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US police killings headed for 1,100 this year — with black Americans twice as likely to die

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Police in the United States are killing people at a rate that would result in 1,100 fatalities by the end of this year, according to a Guardian investigation, which recorded an average of three people killed per day during the first half of 2015.

The Counted, a project working to report and crowdsource names and a series of other data on every death caused by law enforcement in the US this year , found that 547 people had been killed by the end of June.

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In total 478 of those people were shot and killed, while 31 died after being shocked by a Taser, 16 died after being struck by police vehicles, and 19 – including 25-year-old Freddie Gray in Baltimore – have died after altercations in police custody.

When adjusted to accurately reflect the US population, the totals indicate that black people are being killed by police at more than twice the rate of white and Hispanic/Latino people. Black people killed by police were also significantly more likely to have been unarmed.

Brittany Packnett, an activist and member of Barack Obama’s influential Task Force on 21st Century Policing, described the continued disproportionate killing of unarmed black Americans as “appalling”.

“It is something we should be deeply ashamed of and committed to changing urgently because it is very literally a life-or-death situation for so many people, and many of those people look like me,” Packnett said on Tuesday.

The US government does not currently keep a comprehensive record of people killed by police. Instead the FBI runs a voluntary program for law enforcement agencies to submit numbers of “justified homicides” if they choose.

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When the federal government last published a full year’s worth of data, it found 461 “justifiable homicides” by law enforcement for the entirety of 2013; at the current crude rate, the Guardian’s count has law enforcement on track to kill 1,109 people in 2015.

Forecasting how the total number of officer-involved deaths will stand at the end of 2015 and how this compares with past years is complicated by the fact that a comprehensive count for an entire year, taking into account seasonal changes and other variables, has not yet been produced.

Over a period spanning from 2003 to 2009 and 2011, the FBI counted 383 such homicides as an annual average. The actual average, as estimated by a March study from the Bureau of Labor Statistics which even that agency’s accountability researchers admit is incomplete , was 928.

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Related: By the numbers: US police kill more in days than other countries do in years

A major recommendation made by Obama’s policing taskforce was a call for the federal government to start collecting more complete numbers.

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“We live in a time and space that dictates that if we can’t prove it with data, then it didn’t happen. And yet we know that people are continuing to suffer in these ways every single day, so we have to make sure we have the numbers to back up people’s stories and that those numbers push police departments towards urgent action,” said Packnett.

Amid mounting pressure for what the president himself called “appropriate oversight”, Democratic senators Barbara Boxer of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey, and congressman Steve Cohen of Tennessee, have proposed legislation to introduce mandatory reporting for fatalities involving police.

“Incomplete and unreliable reporting makes it tougher to understand the true scope of the problem and more difficult to obtain a policy solution,” Booker said, in a recent online post explaining why he was proposing the law change.

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Of the 547 people found by the Guardian to have been killed by law enforcement so far this year, 49.7% were white, 28.3% were black and 15.5% were Hispanic/Latino. According to US census data, 62.6% of the population is white, 13.2% is black and 17.1% is Hispanic/Latino.

More than one in of five those killed so far in 2015 – 119 people in all – were unarmed. While 31.6% of black people killed were found to be carrying no weapon, that was true for only 16.5% of white people. This stark disparity has stayed roughly constant since The Counted began publishing at the beginning of June.

A total of 76 people have been killed since The Counted was first published – the lowest monthly total so far this year. Of these, 67 people were shot, three had been shocked by a Taser, three were struck by police vehicles and three died in custody following altercations with officers.

On 23 June in Indianapolis, 34-year-old Joshua Dyer was killed when police fired at a vehicle in which he was a passenger. Police said Dyer and the driver, Matthew Cole, were uncooperative during a traffic stop, and that Cole eventually “sped off” from the stop, with officers giving chase.

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The vehicle eventually crashed into a fence, at which point officials said Cole, 41, briefly got out, and then got back into the vehicle and put it into reverse. “Fearing for their own safety,” a police press release said, “an officer discharged his service weapon striking the passenger.”

The Indianapolis metropolitan police department policy on use of force states that while officers are expected to move out of the way of a moving vehicle, they are not restricted from using deadly force against the operator of a vehicle “when it is reasonably perceived that the vehicle is being used as a weapon against the officers or others”.

While 71 of the people killed in June were men, five were women. Thirty-three were white, 19 were black, 16 were Hispanic/Latino, one was Native American, and one was Arab American. The racial and ethnic backgrounds had not yet been established in six cases.

Thirteen of the people killed – roughly one in six of the total – were unarmed. Six of the unarmed were black and six were white. One was Hispanic/Latino.

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On 15 June in South Lake Tahoe, California, police shot dead an unarmed 22-year-old named Kris Jackson . The biracial man, who police said was wanted for parole violation, was attempting to climb out a window at the time he was shot, according to a lawyer working for Jackson’s family.

The South Lake Tahoe police department said they were responding to a domestic disturbance at the residential address and have told local media the officer “perceived a deadly threat” before firing a single shot.

Alan Laskin, the Jackson family attorney, told the Guardian that the unarmed young man was wearing only shorts and socks at the time he was killed and had his legs hanging out the window.

“He wasn’t a threat to anybody,” Laskin said. “The family basically feel like it was an execution. They look at it as a murder.”

South Lake Tahoe police did not respond to a request for comment, but have confirmed that no weapons were recovered during or following the incident.

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guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2015


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