years.
An officer holds a truncheon and shield in his hand as protesters gather to protest George Floyd's death near the White House in Washington.
Many scientists who use data on the number of police killings acknowledge a lack of data, which leads to under-reporting.
Two systems collect information about police shootings: the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Reporting Program, which collects data from more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Vital Statistics System, which collects death certificate data.
According to research by criminologists published in the National Library of Medicine, NVSS underestimates police homicides because "it classifies cases more as homicides than as justified homicides because police officers fail to mention police involvement".
The researchers found that the FBI's system, which does not collect data from all law enforcement agencies, similarly "overlooks cases because some jurisdictions do not file reports or omit legitimate police killings".
PBS reported in August that the lack of substantiated information about police shootings is so widespread that "a decade ago, the Department of Justice stopped collecting police violence related death data because the numbers were unreliable ... reporting this Cases were voluntary and there was virtually no incentive for police authorities to provide this information to the federal government. "
There are many examples of questionable reports on the causes of police shootings.
When the police shot 39-year-old Tommy Smith outside his mother's house in Illinois, the authorities declared his death "suicide by police" despite the lack of evidence. "Police suicide" is a vague term, of which the Guardian - a publication that has also created its own police death database - contradicts the National Association of Medical Examiners guidelines on determining the cause of death.
The Guardian reported in 2015 that police murders of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and John Crawford, all of whom were unarmed when they died, "are missing from the federal government's official records of official murders because most departments refuse to disclose data" .
The Bureau of Justice Statistics, a division of the Department of Justice, published a redesigned study in 2016 that used reports from the media, law enforcement surveys, medical examiners' offices, and forensic doctors to provide an improved estimate of deaths from arrests 1 June 2015 and March 31, 2016.
The office identified 1,348 potential deaths related to arrests during this period. Of these, almost two thirds were murders, one fifth suicides and one tenth accidents. The revised estimate is in line with the Post and Guardian estimates.
Our verdict: wrong
Only police shootings are counted in the Swiss Post database, no other forms of police interaction that led to deaths. As a result, Kirk incorrectly assigned the number of police killings in 2019 to a database that only records deaths from gunshots.
Although police data on deaths have not been sufficiently reported and the actual number is likely to be higher, 13 cases have been reported in the Washington Post database in which the police shot and killed unarmed black men (plus one case in which the police an unarmed black woman shot and killed This is five deaths more unarmed blacks than Kirk's claim in his Facebook video, so this claim is classified as FALSE because our research does not support it.
Our fact-checking sources:
The Washington Post, Fatal Force Database
Naomi Zack, "White privileges and black rights", page 56
Rod K. Brunson and Jody Miller, "Young Blacks and City Police in the United States," British Journal of Criminology, pages 613-640
USA TODAY: "The coroner and family-ordered autopsy agree: George Floyd's death was a murder," June 1, 2020
Mapping Police Violence, State Comparison Tool
Mapping police violence over the data
US National Library of Medicine, "Underreporting of Justified Homicide by Police Officers in the United States, 1976-1998," July 2003
U.S. National Library of Medicine, "Law enforcement deaths from lethal violence," November 1, 2016
PBS News Hour: "According to Ferguson, black men are still at greatest risk of being killed by the police," August 9, 2019
Guardian, The Counted: People killed by police in the United States
Guardian, "Eric Garner and Tamir Rice Are Missing in FBI Records of Police Killings," October 15, 2015
The New York Times, "Beyond Chokehold: The Road to Eric Garner's Death," June 13, 2015
Vox: "Cleveland just fired the cop who shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice over two years ago," May 30, 2017
The Washington Post, “The Terrible Police Shootings of Unarmed Black Men,” September 29, 2014
Bureau of Justice Statistics, "Arrest Death Survey Study, 2015-16: Preliminary Results"
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Our fact check is partially supported by a grant from Facebook.
This article originally appeared in the US TODAY: Fact check: How many unarmed black men did the police kill in 2019?
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