Police Killings Are 6th Leading Cause of Death Among Young Black Men

Police brutality is the sixth-highest cause of death among young men in America, particularly young Black men, according to a new study. Young people from the age of 20 to 35 are at the highest risk of being killed by law enforcement, the report revealed.

The report, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, revealed the leading causes of death among American men are accidental death (76.6 deaths per 100,000), suicide (26.7), homicides (22.0), heart disease (7.0), and cancer (6.3).

The report also found the likelihood of being killed by police was highest for Black men, who are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement than their white peers. Black women, meanwhile, are 1.4 times more likely than white women to be killed by police. These numbers were based on police-involved deaths recorded between 2013 and 2017.

American Indian and Alaska Native men and women and Latino men are also more likely to be killed by police than their white counterparts. Latina women and Asian/Pacific Islander men and women, however, have a lower risk of being killed by law enforcement.

“The inequality is not surprising,” Frank Edwards, the lead author and assistant professor in the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University-Newark, said in a statement released by Rutgers.

“All you have to do is turn on the news to see that people of color are at a much greater risk of police-related harm. What we lack in this country are the solid estimates of police related deaths because there is no official database where this information is stored.”

Edwards did not immediately respond to The North Star’s request for comment.

“This study shows us that police killings are deeply systematic, with race, gender, and age patterning this excess cause of death,” the study’s co-author Michael Esposito, a postdoctoral researcher in the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, said in a statement.

Esposito added that conversation about who is most at risk has “to incorporate the diversity and intersectionality highlighted in this study, fleshing out our narratives of why individuals with particular social traits have more or less exposure to police violence.”

Researchers from Rutgers University, University of Michigan, and Washington University in St. Louis analyzed mortality data collected by the National Vital Statistics System’s mortality files as well as Fatal Encounters, a journalist-run project that documents police-involved deaths through public records and news coverage. Edwards noted in the statement that Fatal Encounters offered more comprehensive information on police violence than the government’s limited data.

Study co-author Hedwig Lee, professor of sociology at Washington University in St. Louis, said the study’s results “really underscore that police killings are a lot more common than we might have imagined.”

“We haven’t really known for sure how often these killings have been happening because the data hasn’t been good enough,” Edwards added. “But if we are going to try and change police practices that aren’t working, we need to track this information better.”

The researcher told NBC News that he hopes the study will emphasize the need for a “multi-pronged approach” to collect data without solely relying on media reports. According to Gizmodo, the Bureau of Justice Statistics stopped collecting data on “arrest-related deaths” in 2014 after it found it was likely missing cases.

“The Bureau of Justice Statistics needs to develop a comprehensive system that would track police-related deaths,” Edwards said in his statement to Rutgers Today. “We need to increase transparency of police use-of-force if we are going to decrease the number of civilian deaths in this country as a result of these encounters.”

Edwards also told NBC News he hopes the study’s results will prompt others to view and understand police brutality and police-involved deaths as public health issues.

“There’s clear evidence that shows the harmful and distinct ways police violence expands inequality,” Edwards said. “Policing plays a key role in maintaining structural inequalities between people of color and white people in the United States.”

The study also suggests some needed reforms, including social welfare and public health programs, sufficient funding for community-based services, and restricting the use of armed officers as the first responders to mental health situations.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.