ProPublica Analyzes 3 Decades Of Deadly Police Shootings
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Protesters continue to march in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. Yesterday, crowds gathered outside the police headquarters in Ferguson, where they stayed for close to four hours to mark how long 18-year-old Michael Brown's body was left in the street after he was shot to death by police last August. Police arrested dozens of protesters. Ferguson has renewed a racially charged national debate about how and when police use deadly force. The independent news outlet ProPublica has just analyzed federal data on fatal police shootings over more than three decades. It found that young African-American men are 21 times more likely to be shot dead by police than young white men. Ryan Gabrielson was one of the lead reporters on the investigation. He joins us to talk about the findings. Good morning.
RYAN GABRIELSON: Good morning.
MARTIN: So young, black males, 21 times more likely to be shot dead by police than white men. It's a fairly shocking statistic. Can you walk us through how you arrived at that figure?
GABRIELSON: We took a look first at sort of by decades how the disparity has sort of played out. And that number represents the final three years of the data - the 2010 to 2012 - looking at, not just raw numbers, which were 53 young black males killed compared to nine white males, but also taking into account the population. And that's where we get approximately 31 young, black males killed for every million of them, compared to just more than one white, teenage male killed for every million white, teenage males. And so when you're looking at that disparity in rates, we come up with the 21 times more likely using something called a risk ratio.
MARTIN: Did you look at the police officers who were involved in these episodes and the racial breakdown there?
GABRIELSON: Absolutely. One of the questions that we had and our editors had is, you know, the stereotype - and a lot of the anger in the streets has been over white officers perceived to be targeting black young males. And so we wanted to take a look at, well, when young, black men are killed or people of color in general are killed, who is responsible for killing them? And is there a reason to believe that when it's a police officer of color, they're less likely to kill? And we just didn't find that to necessarily be the case. When black officers - they're only involved in about 10 percent of all fatal shootings because they represent a much smaller percentage of police forces - but when they did kill, 78 percent of the victims were black.
MARTIN: The data, as I understand it, though, depends on hundreds of police departments self-reporting. What are the other limitations of the data?
GABRIELSON: Well, there are things the data doesn't ask, such as, was the victim documented to have had a weapon, or what kind of crime was the officer responding to which led to the fatal shooting? There's also questions from one police agency to another about how they define certain things. You know, how they define a weapon in some cases became an open question because we found that from a different document set, the New York Police Department was calling furtive movements a weapon. So there's always going to be some questions you have to drill down deeper to make sure that everybody's on the same page and they're defining things the same way.
MARTIN: At what point do you, though, as a news organization decide that the dataset is too incomplete to draw conclusions?
GABRIELSON: Well, we approach this analysis a different way than a lot of news organizations have. We knew it couldn't tell us the exact number of homicides by police and broken down by race every single year. But what we wanted to find out is this document tells us how law enforcement characterizes what they're willing to tell us about this. And that's something where there's enough data here to determine the significance of that and to - let's just see what they're telling us.
MARTIN: Ryan Gabrielson, he covers the U.S. justice system for the investigative news organizations ProPublica. Ryan, thanks so much.
GABRIELSON: Thank you.
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