Black Americans are more than twice as likely as white Americans to be killed by police officers.1 Researchers agree that racism almost certainly plays a role in that disparity. But “racism” is too broad an explanation to reveal much about the more immediate causes or to point to a way to reduce police killings of black people like the recent ones in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota.
Researchers who have studied the issue say that racism manifests itself in different ways, requiring a range of solutions. If the disparity arises because bias among police officers makes them more likely to fire guns at black people than at white people who pose equal threats, for example, then the answer could lie in hiring, training and firing: test recruits for bias, train officers to not exercise bias and fire officers who demonstrate bias.
But if the disparity is due more to systemic police practices than the prejudices of individual officers, then the answer could be to change those practices — for instance, ensure that departments don’t concentrate car checks that are unlikely to turn up anything illegal and could turn violent in predominantly black neighborhoods.
And if the disparity is because there are relatively more police interactions with black people, because black people commit a disproportionately large share of reported crimes, then the answer could be to address the systemic causes of the crime disparity, including urban poverty. (No one said the solutions would be easy.)
Researchers say that these and many other factors underlie the disparity in killings but that identifying how much each factor contributes to the burden of police violence borne by black Americans isn’t possible based on the data available.
“Each of these factors all nudge reactions …