A new study published Wednesday in Criminology & Public Policy found that among the 990 fatal shootings that occurred that year, police were twice as likely to kill unarmed black civilians as unarmed white civilians. The study assessed the most robust dataset on police shootings available, compiled by the Washington Post in 2015.
The report provides quantitative data to better understand issues of police brutality against communities of color that have been brought to the forefront of public consciousness by the high-profile activism of Black Lives Matter in the past few years.
Dr. Justin Nix of Louisville University, who co-authored the study alongside his colleagues, analyzed the victims’ racial makeup and whether they were armed or acting violently at the time they were shot. They also controlled for variables such as crime and mental illness in order to isolate race as a contributing factor.
The more they eliminated other factors, the more implicit bias appeared to play a role, Nix explained, as reported by Wired.
“I think what this is pointing to is that, when officers are in those very threatening situations, it’s a lot harder to compensate for bias,” said Jack Glaser, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in racial profiling. “They are terrified and they are influenced relatively more by lower-level, spontaneous processes.”
Among the study’s other findings was that non-Black people of color were less likely than whites to have been acting violently during the encounters with police.
There was, the authors said, a “tendency to overestimate the correlation between race and crime.”
“In other words, the police, who are trained in the first place to be suspicious, become conditioned to view minorities with added suspicion,” they wrote.