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New Study Confirms Police Are Far More Likely to Use Lethal Force on African-American Men

Nearly 250 African-American men have been gunned down by law enforcement officials  this year, prompting a much-needed national discussion on the role race plays in police use of lethal force.

A new study published in the “American Journal of Public Health” Tuesday, Dec. 20, revealed a disturbing trend in what researchers call “legal intervention” during encounters with African-American men.

According to the report, Black men were nearly three times as likely to die as a result of police use of force. Native Americans or Alaskan Indians were also three times as likely to die from police use of force, while Latino men were almost twice as likely.

The report, authored by Dr. James Buehler, a clinical professor of health management and policy at Drexel University in Philadelphia, utilized national death records from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s WONDER database between 2010 and 2014 to analyze the rates of legal intervention-related deaths, reported. He found that for the 2,285 legal intervention deaths that occurred in that time, Black men were 2.8 times more likely to die from law enforcement intervention than white men.

Additionally, Latino men were 1.7 times more likely to be killed as a result of police use of force, while Pacific Islander/Asian men died at the lowest rate of 1.5 per million. Native American men were killed at a rate of 6.5 per million — much higher than the rate of Black men — even though they made up just 2 percent of the total of legal-intervention deaths.

“[My study] affirms that this disparity exists,” Buehler said. “My study is a reminder that there are, indeed, substantial disparities in the rates of legal-intervention deaths, and that ongoing attention to the underlying reasons for this disparity is warranted.”

In his report, Buehler acknowledged that white men accounted for a larger majority of people killed by police, but said that was only because they comprised a larger percentage of the U.S. population. The 2015 census showed that white people made up 77.1 percent of the population, while African-Americans made up just 13.3 percent.

Jack Glaser, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley (who is not associated with the new study), asserted that it’s very difficult to craft an explanation for the stark disparity without acknowledging the presence of racial bias.

“The psychological science on this is very clear,” Glaser said. “People, including police officers, hold strong implicit associations between Blacks, and probably Hispanics, and weapons, crime and aggression.”

A study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology last year supported the professor’s statements by providing scientific evidence that people are more likely to shoot at Black targets than at white targets.

That study, conducted by students from the University of Illinois, found that juxtaposed to white targets, people are quicker to shoot armed Black targets, hesitant to shoot unarmed Black targets, and more likely to have a low shooting threshold for Black targets overall, reported.

While Glaser attributed racial bias to increased rates of deadly use of force against African-American men, Buehler noted that poverty or low socioeconomic status may also play a role.

“Racial and ethnic disparities for legal-intervention deaths reflect disparities in levels of poverty,” he said. “As a former public health official who has worked at federal, state and local levels, I am well aware of the fact that poverty is associated with an increased risk for multiple health problems, including injuries related to violence.”

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