Since 2015, nearly 250 women across America have been shot and killed by police. Despite comprising just 13 percent of the population of women in the United States, Black women accounted for 20 percent of the killings, a new analysis finds.
The report, published on Sep. 4, comes from the Washington Post’s Fatal Force project, which maps police violence around the country. The report finds that police have fatally shot 247 women. Of that number, 48 were Black women.
Black women also comprised a disproportionately high number of all unarmed women killed, the report found. Out of 26 unarmed women who were fatally shot by police, seven (28 percent) were Black.
These rates were comparable, though still substantially lower, than the rate at which Black men are killed by police. Black men comprise just 12 percent of all men living in the United States but are 27 percent of all men killed, and 36 percent of all unarmed deaths. In total, police have killed 5,362 men in the U.S.
The report also takes a deeper look at the circumstances surrounding officer killings of women. Criminal justice experts note that women are killed at substantially lower rates because of police bias—police simply don’t see women as threats to safety in the same way they view men. But when women act against stereotypes or expectations, when they are not seen as submissive or compliant, they are far more likely to be the subjects of fatal force. Andrea Ritchie, researcher-in-residence at the Barnard Center for Research on Women notes this is especially true for Black and LGBTQ women.
This may explain why women with mental health issues are more likely to be fatally shot by police than their male counterparts—31 percent of women vs. 22 percent of men.
The analysis was inspired by the March 13 death of Breonna Taylor, whose killing at the hands of Louisville Metro Police has helped galvanize protests around the country. Initially, her death received little attention from national media, who only began refocusing on her death after the high-profile killings of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Of the women killed by police since 2015, 20 were “collateral damage”—women killed as police were trying to pursue someone else. This was the case in Taylor’s death. The warrant served at her home was related to a drug case involving a former love interest. Following Taylor’s death, LMPD claimed they were returning shots fired from boyfriend Kenneth Walker, who had mistaken the police for intruders.
Kimberlé Crenshaw, executive director of the African American Policy Forum, told the Post it’s particularly hard for these kinds of deaths to attract the attention from the public that they deserve.
“As long as Black women lose their lives in circumstances like these, their lost life won’t be dramatized in a way that mobilizes the kinds of reforms that have to happen in order to protect more life and to make police officers accountable,” said Crenshaw.
It’s also important to remember women typically experience different kinds of police violence than men do. A 2018 study found that police officers were charged with forcible rape 405 times between 2005 and 2013—averaging 45 a year. Forcible fondling accounted for another 636 instances, reports CNN.
And those are only the cases in which police are charged. Ritchie, talking to NPR in 2017, observed that police sexual violence was “the second most frequently reported form of police misconduct but not the second most talked about.”
Black women are also particularly vulnerable to these kinds of assaults, Ritchie said. And, because of the nature and circumstances of these sexual assaults, these incidents are less likely to be documented on social media in the way physical assaults and police shootings have.
Said Ritchie: “If police violence against black women and women of color is happening in the back seats of patrol cars, on the way to the precinct, in the precinct in the context of domestic violence, in the context of responses to mental health crises — all those things are happening in private spaces away from cell phones and cop-watching cameras.”