On April 20, 2021, former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich tweeted about the number of people who had been shot and killed by law enforcement in the United States in the past year:
Reich’s message was posted shortly after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter charges in the killing of George Floyd and after a 16-year-old girl was shot and killed by an officer in Ohio.
This statistic comes from The Washington Post’s Fatal Force database, which has been tracking fatal police shootings since 2015. It should be noted that Floyd, as well as people like Elijah McClain, who both died in police custody but not via gunshot, are not included in this database.
The Washington Post’s statistics are culled from news reports, law enforcement websites, and similar databases related to police shootings. In addition to cataloging the number of people who have been killed by police, the Post also recorded data related to the race, gender, and age of the people involved. According to the Post, the majority of people who had been shot and killed by police are male and under the age of 40. The Washington Post’s database shows that more white people have been killed by police since the company started tracking the data, however, Black people are killed at a disproportionate rate:
Although half of the people shot and killed by police are White, Black Americans are shot at a disproportionate rate. They account for less than 13 percent of the U.S. population, but are killed by police at more than twice the rate of White Americans. Hispanic Americans are also killed by police at a disproportionate rate.
The Washington Post’s findings for the past year are not an anomaly. In fact, the statement “nearly 1,000 people were shot and killed by police” would be true for every year since The Washington Post started tracking shooting deaths in 2015 (993 in 2015, 960 in 2016, 986 in 2017, 990 in 2018, 999 in 2019, and 1,021 in 2020).
The Guardian came to a similar conclusion during its investigation in 2015 and 2016. The Guardian’s report, which included people who died in police custody but not via gunshot, such as Freddie Gray, found that 1,093 people were killed by police in 2016.
So far in 2021, 274 people have been shot and killed by police across the U.S. If this pace continues, 2021 will see slightly fewer deaths from police gunfire than previous years with about 915 deaths.
Police officers, of course, have also been killed in the line of duty. According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, there were 360 line-of-duty deaths in 2020. The vast majority of those deaths (232) were reportedly caused by contracting COVID-19 in the line of duty. The second most prevalent cause was gunfire (45). Four additional officers were killed by “inadvertent gunfire.”
In 2019, the FBI reported that 89 law enforcement officers were killed in line-of-duty incidents, with 48 of those deaths being the result of felonious acts, and 41 due to accidents. According to the FBI, 47 officers died in 2019 due to gun violence, with 44 of those deaths falling into the “felonious acts” category, and 3 falling into the “accidents” category.