The Rising Death Toll of Black Americans Killed by Police in 2020 | Stats & Facts
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“Stats and Facts” is a series highlighting systemic inequities using researched data.
I often think about the time I thought I wouldn’t survive a police encounter when conversations around police reform are introduced in politics. It was the Fall of 2012 and me and my homie, Marcel, were heading to a rap concert in Baton Rouge just outside the north gates of Louisiana State University (LSU). I made a perfectly legal turn onto the street that was adjacent to the venue and we were pulled over by three white officers. They alleged we were not wearing seatbelts, assumed we were in possession of marijuana, ordered us to get out of my car and separated us.
For roughly fifteen minutes, Marcel and I were in isolation of each other and at the mercy of the Baton Rouge police officers asking us a barrage of unnecessary questions and attempting to implicate us in criminal activity. When we told them we were headed to a hip-hop concert, they informed us that a couple of weeks prior, they had arrested New Orleans rapper, Currensy, on weed charges and asked us if we knew him.
Because of course, all young Black men into rap music know each other.
The short of the story is that Marcel and I were sent on our way, but only after Marcel received a citation for having an open container in my door panel. We made it to the show we were headed to and attempted to have a good time despite losing what amounted to a half-hour of being apprehended.
A fun fact about that incident is as we were on the side of trying to answer their interrogation in a tone and manner that would not turn us into hashtags, we watched multiple cars driven by young, white college kids zoom by recklessly. I’m pretty sure that many of those drivers were under the influence, but alas, they were young college students at a predominantly white institution. They were just being kids.
Marcel and I were apparently en route to smuggle narcotics at a live music venue before local law enforcement broke up our nefarious drug ring. Why else would we be out near Louisiana's flagship university after dark?
It has been eight years since I experienced that egregious moment of racial profiling and it is a tale I have told and written about time and time again. And after all of this time, I still find myself wedged between feelings of gratitude to have survived the encounter and the indignity of experiencing it at all.
The list of Black citizens killed unjustly at the hands of American police over the last eight years is a roll call of names that none of us should know. I dare not exhaust writing efforts detailing names that roll off our tongues as commonly as the names of family members.
We know what has happened to who, and who bears the responsibility for this timeline of 21st-century genocide that has been protected under the law. Yet, in spite of thousands of protests, gallons of spilled blood and hours of funeral services, it is still astounding to witness Black folks die in an extrajudicial manner amidst a once-in-a-generation public health crisis.
2020 is just over a month and a half from being over. America has buried over 230,000 citizens and counting due to the coronavirus, and within the middle of all this turmoil, American police have still managed to kill nearly 900 citizens this year. A staggering 28 percent of those killed have been Black.
Tracking Police Violence Against Black Bodies in 2020
MappingPoliceViolence.org is a data-collecting site that compiles data of officer-involved civilian deaths and organizes its findings by way of geography. Per the site, a police killing is defined as a case where a person dies as a result of being shot, beaten, restrained, intentionally hit by a police vehicle, pepper-sprayed, tasered or otherwise harmed by police officers, whether on-duty or off-duty.
Additionally, the creators of the site state that the information presented has been “meticulously sourced from the three largest, most comprehensive and impartial crowdsourced databases on police killings in the country: FatalEncounters.org, the U.S. Police Shootings Database and KilledbyPolice.net.” The site also features original research that involves searching social media, obituaries, criminal records databases and police reports of victims in their database.
It is their belief that the data is comprehensive and consistent with trends in state-sanctioned violence. Even with accounting for margins of error, what we have seen with our own eyes throughout the course of this impossible year is that American law enforcement has not tempered their violence towards Black citizens.
I decided to focus on three specific metrics provided by MappingPoliceViolence.org to unpack the inhumanity of public servants’ continuous slaughter of Black Americans, despite the nation being in the grips of COVID-19 over the last ten months.
Police Violence Does Not Prioritize Vacation Time
According to data collected via MappingPoliceViolence.org, there are only 14 days when American police did not kill an American citizen between the months of January-September 2020. Fourteen days, or two weeks, is usually the length of time afforded to a full-time employee who has accrued the maximum amount of vacation hours.
Using that analogy, police violence has hardly taken any time to relax. It has remained busy at work, amassing a body count that seems unfathomable in a time when social distancing is the order of the day. George Floyd was killed in the full swing of the coronavirus pandemic, as was Rayshard Brooks. Breonna Taylor was killed in the early stages of the pandemic while servicing the public as an essential worker. Their names dominated headlines, catalyzed social unrest and influenced political platforms.
They are not the lone three Black victims of police violence that make up the 28 percent of Black folks killed by police in 2020. They are the names that landed atop a stack of death certificates authored by an overachieving culture of police violence.
Open Season on Black Men in Eight Major Metropolitan Cities
Detractors of the Black Lives Matter movement often point to “Black on Black crime” as a reason to flatten the conversation around state-sanctioned violence. These talking points are flawed for a few reasons. Still, they are mainly thwarted by two realities: “Black on Black crime” is no more malevolent than crime in general, as the majority of crimes that Americans commit against other Americans are crimes of proximity.
Segregated communities keep ALL Americans prone to violence at the hands of perpetrators who share a similar cultural identity as their victims. The myth of Black folks being outrageously more threatening to each other than any other ethnic group is to their counterparts, is just that, a myth.
The other consideration is that even if the so-called “Black on Black crime” existed as a social dilemma where only Black Americans caused harm to those in their immediate surroundings, that still would not be an excuse for American police to kill Black citizens with impunity. Regardless if someone is of the belief that intra-racial violence serves as a philosophical scapegoat for police violence or not, there is data that disrupts the theory suggesting that Black lives will matter when Black people stop killing each other.
Per MappingPoliceViolence.org, cities that house the top eight largest police departments in the nation kill Black men at a higher volume than the average U.S. murder rate. Those cities: Reno, Nevada, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Santa Ana, California, Anaheim, California, St. Louis City, Missouri, Scottsdale, Arizona, Hialeah, Florida, Madison, Wisconsin, Las Vegas, Nevada, Riverside, California, Albuquerque, New Mexico, Orlando, Florida, Kansas City, Kansas, and Phoenix, Arizona were all locations where police killing of Black men eclipsed the murder rate of 2018.
How is “Black on Black” crime a comparable concern with that data in mind?
How Can Police Violence End When Police Are Rarely Held Accountable
American police who kill Black people under suspicious circumstances are covered by legal precedents and police unions. According to the numbers, an astronomical 98.3 percent of killings by police between 2013-2020 have not resulted in officers being charged with a crime. In the most high profile example to date involving the officers who killed Breonna Taylor, only one out of the three officers were charged with the crime of wanton endangerment for shooting into the home of Taylor’s neighbors.
Taylor’s death did not bring about any criminal charges against the offending officers, despite it being the cause of a new law banning no-knock warrants and the crime being egregious enough for her family to receive a $12 million settlement from the city of Louisville. The message in cases such as the one involving the Louisville Metro Police Department is clear: the legal apparatus will do everything but convict American police of extrajudicial murder when it comes to Black people.
In the rare instance a conviction does happen, the reprimand pales in comparison to the crime.
About the Author
Donney Rose is a poet, essayist, Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow, advocate and Chief Content Editor at The North Star. He believes in telling how it is and how it should be.