Put aside the way in which they protested. Let’s focus on their motivation to protest.
President Trump’s speech at an Alabama rally Friday night has sparked massive discussion and controversy around the interaction between sports and politics. On Sunday morning, ESPN spent the first 15 minutes of its “NFL Sunday Countdown” show discussing — and mostly condemning — Trump’s comments that NFL owners should fire or suspend players who kneel during the playing of the national anthem.
For those unaware — certain NFL players have begun to kneel during the national anthem to protest police brutality against African Americans. In 2016, Colin Kaepernick infamously said “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” These protests by players have sparked a lot of conversation and rhetoric from sports analysts, political commentators, and, as noted above, the President of the United States.
But rather than get into rhetoric, let’s get into facts. Full transparency — this article will read much more like “old school” news: it will present the facts to you, the reader, so you can make your own judgments and conclusions. It will be as balanced and unbiased as possible.
So, what are the facts around police brutality — especially as it relates to African Americans in the United States of America?
To answer this question, I looked at the Washington Post’s “Police Shootings 2017” database. Since 2015, the Washington Post has been compiling data on police shootings of civilians. Since the Washington Post is fairly well known to not be an unbiased source of information, I did review their published methodology. Not surprisingly, their methodology was pretty vague (“The Post conducted additional analysis in many cases…”) and included some strange data sources (most notably, social media). Still, the Post’s database is probably the best available source of public information, so that’s what we will look at.
Let’s dive in with five questions.
Question 1: How many civilians have been killed in 2017 compared to past years?
The overall number of civilian deaths is approximately equal to 2015 and 2016.
Question 2: How many black civilians have been killed in 2017 compared to past years?
In 2017 the total number of black civilians killed by police remained about the same and may have even dropped slightly — there was a drop between 2015 and 2016.
Note: As you can see in the chart, there are still many entries in the Post’s database where the race of the civilian has not been confirmed.
The discussion around police brutality really centers around unarmed civilians, so let’s look into that as well.
Question 3: But what about unarmed civilians?
Since 2015, the number of unarmed civilians being killed by police has dropped significantly (data for all years through September 22nd).
Note: This includes only civilians that, according the Post database, were “unarmed.” This doesn’t include records where the weapon was “undetermined” by the Post.
Question 4: But what about unarmed black civilians?
Similar to above, the number of unarmed black civilians being killed by police is down in 2017. In fact, these types of deaths are down 63% since 2015 (data for all years through September 22nd).
Note: This includes only civilians that, according the Post database, were “unarmed.” This doesn’t include records where the weapon was “undetermined” by the Post. There were no instances where a civilian was identified as “unarmed” and their race was not indicated in the database.
Question 5: How does this compare to police officer deaths on duty?
The best data I could find on police fatalities was on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund website. For this analysis, I included police officer deaths by gunfire. This doesn’t include instances where officers are stabbed, hit by cars, etc.
Of course, there are endless ways to dissect data. Luckily, the Washington Post’s database is publicly available for anyone who would like to perform their own analysis. Their data is far from perfect, but it’s the best source I could find. Hopefully the analysis above provides interesting insight and information.
The data does leave many questions unanswered — for example: what was the race of the officer in these instances? The need for more complete, accurate, reliable, unbiased, and timely data is sadly obvious when you realize that the Washington Post’s data is the best that is available to the public (at least, that I’m aware of).
Let’s focus less on rhetoric and more on facts so we can come together and find solutions to the problems that plague our great country.