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Report: Police Exhibit ‘Shooter Bias’ Against Black People, Blackness Determines Whether Unarmed People are Shot to Death By Cops


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When news surfaces of another unarmed Black man shot to death by police, there are attempts to change the subject by pointing to the specter of so-called “Black-on-Black” crime. Those who even sound the alarm on officially-sanctioned state violence are somehow faulted for not caring about the loss of Black life when those lives are taken by another Black hand.

Former NFL linebacker Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens recently went there when he spoke out about an uptick in the crime rate in Chicago, insinuating that Black activists care only about police brutality, but little about fratricide. “Why do we always find ourselves half the victims, and now we have the separation once again that we’re being victimized because of one bad white cop, two bad white cops, three bad white cops, killing a young black brother. But every day we have black-on-black crime, killing each other? The March murder rate rose by 29 percent, but we’re not rioting in the streets [about] black on black killing each other,” he said.

When we are forced to select either police brutality or “Black-on-Black” crime as our priority, we are offered a false set of choices. Both forms of violence are two sides of the same coin of white supremacy and the oppression of poor, Black and Brown people. And whether the violence operates by remote control–through the insidious and invidious policies and conditions under which we are subjected– or by way of a police officer’s revolver is beside the point. As victims of crime, the Black community does care about violence in our neighborhoods, and many are fighting that fight. However, this does not mean that police violence has abated, as it has been with us since the days of the slave patrols who policed the plantations and had the power and authority to extinguish Black lives.

African Americans always relied on anecdotal evidence and personal experiences to tell themselves they were the intended targets of police violence. Now, the data proves we were correct all along. A new study says that race is the sole factor in determining whether unarmed people are killed by police, giving credence to #BlackLivesMatter activists and others who are pushing for reform in law enforcement practices and the criminal justice system.

The study, “Fatal Shootings by US Police Officers in 2015: A Bird’s Eye View,” was conducted by researchers from the University of Louisville and the University of South Carolina. Using data from the Washington Post, and examining 990 fatal shootings by police in 2015, the authors found their analysis “suggests the police exhibit shooter bias by falsely perceiving blacks to be a greater threat than non-blacks to their safety.” Of the 990 fatal shootings by police last year, 93 people were unarmed, according to Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post. Black men were 40 percent of those killed by police– 38 were Black men, 32 were white, and 18 were Latino– which makes them seven times more likely as white men to die from a police officer’s bullet. Even when the data was adjusted to account for the age of the victim, mental illness, the crime rate in the neighborhood and whether the person was attacking the police, Black men still have a risk factor twice that of their white counterparts.

“The only thing that was significant in predicting whether someone shot and killed by police was unarmed was whether or not they were black,” said Justin Nix, a criminal justice researcher at the University of Louisville and co-author of the study. “Crime variables did not matter in terms of predicting whether the person killed was unarmed.”

Moreover, while Black men are more likely to be shot dead by police, they are less likely to attack the cops than whites who are similarly shot to death. “This just bolsters our confidence that there is some sort of implicit bias going on. Officers are perceiving a greater threat when encountered by unarmed black citizens,” Nix said. According to the report, police may develop unconscious racial bias over time. “In other words, the police – who are trained in the first place to be suspicious – become conditioned to view minorities with added suspicion,” the report said.

According to the Washington Post database, 12 percent of Blacks killed in the first three months of 2016 were unarmed, compared with 6 percent of whites. In addition to the Post’s own tally of police shooting victims, the Guardian has compiled its own data known as The Counted. The news media have surpassed the federal government in accounting for these deaths in police custody, underscoring the need for public officials to take the problem seriously and strive for transparency and accountability in law enforcement.

In order to hold officers accountable, the #BlackLivesMatter group Campaign Zero has called for the reporting of all uses of force by police to a database, along with information on related injuries and demographics of the victims.  Further, the group advocates for a database of all police officers who “have willfully violated department policy or the law, committed official misconduct, or resigned while under investigation for these offenses,” so that these individuals are barred from law enforcement, teaching and other government jobs.

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