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Randy Sutton

Randy Sutton

Randy Sutton is a 33-year law enforcement veteran, a trainer, and the national spokesman for The American Council on Public Safety. He served 10 years with the Princeton (N.J.) Police Department and 23 years with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, retiring at the rank of lieutenant. He is an author who has published multiple books on law enforcement.
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Patrol

Analyzing Police Shootings of "Unarmed" Black Suspects

Whether a suspect is unarmed or not depends on the definition of "unarmed."

February 12, 2016  |  by Heather Mac Donald

For the last year or so, the Washington Post has been gathering data on fatal police shootings of civilians. Commentators have taken the Post’s data as evidence that the police are gunning down unarmed blacks out of implicit bias. But a close examination of the Post’s findings presents a more complicated picture of policing and casts doubt on the notion that these shootings were driven by race.

The Post began its police shootings project in response to the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The results: As of Jan. 15, the Post had documented 987 persons killed in police shootings in 2015, about twice the number historically recorded by federal agencies. Whites were 50 percent of the fatalities, and blacks were 26 percent. By comparison, whites are 62 percent of the U.S. population, and blacks, 13 percent. The ensuing debate has largely centered on whether the disproportionate number of black deaths is a result of police racism or the relatively high rate of crime in black neighborhoods, which brings black men into more frequent, and more fraught, encounters with the police.

Last August the Post focused its research on shootings of "unarmed" black men, who the paper said were seven times more likely than unarmed white men to die by police gunfire. The article noted that 24 of the 60 “unarmed” deaths up to that date — some 40 percent — were of black men, helping to explain "why outrage continues to simmer a year after Ferguson." By year’s end, there were 36 unarmed black men (and two black women) and 31 unarmed white men (and one white woman) among the total of 987 persons killed by police. The rate at which unarmed black men were more likely than unarmed white men to die by police gunfire had dropped, but was still six-to-one.

But the numbers don’t tell the whole story. It is worth looking at the specific cases included in the Post’s "unarmed victim" classification in some detail, since that category is the most politically explosive. The “unarmed” label is literally accurate, but it frequently fails to convey highly-charged policing situations. In a number of cases, if the deceased ended up being unarmed, it was certainly not for lack of trying. At least five black suspects had reportedly tried to grab the officer’s gun, or had been beating the cop with his own equipment. Some were shot from an accidental discharge triggered by their own assault on the officer. And two individuals included in the Post’s “unarmed black victims” category were struck by stray bullets aimed at someone else in justified cop shootings. If the persons killed were not the intended targets, then racism could have played no role in their deaths.

In one of those unintended cases, an undercover cop from the New York Police Department was conducting a gun sting in Mount Vernon, just north of New York City. One of the gun traffickers jumped into the cop’s car, stuck a pistol to his head, grabbed $2,400 and fled. The officer gave chase and opened fire after the thief again pointed his gun at him. Two of the officer’s bullets accidentally hit a 61-year-old bystander, killing him. That older man happened to be black, but his race had nothing to do with his tragic death.

Unfortunately, innocent blacks like the elderly Mount Vernon man probably do face a higher chance of getting shot by stray police fire than innocent whites. But that is because violent crime in their neighborhoods is so much higher. The per capita shooting rate in Brownsville, Brooklyn, with its legacy of poverty and crime, is 81 times higher than in working-class Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, a few miles away, according to the New York Police Department. This exponentially higher rate of gun violence means that the police will be much more intensively deployed in Brownsville, trying to protect innocent residents and gangbangers alike from shootings. If the police are forced to open fire, in rare instances a police bullet will go astray and hit a bystander. That is tragic, but that innocent’s chance of getting shot by the police is dwarfed by his chance of getting shot by criminals.

Other unarmed blacks in the Post’s database were so fiercely resisting arrest, judging from press accounts, that the officers involved could reasonably have viewed them as posing a grave danger. In October 2015, a San Diego officer was called to a Holiday Inn in nearby Point Loma, after hotel employees ejected a man causing a disturbance in the lobby. The officer approached a male casing cars in the hotel’s parking lot. The suspect jumped the officer and both fell to the ground. The officer tried to Tase the man, hitting himself as well. The suspect repeatedly tried to wrench the officer’s gun from its holster, according to news reports, and continued assaulting the officer after both had stood up. Fearing for his life, the officer shot the man.

It is hard to see how race entered into that encounter. Someone who tries for an officer’s gun must be presumed to have the intention to use it.

Read Complete Article at the Marshall Project.


