Black Americans twice as likely as whites to face use of force by police: Justice Department
NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo choking Eric Garner in New York City (Screenshot/YouTube)

Black Americans are more than twice as likely as white people to have non-fatal force or the threat of it used against them during encounters with the police, according to a study by the US Department of Justice.

An analysis of tens of millions of face-to-face contacts between police and civilians over a decade found black people faced the use of force more often than white people in both street and traffic stops, despite being less likely to have encounters with officers overall.

The report follows months of protests around the US over the treatment of African Americans by law enforcement. An ongoing Guardian investigation has found black people are being killed by police at twice the rate of white people, and that those black people killed were twice as likely to have been unarmed.

Government researchers looking at the use of non-fatal force found that 3.5% of black people who had contact with police reported that during their most recent encounter officers either shouted, cursed or made threats; pushed, grabbed, hit or kick them; used pepper spray or a Taser; or pointed a gun or used some other form of force.

By comparison, 1.4% of white people and 2.1% of Hispanic people who encountered police reported a similar experience to the police-public contact survey (PPCS) by the Justice Department’s bureau of justice statistics.

While a majority of people across all races who had encounters involving the use or threat of force reported that the police’s actions were excessive and inappropriate, black people were the most likely to say this. People who were hit, kicked or had a gun pointed at them were most likely to make such complaints overall.

“Survey respondents defined what they considered to be the threat or use of force and whether it was excessive according to their perceptions of police behavior,” wrote the report’s authors. “Use of force and excessive were not defined for respondents.”

The report found that white people actually had a higher rate of contact with the police overall than people of ethnic minorities. In an average year, 20% of white Americans – almost 33 million – had a face-to-face encounter with police, compared with 17% of black people (almost 5 million) and 16% of Hispanic respondents, which equates to 4.4 million.

The researchers published their annual average statistics based on surveys that were conducted in 2002, 2005, 2008 and 2011. They said the rates and patterns they found did not change significantly over the years. Their study covered encounters such as stops and apprehensions by officers but also those in which police responded to a report of a crime or a request for help.

The study found that the vast majority of an average 44m yearly contacts between the police and civilians did not involve the use or threat of force, and that about 715,000 per year, or 1.6% of the total, did.

Street stops, as part of criminal investigations or of people suspected of wrongdoing, were several times more likely than traffic stops or other contacts with police to descend into a use-of-force situation, according to the survey. Street encounters between police officers and black people were also twice as likely as those with white people to involve the threat or use of force. Black people were also more likely to be searched during a police contact. © Guardian News and Media 2015