The shocking footage of South Carolina man Walter Scott being shot in the back as he ran from North Charleston police officer Michael Slager is once again putting attention on the large number of Americans who are killed by police.
But how big is that number, exactly? Several news organizations have tried to answer that question lately, and have all come up with the answer that it’s a very difficult figure to pin down because of the way the FBI and other agencies report data.
One thing we can say with some level of certainty: More black Americans were killed by police in 2014 than were killed in the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, 2001.
Here’s how we know that. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there were 215 black victims of the 9/11 attacks (136 men, 79 women). The CDC even has data on education — 109 of those victims had college degrees.
Getting information that detailed about people killed by police in 2014 is not so straightforward. Estimates vary on the total number of Americans who died, but they tend to be around 1,000.
FiveThirtyEight.com pointed out that number is probably significantly too low, but it’s difficult to get close to an accurate count because of the way agencies count and report data.
However, there’s a more direct way to count these incidents that doesn’t involve estimates or averages, or government agencies. FiveThirtyEight.com, Reason, Think Progress and others have all cited the work of KilledByPolice.net, a simple website that records mainstream media accounts of shootings as they occur, assembling them in a barebones database.
The website started counting police shootings in 2013, and has a complete list for 2014. There’s a good chance that the website has missed some deaths, but for our purposes it’s better that the totals are too low than too high.
KilledByPolice also notes when a news story includes information about gender and race of a victim. Not all news stories have that information, so again, the actual number of black victims is probably higher.
But based on a count of news stories collected at KilledByPolice, there were at least 238 deaths of black Americans by police in 2014, easily more than the number who perished on 9/11.
And that’s a sobering thought.