iStock

A recent analysis conducted by the Marshall Project confirms what most of us have known, or at least suspected, all along: When a black man is killed by a white person in America, his killer is less likely to face legal consequences, and the killing is more likely to be deemed justifiable.

The Marshall Project is a nonprofit news organization that covers criminal justice in the United States. The organization recently examined homicides committed by civilians between 1980 and 2014 and found that in 1 in 6 of those killings, there was no criminal sanction.

Advertisement

The term “justifiable” is used to describe situations where a police officer or civilian kills someone who is committing a crime or in self-defense.

While police normally classify less than 2 percent of homicides committed by civilians as justifiable, over the last three decades, in cases where the victim was a black man or boy killed by a non-Hispanic white civilian, 17 percent were categorized as justifiable.

According to the Marshall Project, this “disparity persists across different cities, different ages, different weapons and different relationships between killer and victim.”

Advertisement

The Marshall Project used dozens of data sets obtained from the FBI and examined various combinations of killer and victim. When looking at “justifiable homicide,” the Marshall Project noted two types: “felon killed by private citizen” and “felon killed by police officer.”

Worth noting: The person killed is presumptively classified as a felon because the only way a homicide can be justified is if a life was threatened, and threatening a life is a crime, which brings us full circle back to the person killed being presumptively classified as a felon.

Self-defense laws in this country allow people to use deadly force if there is a reasonable belief that force is necessary to defend themselves or others. The interpretation of self-defense laws varies from state to state and often comes down to what the person believed before pulling the trigger.

Mitch Vilos is a Utah defense attorney, gun-rights advocate and the author of Self-Defense Laws of All 50 States. He told the Marshall Project that even if what leads a person to think he or she is in danger is a stereotype, it factors in when considering a self-defense claim.

This is because self-defense decisions made by civilians are the same as those made by police in that they are made quickly, on the fly, with “imperfect information.” Therefore, homicides can be ruled self-defense even if the killers faced no real threat of danger, so long as they had a reasonable belief that they did.

Irrational fear often comes into play in these cases, and the Marshall Project says that police, prosecutors and juries are more apt to give the benefit of the doubt to a killer who was in a situation with a person who seemed “dangerous.”

Advertisement

And we all know that black people, no matter age, gender or size, are always reported as having been viewed as being more dangerous than they were.

“Tell me that it doesn’t factor in if the person is black when they’re approaching the suspect,” Vilos told the Marshall Project. “It contributes to the decision to pull the trigger because of the fear associated with the stereotype.

“Right or wrong, that’s what’s happening, in my opinion,” Vilos added.

Because people in these arguments will always bring up the myth of black-on-black crime, the Marshall Project addressed that as well:

The vast majority of killings of whites are committed by other whites, contrary to some folk wisdom, and the overwhelming majority of killings of blacks is by other blacks.

But killings of black males by white people are labeled justifiable more than eight times as often as others. This racial disparity has persisted for decades and is hard to explain based solely on the circumstances reported by the police data.

Again, none of this is a shock to anyone, I’m sure, but it’s fascinating to see the data analyzed in black and white.

Advertisement

There are always going to be people who will deny that this is a fact, even when presented with hard data and facts. There will always be those who will find a way to justify what has already wrongly been deemed justifiable.

And it is commendable that the Marshall Project took the time to look at this situation and analyze it to provide hard-core facts.

Now that we have those hard-core facts, what are we going to do with them?

Read more at the Marshall Project.