For decades, research conducted on the criminal justice system has revealed a stark reality – the unfair treatment of people of color in the criminal justice system, suggesting that in various ways minority groups, particularly Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) are treated differently than White people by Police.
This unequal treatment is commonly known as police brutality and it can range from verbal abuse to physical, lethal force at the hands of the police.
Although police brutality is often discussed in terms of its impact on an ethnic and racial basis, there is still relatively little discussion of how many White people are killed by police each year. The limited information that exists has raised concerns that white people are also victims of police brutality and are subjected to inequitable treatment by police officers.
This article will provide a comprehensive look at the available data on police killings of white Americans so that readers can better understand the reality of police brutality and the unequal treatment faced by minority groups, particularly BIPOC, as it relates to police brutality.
How Studying Police Killings Has Changed over Time
Before the invention of cellphones, the victims of police brutality were largely invisible, often unheard when their stories could not be captured on camera. As a result, reliable data on police killings of American citizens of any race was virtually nonexistent until recently.
In recent years, a growing number of victims of police brutality have been equipped with some form of audio-visual recording device, resulting in a dramatic increase in the amount of video evidence being collected that can provide an indication of the amount of violence being inflicted upon citizens of various ethnicities and races by police officers.
The evidence that has been recorded and documented has been used to better understand the nature of police brutality and its impact on different groups. This evidence, coupled with the creation of national databases of police killings, has put police killings of white people under closer scrutiny.
Availability of Data on Police Killings
The first of these databases, the Fatal Encounters project, began in 2000 with the purpose of creating a comprehensive list of people killed by police officers nationwide. However, this project was limited to a select number of cities, and it was not until after the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013 that the project developed into a nationwide database of victims of police violence.
The first national database of police killings was compiled by The Washington Post in 2015. This database quickly became the standard used by researchers and politicians to get an accurate picture of the number of people killed by police officers in the US each year.
Since then, the Fatal Encounters project has been updated to account for changes in methodology and new cities being added. Additionally, since 2015 other databases have been established that include a variety of demographic information on victims of police killings, most notably the National Police Killings Data Set, released in 2020 by the National Institute of Justice.
How Many White People Are Killed by Police?
In order to answer this question, one must first understand how researchers count deaths at the hands of police officers. Generally, these counts include both lethal and non-lethal incidents involving police officers that end with a person being injured or killed. This includes deaths from shots fired by police officers, but also deaths from physical altercations, in-custody deaths, suicides, and other fatal interactions with police officers.
In recent years, researchers have relied on data from The Washington Post and the National Police Killings Data Set to get an accurate count of the number of people killed by police officers each year.
According to data collected by these sources, in 2020 there were over 1,100 fatal encounters between police officers and civilian individuals in the United States. Of those 1,100 deaths, approximately 1,000 involved unarmed civilians, while 100 of those victims were believed to have been armed with a weapon.
The Washington Post’s Fatal Force Database also reported that of the 1,100 fatal encounters, 345 victims, or approximately 30%, were identified as White, while 656 victims (59%) were identified as BIPOC. This means that 3 out of 10 victims of fatal police encounters in 2020 were White individuals.
Over the past Decade
When looking at the past decade, the statistics on killings of White people by police officers remain largely unchanged. According to data from The Washington Post, from 2010 to 2020, 3,474 people were killed by police officers, and of those, 1,050 (30%) were identified as White.
However, over the same period, Black people were disproportionately targeted by police, with 1,384 people (40%) being identified as BIPOC. Additionally, the data from The Washington Post showed that 1,267 of these police killings (36% ) involved unarmed civilians, with 258 being identified as White, and 844 being identified as BIPOC.
The data suggests that police violence is clearly not limited to just BIPOC, as White Americans are also victims of police brutality and are subjected to inequitable treatment by police officers.
Over the past decade, 3 out 10 victims of lethal police encounters have been identified as White, while 6 out of 10 have been identified as BIPOC, making it clear that White Americans are still victims of police brutality, and that the issue of racial bias in the criminal justice system and police brutality is an urgent problem that needs to be addressed.
Ultimately, although more evidence is needed to understand the full scope of police brutality, the evidence that is available indicates that police violence is an issue that affects all communities, not just one particular ethnic group.
For individuals looking to combat police brutality, there are several steps that can be taken to fight for change, such as getting involved in the political process, joining a protest or rally, and advocating for police reform initiatives in your local community. By taking these steps, individuals can help make their towns safer for everyone and help to create lasting, meaningful reforms that will ensure everyone receives fair, equitable treatment by the police at all times.