Police Officers Disproportionally Killing Black Men Another False Narrative

OIS Scene

Ron Martinelli, Ph.D., BCFT, CFA, CLS

Forensic Criminologist/Police Expert

Copyright © June 22, 2015

Among several prominent false narratives being unethically forwarded by anti-law enforcement activists and an uninformed media is that police officers kill black men at a rate that is disproportionate to other races. Those who criticize police following officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths immediately allege racism is the root cause. But is this factually accurate and fair? A recent study by University of Toledo criminal justice professor Dr. Richard Johnson shows that this is not the case.[1]

In researching the most recent data from the FBI on homicides nationwide from January, 2009 to the end of 2012, of the 56,250 homicides reported during that period, 1,491 were the result of police uses of force. [2] This equates to roughly 372 persons a year dying as a result of police force intervention.

Of the total 1,491 persons who died as a result of police uses of force, only 32.2% were black males. Sixty-one (61.4%) were white males and 3.2% were males from other races. Females dying as a result of a police use of force comprised the final 3.2% of deaths.

By comparison, of the 56,259 homicides reviewed from 2009 – 2012, 19,000 or nearly 39% involved the killing of black males. Of these, only 2.5% involved the death of a black male as a result of a police use of force. In contrast to police officers, private citizen killings of black males in self-defense justifiable homicides at 3.4% were higher than black male deaths attributed to police. What stands out as a significant and shocking statistic is that 17,719 criminal homicides (murders) of black males, or 93.3% from 2009 – 2012 were at the hands of other criminals who were predominately other black males (89.6%).

In sharp contrast to the false narrative that police officers have some racial motivation to kill black men, from 2009 – 2012, nearly 41% of police officers were murdered by black males; whereas only 32.2% of homicides of black males were attributed to a police use of force. This is significant, given the fact that blacks as a whole comprise only 13% of the U.S. population of 316,128,839 persons and there are less than 500,000 peace officers in this country, many who do not work in a street patrol capacity.

To put this study into perspective, an average of 120 black males, or one out of every 173,871 black males die yearly as a result of police uses of force. This is compared to 2,369 black males being killed in motor vehicle accidents and 2,532 committing suicide each year. [3], [4] This means that the chance of a black male in the U.S. being killed by police during a use of force is roughly 0.00078% of one percent. In fact, when all homicide of black males statistics are considered, black males are 35 times more likely to be murdered by another black male; 20 times more prone to die in a motor vehicle accident or by suicide; and 21 times more susceptible to being killed in a self-defense justifiable homicide than killed by any police use of force.

Whereas, an average of 120 black males die each year as a result of a police use of force; 373 persons a year are struck by lighting. In essence, the chance that a black male dying as a result of police force intervention is considerably less than their chances of being struck by lighting.[5]

Just to provide some further context to this discussion, from 2009 – 2012, 224 police officers were murdered and nearly 60,000 sustained injuries from assaults by violently assaultive and/or resisting suspects.

The anti-law enforcement sentiment is rapidly growing in America and a number of false narratives are being forwarded by those who would seek to undermine the daily contributions of our brave men and women who honorably wear the badge and put themselves in harm’s way to keep our communities safe. Our best strategy is to remain vigilant, keep the uninformed masses and media informed and to keep the faith.

Ron Martinelli, Ph.D., is an internationally renowned forensic criminologist and police expert directing the nation’s only multidisciplinary Forensic Death Investigations and Independent Review Team at www.martinelliandassoc.com.


1 “Examining the Prevalence of Death from Police Use of Force,” Johnson, Richard, Ph.D., © 2015, University of Toledo

2 U.S. Dept. of Justice, FBI Uniform Crime Report Supplemental Homicide Reports and U.S. Center for Disease Control death classifications, Jan. 2009 – Jan. 2012.

3 National Safety Council, Injury Facts (2012), www.nsc.org

4 www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide/statistics/aag.html

5 http://www.usatoday.com/weather/resources/basics/wlighting.htm

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