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Study: 17,000 Deaths Due to US Police Brutality Not in Statistics

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For more than 17,000 Americans killed by U.S. police in the past four decades, police involvement was not reported in official statistics. That is one of the conclusions of a study published in the medical journal The Lancet by the University of Washington.

 

The researchers compared death certificates with data from organizations that track deaths from police brutality in the United States. The period studied was from 1980 to 2019, roughly the era of the war on drugs and the rise of mass incarceration. In that time, nearly 31,000 Americans have been killed by the police, more than 17,000 — or 55 percent — of whom are not listed in official statistics.

The study also documented a racial divide: Black Americans were 3.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white Americans. Latinos and ‘native Americans’ were also more likely to experience deadly police brutality than white people.

Unexplained or violent deaths in the United States are investigated by coroners or medical examiners, who use autopsies, toxicology tests, and other evidence to determine the cause of death. The death certificate does not specifically state whether the police were involved, although many medical examiners are trained to record that information.

The system has long been criticized for fostering close relationships with the police and prosecutors. Forensic pathologists, for example, regularly consult with detectives and prosecutors. In some jurisdictions, they are even directly employed by police stations. But, unfortunately, sometimes law enforcement officers do not provide them with all the relevant information or are pressured to change their minds.

The investigation results come as America grapples with one high-profile black man police murder after another. At the same time, the study shows that thousands of other police deaths go undetected. The researchers, therefore, point to the need for a centralized information centre for data on police brutality and more monitoring of coroners and medical examiners.

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