My previous article asked the question of whether systemic police racism (SPR) was a “phantom menace” (as per the Star Wars movie Episode I) or a “phantom fear” (as per the Rush song Freewill). Or in other words, real or “Fake News." I tested this by examining some of the academic literature and concluded that the weight of this evidence suggests SPR is more the latter. Let’s test this further by examining the Washington Post’s Fatal Force statistics.
WashPo has been keeping track of shootings by police in an online website entitled “Fatal Force” since January 2015. But only the latest year (ie 2019) can be accessed by the public without charge. Previous years (like 2018, 2017, 2016 and 2015), or all the data in one online spreadsheet, can only be accessed for a fee by subscribing to the entire online newspaper. According to WashPo, this “data relies primarily on news accounts, social media postings and police reports” given that “the FBI undercounted fatal police shootings by more than half."
I copied and pasted from WashPo’s downloadable CSV spreadsheet into a new Excel spreadsheet on my computer. I then analyzed and charted the data, using most of WashPo’s fifteen columns. These, including the row number, were: id; name; date; manner_of_death; armed; age; gender; race; city; state; signs_of_mental_illness; threat_level; flee; and body_camera. I ended up using six categories, which were either about the suspect’s personal characteristics (i.e. sex, age and/or race) or the suspect’s prior actions (i.e. armed, attack and/or flee).
There are a number of upfront caveats to my key analysis to follow next. These are:
- the whole online version of WashPo’s Fatal Force stats from 2015 to 2020 should be freely and easily downloadable;
- the ability to use different permutations and combinations of WashPo’s categories should apply to any and all years, thus automatically generating charts based on these choices;
- the source for each and all of WashPo’s data should be properly and transparently referenced with accompanying external links; and
- the 2015 total police shootings and total rows of data for 2015-2020 are different online to the download i.e. 994 v 1,299 and 5,425 v 5,712 respectively (noting that the 2020 figure, so far and oddly, is half of 994 at 472).
The key analysis below is based on seven chart pairs, out of the dozens I created, from WashPo’s data on police shootings of crime suspects:
- Chart pairs 1 shows on the left side a downward trend from 1,299 in 2015 to a forecast (i.e. the current shootings times two) of 944 for 2020; as well as on the right side a six year total of 6,184, an average of 1,031, a maximum of 1,299 and minimum of 944;
- Chart pairs 2 shows on the left and right sides that there is no obvious age disparity especially as the 34-year-olds and unders, despite being lesser in numbers to the 35-year-olds and overs, typically have higher levels of police interaction as suspects and victims;
- Chart pairs 3 shows on the left side a downward trend in both white and black suspects shot, but an upward trend in all other races; as well as on the right side that blacks are shot least of these three major race categories (noting this would, of course, have to be balanced against such other factors blacks accounting for 13% population but 50% murder rates);
- Chart pairs 4 shows on the left and right sides that unarmed suspect shootings by police are minuscule and declining compared to armed ones;
- Chart pairs 5 shows on the left and right sides that shootings of attackers by police are about three times the number to non-attackers;
- Chart pairs 6 shows on the left and right sides that shootings by police of non-fleeing suspects are about twice that of the number of those fleeing (which is quite odd, unless many of the former are armed and/or attacking);
- Chart pairs 7 shows on the left side that police shootings of males (who were armed, attacking or fleeing) dwarfs that of females, and that they are far more likely to get shot if armed or attacking rather than just fleeing; as well as on the right side that the highest risk groups of black and white males 34 and under (but who were not armed, attacking and fleeing) were shot only 10 and 17 times in almost six years respectively, which is 5% and 10% respectively (of those who were armed, attacking and fleeing).
Before concluding, note that WashPo should also be providing the general public with more of the crucial context to police shootings such as statistics on:
- total and categorized (e.g. race) police doing the shooting and not shooting;
- total and categorized (e.g. race) of police shot and otherwise killed and injured; and
- total and categorized (e.g. race) population, victims and suspects by city, state and country.
WashPo strongly gives the impression on their Fatal Force website, and in their news reports and commentary, that police are not only systemically white racists but trigger-happy brutes. But, in conclusion, their own data strongly suggests that this narrative is Fake News.
Furthermore, WashPo contradictorily state on this website that: “It holds that the quantity of rare events in huge populations tends to remain stable absent major societal changes, such as a fundamental shift in police culture or extreme restrictions on gun ownership.”
I will end with this question for WashPo, why on earth (and at what cost) would any “stable” and “rare events in huge populations” need “major societal changes” through “fundamental [culture] shift” or “extreme restrictions”?
Chart pairs 1
Chart pairs 2
Chart pairs 3
Chart pairs 4
Chart pairs 5
Chart pairs 6
Chart pairs 7