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Another Dimension to “Black Lives Matter”

The Washington Post’s landmark survey of police shootings in 2015 found that around twice as many people were shot to death by police than others, including this author, had estimated from FBI and public health sources. In a large majority of deadly police shootings, officers killed suspects armed with lethal weapons; none of those shootings appear to be controversial.

Of suspects shot to death by police, percent who were unarmed

The controversy over possibly unjustified police shootings surrounds the fewer than one in 10 instances in which unarmed suspects were killed. The Post survey, consistent with the point Black Lives Matter has raised about the racialized nature of police shootings, found a Black unarmed suspect in 2015 was more than twice as likely, and a Latino unarmed suspect was twice as likely, to be fatally shot by police than a white unarmed suspect.

What has not been noted is that age was an even more significant predictor of being killed by police officers, especially for ages 18 to 29. An unarmed young person (under age 30) who is white or Latino was nearly four times more likely — and a young African American was nearly five times more likely — to be shot to death by police than older unarmed suspects of the same race age 45 and over. Equally disturbing, the age range of unarmed suspects’ vulnerability to being shot by police extended into the thirties and forties for African Americans.

A young, white unarmed suspect age 18 to 29 was more likely to be shot by police than an unarmed Latino suspect over age 30, or an unarmed Black suspect over age 45. Conversely, an unarmed suspect over age 45, regardless of race, was the least likely to be shot and killed by law enforcement. Older suspects tend to be shot only if armed with lethal weaponry.

The Washington Post’s report suggests that, for unarmed suspects, being a young adult is more hazardous than being Black or Latino. The most dangerous combination is to be both. What do young people (regardless of race) and people of color (especially those younger than middle age) have in common? Both are likely to be among the poorest Americans.

It would be no surprise if the propensity of law enforcement to shoot suspects, even if unarmed, from poorer demographics reflected the fact that police fear, display less interest in communicating with, and devalue the lives of poor people along with the rest of society.

Keywords: Black Lives Matter, Mike Males, police practices, police shootings, poverty, racial disparities

Posted in Blog, Social Justice

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