A new study found that not only are police killings undercounted by more than half, but Black men’s killings are mislabeled at higher rates than any other race. From 1980 to 2019, more than 55 percent of the 31,000 killings by cops were assigned other causes in federal death data.
The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Washington and published in a peer-reviewed medical journal called the Lancet, reveals that no government agency is tracking how often cops kill people, according to the Washington Post.
One of the study’s experts said the deaths are poorly categorized and preventable; another expert noted that systemic racism explains why these deaths are so poorly tracked.
Researchers used decades of data from the National Vital Statistics System, which tracks births and deaths, and compared it with three databases that track police violence via news reports and public records: Fatal Encounters, Mapping Police Violence and the Guardian’s The Counted.
Here is more on the findings, per the Post:
Mohsen Naghavi, the study’s senior author, told The Washington Post that it is critical to look beyond the incomplete data provided by government agencies.
“Here the role of the media is very important,” he said. “If we didn’t have the media, we wouldn’t have open-source data.”
Noting the striking discrepancy between the study’s findings and the government’s data, the authors called for public health officials and researchers to “swiftly adopt open-source data-collection initiatives to provide accurate estimates and advocate for policy change to address this long-neglected public health crisis.”
Researchers identified places where misclassification of deaths often occurred, noting that medical examiners or coroners — who must fill out the cause of death when there is suspicion of foul play, including police violence — can be embedded in or work for police departments.
If the medical examiner, coroner or other certifier fails to indicate police involvement in the cause of death on the death certificate, the incident could be misclassified.
The study underscores how deeply enmeshed systemic racism is in different aspects of life — including health, said Edwin G. Lindo, assistant dean for social and health justice at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
“We have to really sit back and say, ‘What does this mean?’” the critical race theory scholar told The Post. “In my mind there is a deep-seated undercurrent of systemic racism to the point that a medical examiner doesn’t have to declare that they’re racist. The practices are already showing, and the racism is occurring, not just during the encounter itself, but even after the individual has passed away.
One way to avoid issues of miscategorizing deaths is to make forensic pathologists independent from law enforcement. That way, the study’s author’s note, it avoids incorrectly identifying the cause of death because of outside pressures. Experts should be granted whistleblower protections in order to fully investigate police violence, the authors added.
Black people were 3.5 times more likely than white folks to be killed by cops, according to the study. And here is the most troubling but not surprising fact, according to researchers: one in every thousand Black men in America is killed by cops.