An Update on How Police Kill People to Stop Suicides

So I've been a bit busy this last week, and I haven't really been keeping up with blogs. I understand there are a couple stories right now that are mildly interesting, but I've just been doing other things. One of those things is reviewing a database of ~1,150 people supposedly killed by police officers in the United States for examples like the one I recently highlighted, where police trying to save a man who was trying to commit suicide were labeled the man's killers. I've also been doing some examination of the data as a whole, throwing together some simple charts like this one:


As a preliminary way of examining things. That chart only shows three of the ethnic categories of the database (excluding ones like Native Americans), but those three categories make up the vast majority of the data. If you add the amounts shown for each group, you'll get about the total amount shown. You'll also see there are some staggering differences between the ethnic groups. While many people using databases like this have discussed the narrative of black people being killed at higher rates, especially with black youths, the disparity in killings at higher ages is quite massive and in the other direction.

I'm posting this as an update mostly so people know what I'm up to while I'm quiet. I'm also kind of annoyed with the people managing this database for their apparent lack of concern regarding problems in their database, and writing little updates like these help make this feel like it's not a complete waste of my time.

That all said, I just started a post on a more regular subject matter of this blog - adjustments to the surface temperature record, and how they apply to the global warming debate. What fun.


  1. Brandon -

    ==> "While many people using databases like this have discussed the narrative of black people being killed at higher rates, especially with black youths, the disparity in killings at higher ages is quite massive and in the other direction."

    Do you know where to find the per capita rates for older men? Looking at "The Counted" for 2015 (say, for #'s of men over age 45, broken down by race) it doesn't exactly seem to me to be a massive disparity in the other direction (e.g., at age 45+ "any"white = 213, black = 43; "unarmed" white = 31, black = 11...numbers that don't seem to be out of proportion to the population sizes of white and blacks respectively...particularly since I would guess with higher mortality rates for black males, the proportion of black versus white 45+ males would be lower than the overall ratio of blacks versus whites...) But I couldn't get from that site per capita rates for

  2. Joshua, that's actually the exact database I've been referring to. I've just refrained from naming it because I was trying not go around criticizing people in public before giving them a chance to address the problems. I figured if the issues could be resolved in a sensible manner, then I could first refer to them by name in a positive light. I don't know if that's a good approach to handling it, but I thought it was something worth trying.

    As for per capita rates, there's no singular database which lists it (that I know of). What you have to do is take a database like that one and compare it to another which lists population and mortality rates by race and age. Unfortunately, I didn't think about that before writing this post so I didn't make the appropriate comparisons, relying on the impression created by the apparent reduction shown in that graphic which obviously doesn't account for differences in population sizes. Well actually, I had thought about it and planned to do it, but I had a brain fart of sorts when looking at the image and writing this post and just forgot the caveats I'd need to consider for any such preliminary work. It's basically the same thing either way.

    Anyway, this is something I've planned to discuss in a follow-up post, and I've already created some charts working on showing per capita rates instead of absolute ones. The issue is definitely more nuanced than this graph shows, and I'm not sure whether or not that claim in the post actually holds true or not (in part because I've found contradictions in a couple data sets that I haven't been able to resolve yet).

  3. This is off on a tangent, but I'd never really realized the huge disparity between murder rates for black and Hispanic kids vs white kids until I read a CDC report on the subject a couple of years ago. On a quick search I can't find that report now but this has the takeaway numbers: for people aged 10-24, in 2010, the homicide rates were black 51.5 per 100,000 vs Hispanic 13.5 per 100,000 vs non-Hispanic white 2.9 per 100,000.

    Anyway, Hispanic and especially black kids evidently are likely to suffer far more violent circumstances in general than white kids - with police violence maybe just a small part of it, numerically.

  4. Szilard, a fact which often gets ignored in the narratives about racial issues is the vast majority of things like murder are intraracial. That is, black people are killed by black people and white people are killed by white people. The rate is ~85% across all demographics, with it being a bit higher for black people and a bit lower for white people. Yes, white people are more often the victim of interracial crimes than black people.

    Similarly, one important reason blacks and Hispanic are murdered more often is they're far more likely to be gang members. Despite there being more white people than either of those groups, there are far less white gangsters. The last numbers I heard were something like three times as many gangsters are black than white while four times as many are Hispanics. If you look at the rates adjusted for population, those numbers skyrocket.

    As much as people may dislike it, it is indisputable gang affiliation is a major cause for increased homicide rates with blacks and Hispanics. It's hardly surprising that would also result in them being killed by the police more often. There could certainly be other factors involved, but it wouldn't be simple to prove their influence, much less quantify it.

    There's a certain segment of the population which seems inclined to ignore that though. It's unfortunate as people who seem to try to cite every death of a black person as proof of discrimination only help ensure people won't listen.

  5. Thanks for the link Szilard. I really should do more work on this topic and write about some of it, but after about a hundred phone calls to check information, I've come to the firm conclusion at least some of the databases being collected (and certainly the Guardian's) involve basically no fact-checking or verification of basically anything. In many cases, the news organizations simply copied other work people did (usually anonymous crowds online) wholesale and claimed to have checked each data point while not having done any checking at all. In one case, a false entry got removed from the original list because the people managing it realized it was false within a couple months, yet the news organizations continue to keep it in their database long after.

    I still have more to read in that article (I'm about halfway through), but a number of the same biases I found in other reporting are clear in it as well. I have to say though, the definition they used as a replacement for "mass shootings" is rather remarkable. All they looked for is cases where four or more people were injured or killed because of a shooting. The severity of the injury doesn't matter, nor does the cause. That means it could include things like drive-by shootings where a person dove at the sound of shots and clipped his head on something. Given that broad a category, I think it's surprising there were only 358 incidents.

    Oh well, I need to stop reading it for the night. That quote about video game violence was my breaking point. Such bad journalism.

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