Comments (8)

Displaying 1 - 8 of 8

wvscorchy @ 2/15/2016 6:44 PM

Consider this info:

Murder - FBI UCR data
Race and Sex of Victim by Race and Sex of Offender, 2012 White (white category includes Hispanics)
[Single victim/single offender]

white victim/white offender-2,614 black victim/black offender-2,412
white victim/black offender-431 black victim/white offender-193

FBI Releases 2014 Statistics on Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted:
51 LEOs died as a result of felonious acts in 2014

In 2014, of the 48,315 officers assaulted while performing their duties, 28.3% (13,673) were injured.. Assailants used personal weapons (hands, fists, feet, etc.) in 79.9% of the incidents, firearms in 4% of the incidents, and knives or other cutting instruments in 2% of the incidents.
In 2014-Out of 48,315 officers assaulted, 13,673 officers were injured, 51 LEOs died as a result of felonious acts ...
less than 1000 individuals killed in police shootings in 2015, many of those armed (or trying to be) 907 armed/80 unarmed

Clay @ 2/15/2016 7:29 PM

This article works only if the you can trust the cops word. We constantly see how video shows a different version to the truth.

I am now believing the "he went for my gun" is just a catch all. I wouldn't believe that without concrete evidence - not just the cops word.

AZBIGDOG @ 2/16/2016 6:56 AM

@Clay, so you call the officers liars and would not believe anyone or anything but video. And officers are expected, by you apparently, to lie about someone taking or trying to take their firearm. Having been in that position of a meth fueled person beating another person and when attempting to stop it, the person turned and attempted to strike me as well as reached down and tried to pull my firearm from my holster. And the even better part was that despite being struck in the face and head numerous time, kicked several times in the groin he would not let go. And I then was attacked by his victim at the same time, turns out they were brother in laws. So, I have a feeling that you would not believe even video, interpreting it as you see fit. Too bad, I sincerely hope that if you ever become a victim of an assault by a person, that the officers stop and try to determine the correct response to a person being beat, stomped and killed. And if they do decide to act on your behalf, that they ensure that all their video gear is working and turned on prior to coming to your assistance. And ensure that the video is capturing the actual assistance clearly and completely. That way should you be killed by the person the court will have a clear view of the crime and the officers assisting in capturing the assailant alive in order to prosecute them. As you don't know me I will ensure you that all the above except the assault on me essentially is sarcasm. But it is typical of those who do not know or do not have a clue of what Police work is really like. And the hypocrisy of call officers liars just because it is their word against the world at times.

Pup @ 2/16/2016 12:19 PM

Numbers can be payed to anyone's advantage. It's always about making cops look as racist. Take a look how many blacks are incarcerated and committing crimes. No matter what happens, LE will always be racist in the eyes of the media and blacks. It's a no win situation for LE. All I can say is, if you can make a difference, pin a badge on your chest and work a black neighborhood without a side arm. In addition, if you're a chicken to be a cop without a gun, I challenge you white folks, who hate cops to walk down a gang invested black area at night or better yet at day time. You better Not be SCARED, looking around or increase heart rate because the black gangs won't harm you or take your money. As for the women, wear your short shorts or a short skirt. The bottom line is the majority of blacks are good, working people. It's the others who are on welfare, doing jail time or bums looking to get free money who fight the cops and look for free handouts. By the way, are blacks racist?

DD 1616 @ 2/17/2016 7:50 AM

How about this, #1, do not commit crime where someone may have contact with police. #2, if in contact with the police, do what they tell you to do. If the police are wrong, then they get paid after hiring an attorney. #3, do not resist. Simple, none of these high profile cases would have occurred had these suspects followed these simple rules.

plato's playdough @ 2/21/2016 2:25 AM

If you feel you can't trust a cop, why would you EVER trust a criminal?

Interesting that Percy is busy posting on OTHER articles, where he can post as if he were a part of BLM himself.

Hard data, is just not his thing?

Sheriffs Explorer Sgt. @ 3/28/2016 3:46 PM

None of these Police shootings are based on race. If a perp is trying to kill or assault you, you don't care who or what color he is. The important thing is to defend yourself and if that means taking the thug out, go for it.

Ryan palmer @ 7/11/2016 5:15 PM

Hello my name is Ryan and i created a petition that i think would help out our society. This does not point a finger or plays a race card its just to ensure that our law enforcement personnel are taken care of. The purpose of the petition is to quarterly teat lqw enforcemnet personnel fire fighters fbi etc. Physically and mentally. We would also test for PTSD. Thiw is to ensure that the peoole that serve and protect us are physically and mentally fit (due to high stress levels) as well as reassuring society that if there is any personnel who test positive they wont get fired they will just get the right counseling to go back to the field. Thank you the link to sign and share is below

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/231/555/900/quarterly-physical-and-mental-exams-for-all-law-enforcement.-includes-ptsd-testing./

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