Tragically, in America, the domestic security force we are forced to pay for, also known as police, kill more people than any other police force on the planet. The numbers that are released publicly are staggering, however, according to a new study, they are actually far worse.
The study, conducted by the University of Washington and published in the British medical journal, The Lancet, found that police killings in America have been undercounted by more than half over the past four decades.
Researchers at UW compared the government’s numbers from the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS) with the open source work at nonprofit groups like Fatal Encounters, Mapping Police Violence, and The Counted. What they found was shocking — the government is not counting police killings nearly as close as private citizens are.
The study found that the NVSS data undercounted police killings by 55.5 percent between 1980 and 2018. Overall, according to the researchers, “the misclassification of police violence in NVSS data is extensive.”
According to an analysis of the study by the NY Times, the “findings reflect both the contentious role of medical examiners and coroners in obscuring the real extent of police violence, and the lack of centralized national data on an issue that has caused enormous upheaval. Private nonprofits and journalists have filled the gap by mining news reports and social media.”
“I think the big takeaway is that most people in public health tend to take vital statistics for the U.S. and other countries as the absolute truth, and it turns out, as we show, the vital statistics are missing more than half of the police violence deaths,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, the director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, which conducted the study. “You have to look for why those deaths that are being picked up by the open-source investigations, looking in the media and elsewhere, aren’t showing up in the official statistics. That does point to the system of medical examiners and the incentives that may exist for them to want to not classify a death as related to police violence.”
Just how big of an undercount is 55.5 percent? Roughly 17,000 people. The study tracked the time period that roughly encompasses the war on drugs and the rise of the prison industrial complex and according to the private open source data, 31,000 Americans were killed by cops during this period. According to the government, however, only 14,000 were killed — which is still unacceptable but massively wrong.
The study found that black people were disproportionately the ones finding themselves on the receiving end of deadly police force. “The police have disproportionately killed Black people at a rate of 3·5 times higher than White people, and have killed Hispanic and Indigenous people disproportionately as well,” the study noted.
“From 1980 to 2018, the greatest under-reporting of deaths was among non-Hispanic Black people, with 5670 deaths (5390–5970) missing out of an estimated 9540 total deaths (9260–9830),” they report.
Adding to the shocking nature of the undercount is the unscrupulous role of the medical examiner and coroner system which has aided in skewing the data. As the Times reports:
The system has long been criticized for fostering a cozy relationship with law enforcement — forensic pathologists regularly consult with detectives and prosecutors and in some jurisdictions they are directly employed by police agencies.
Yet pathologists have also complained on occasion that law enforcement does not provide them with all relevant information, that they have been pressured to change their opinions, or that coroners, who are usually elected and are not always required to have a medical degree, can and do overrule their findings.
The researchers found that some of the misclassified deaths occurred because medical examiners failed to mention law enforcement’s involvement on the death certificate, while others were improperly coded in the national database.
A few examples of this most egregious data manipulation were exposed in the past year or so. As TFTP reported, Ronald Greene’s death was not counted as “killed by police.” Greene’s family was told he died in a car wreck, and his death certificate reflected this, but the body camera footage revealed that he was fine after the wreck and police subsequently tortured him to death on the side of the road.
Another one of these deaths was Elijah McClain who was innocent, unarmed, and killed by cops for simply being an introvert. Police choked him, forcibly injected him with a sedative, and suffocated him to death — his cause of death was ruled “undetermined” by medical examiners — in spite of the fact that officers and paramedics have since been indicted for it.
The list goes on. Yet despite its increasing length, most American citizens think that reining in America’s deadly police problem is somehow “unpatriotic” or “un-American.” Instead of the right realizing the threat to freedom caused by cops who can kill thousands with impunity, they blame the left. Instead of the left realizing the threat to freedom caused by cops who kill with impunity, most of them blame guns.
The result of this complacency and failure to address the problem has been less freedom and more gun grabs.
Until Americans educate themselves on the cause of this violence — like the war on drugs and policing for profit — uninformed and corrupt lawmakers will continue to focus on controlling the symptoms.
We will see more senseless killings and more innocent lives stripped of opportunity by getting entangled in the system and the system, as this study illustrates, won’t even count them. It is high time we end the drug war and retrain police to see the American public as a friend—and not an enemy. The solutions are in front of us, we just have to implement them.