Lethal Force in Black and White: Assessing Racial Disparities in the Circumstances of Police Killings

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Authors Shea Streeter
Journal/Conference Name THE JOURNAL OF POLITICS
Paper Category
Paper Abstract African Americans are nearly three times as likely to be killed by police as whites. This paper examines whether this racial disparity is due in part to racial differences in the circumstances of police killings. To assess whether and how these circumstances predict the race of a decedent, I use machine learning techniques and a novel data set of police killings containing over 120 descriptors. I find that decedent characteristics, criminal activity, threat levels, police actions, and the setting of the lethal interaction are not predictive of race, indicating that the police—given contact—are killing blacks and whites under largely similar circumstances. The findings suggest that the racial disparity in the rate of lethal force is most likely driven by higher rates of police contact among African Americans rather than racial differences in the circumstances of the interaction and officer bias in the application of lethal force.
Date of publication 2019
Code Programming Language R
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