In major metropolitan areas around the country over the last half-decade, police have shot — and shot at — people in numbers dramatically higher than previous tallies suggest. A new Vice News investigation finds that between 2010-2016, cops in the 50 largest police departments in the country shot more than 3,630 people, nearly double some previous estimates. Of the 4,381 people cops fired upon in that period — including the 700 people they shot at and missed — two-thirds survived those shootings.
Absent a comprehensive federal database of police shootings, the Vice report offers the most complete picture of fatal and nonfatal police shootings available.
The data analysis also found that police shot black people “more often and at higher rates than any other race,” and “two and a half times more often than white people.” Vice found that cops shot no fewer than 1,664 black people in the period studied, comprising “55 percent of the total and more than double the share of the black population in these communities.” Twenty percent of the African Americans tallied were shot following “relatively innocuous pedestrian or traffic stops,” which was true for just 16 percent of whites shot by police. Those figures are of particular importance considering that studies find black drivers are more likely to be stopped by cops based on less evidence, less likely than their white peers to be spoken to respectfully during those stops, and more likely to be ticketed and arrested than white drivers.
While police narratives of shootings studied by Vice suggest the majority of blacks shot by cops were themselves involved in shootings or robberies, the proliferation of cell phone and body camera footage that contradicts police versions of events brings the trustworthiness of those numbers into question. Many videos made public after the fact have illustrated that shootings initially described by police as being self-defensive were in fact extrajudicial executions of African Americans. Unquestionably, some shootings of black citizens result from actual crimes being committed. But the demonstrated fallibility of police accounts shows that in a disturbing number of cases, police officers “shoot first and come up with reasons later.” The Vice News investigation finds that a significant number of people (20 percent) shot by police were unarmed. Among those, 44 percent were African American.