Another Dimension to “Black Lives Matter”

why black lives matterThe Washington Post’s landmark survey of police shootings in 2015 found that around twice as many people were shot to death by police than others, including this author, had estimated from FBI and public health sources. In a large majority of deadly police shootings, officers killed suspects armed with lethal weapons; none of those shootings appear to be controversial.

why black lives matterThe controversy over possibly unjustified police shootings surrounds the fewer than one in 10 instances in which unarmed suspects were killed. The Post survey, consistent with the point Black Lives Matter has raised about the racialized nature of police shootings, found a Black unarmed suspect in 2015 was more than twice as likely, and a Latino unarmed suspect was twice as likely, to be fatally shot by police than a white unarmed suspect.

A Black unarmed suspect in 2015 was more than twice as likely, and a Latino unarmed suspect was twice as likely, to be fatally shot by police than a white unarmed suspect.

What has not been noted is that age was an even more significant predictor of being killed by police officers, especially for ages 18 to 29. An unarmed young person (under age 30) who is white or Latino was nearly four times more likely — and a young African American was nearly five times more likely — to be shot to death by police than older unarmed suspects of the same race age 45 and over. Equally disturbing, the age range of unarmed suspects’ vulnerability to being shot by police extended into the thirties and forties for African Americans.

A young, white unarmed suspect age 18 to 29 was more likely to be shot by police than an unarmed Latino suspect over age 30, or an unarmed Black suspect over age 45. Conversely, an unarmed suspect over age 45, regardless of race, was the least likely to be shot and killed by law enforcement. Older suspects tend to be shot only if armed with lethal weaponry.

The Washington Post’s report suggests that, for unarmed suspects, being a young adult is more hazardous than being Black or Latino. The most dangerous combination is to be both. What do young people (regardless of race) and people of color (especially those younger than middle age) have in common? Both are likely to be among the poorest Americans.

Mike_MalesIt would be no surprise if the propensity of law enforcement to shoot suspects, even if unarmed, from poorer demographics reflected the fact that police fear, display less interest in communicating with, and devalue the lives of poor people along with the rest of society.

Mike Males
Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice

About Mike Males

Mike A. Males is a Senior Research Fellow at CJCJ. He has contributed research and co-authored numerous CJCJ publications, including on issues of drug policy, 3-strikes law, criminal justice realignment, and juvenile justice reform.

Dr. Males has a Ph.D. in Social Ecology from U.C. Irvine and over 12 years of experience working in youth programs. He is also content director of Youth Facts (www.YouthFacts.org)