Teams of journalists and civilians are tracking down the numbers, and the stories behind them.
Amazingly, the Justice Department and the FBI keep only partial track of the number of people killed by U.S. police each year. But the protest movement that has mobilized around police killings of people of color has brought civilians and journalists together to track data police departments aren’t required to report. The crowd-sourced Mapping Police Violence project—assembled by activists DeRay Mckesson, Netta Elzie, and Samuel Sinyangwe—tracked 304 fatal encounters of black people with police in 2014.
This week, two newspapers published results of their own attempts to track down every fatal police shooting in the United States. The Washington Post reported that police have shot and killed at least 385 people in the first five months of 2015—80 percent of whom were armed with potentially deadly weapons when police shot them. (The Post didn’t include other deaths in police custody, such as Freddie Gray, whose spine was severed in a Baltimore police van, or Donald Ivy, who died after being tasered in Albany, New York.) Half of the victims in the Post’s analysis were white, but two-thirds of all unarmed victims were black or Hispanic, confirming the disparity protesters have called attention to.
The Guardian, meanwhile, launched “The Counted,” an interactive project tracking people killed by police in the U.S., drawing on reporting by its journalists and crowdsourced information submitted by civilians. Its broader survey counts 467 victims so far in 2015. Among its disturbing findings: 26 percent of the people killed by police had mental health issues, according to family, friends, or police reports.
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Christopher L. Walton is editor of UU World. He holds degrees from Harvard Divinity School and the University of Utah and is a member of the Church of the Larger Fellowship.
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