A Mother Jones story by Jaeah Lee last August didn’t have an answer to the question posed in its headline: “Exactly How Often Do Police Shoot Unarmed Black Men?” So it painted a portrait using anecdotes and tangentially-related statistics.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder acknowledged two weeks ago that there is no answer. “The troubling reality is that we lack the ability right now to comprehensively track the number of incidents of either uses of force directed at police officers or uses of force by police,” he said in a speech honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.
It’s the lack of the latter that concerns Americans who suspect a widespread, systemic problem with how white police officers treat people of color. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) collects a lot of crime data from cities, counties and states, but does not ask law enforcement who they are killing and why.
What information is known at the various levels of government is often self-reported and unreliable. The federal government’s best information identifies around 400 “justifiable homicides” by police per year. But that is woefully lacking.
The site gathers “corporate news reports of people killed by nonmilitary law enforcement officers, whether in the line of duty or not, and regardless of reason or method. Inclusion implies neither wrongdoing nor justification on the part of the person killed or the officer involved. The post merely documents the occurrence of a death.”
The acclaimed statistically-oriented FiveThirtyEight.com favorably vetted the numbers. Killed by Police isn’t the only website gathering the data. Fatal Encounters, the Gun Violence Archive and Deadspin are among other sites that have crowdsourced a plea to gather the information that government should have, but does not. None of them are comprehensive.