991 die due to police action in the United States in 2015

According to a study published by the The Washington Post, in 2015, armed interventions involving on-duty police officers in the United States caused the deaths of 991 persons. Most (942) were men; and in 782 cases, they had threatened the police with life-threatening weapons; the race of such victims was mainly white (495), and the most common age group was between 18 and 44 (684).

Estudi The Washington Post

The high number of unarmed people who were shot at by the police is particularly noteworthy (93) as is the number of those carrying a toy weapon (34), which suggests that 12% of those who died were actually not a danger to the police or any third party. The number of blacks and Hispanics (430) was significantly high (almost the same as whites), as this amounts to an overrepresentation of such groups when one considers their percentage of the population. A piece of information to take into account is that 251 of these people manifested symptoms of mental illness (over 20% of the total) and that 277 were over 45. In most cases, the police justify such an intervention by stating that the person involved was attacking the police (or third parties).

The extremely high number of cases in the state of California (177) when compared with other well-populated states must be highlighted. For example, in the state of New York only 19 deaths were recorded. Texas also reported significant numbers (95), involving mainly blacks and Hispanics (50 counties in all). In third place is Arizona, with 39 cases, with mainly white victims (27). Rhode Island —with a population of nearly one million— is the only state which recorded no deaths due to police intervention.

According to the same source, on 24 October 2016, 776 people have lost their lives at the hands of the police since 1st January. It may be true that this is not official data as it is based on tracking news stories, police web pages, social networks and other independent data bases which gather such information. The only official data corresponds to justified homicides published by the FBI, which in 2015 rose to 442. It must be taken into account, however, that non-justified cases are not included. Moreover, the government of the United States has made no attempt to deny the results of this research [*].

It is very possible that the right to carry firearms which is recognised by the second amendment of the US constitution, which favours the presence of many weapon-carrying citizens, is the reason why the police are prone to use their weapons in excess. Furthermore, it is not unusual for police commissions or authorities to pass a verdict of improper use of weapons by officers, as stated by the Los Angeles Times and NBC New York. Other research —like the one conducted by The Guardian — show even higher figures (1,146 deaths in 2015), as they not only include deaths caused by firearms but also those who have died because of the use of electric weapons or in police custody.

[*] This research, moreover, has been recognised by journalist organisations. The Washington Post and The Guardian have been nominated finalists for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting 2016 thanks to their research into deaths caused by police intervention.

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