Causes of Death Among African-Americans: A Rational Review

I’m in favor of everything in the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, except for naming the bill after George Floyd. This act, if it becomes law, will strengthen the Justice Department’s tools for investigating police departments, establish a federal registry for bad cops, restrict transfer of military equipment to police, prohibit no knock warrants, and allow police to be sued when they are negligent in an innocent person’s death. African-Americans are still treated unequally by law enforcement, and I am all in favor of ending this discrimination. However, I am against naming the bill after a convicted armed robber. Floyd spent time in prison for sticking a gun in the belly of a pregnant woman. Yet, this piece of shit was given a state hero funeral, and he is about to be posthumously honored by having a bill named after him. I think this is obscene. Sure, Chauvin deserves the long sentence he received for murdering Floyd, but being the victim of a sadistic cop does not make someone a hero. I will never run for office, so I can say something honest that politicians (especially Democrats) can not say–the world is a better place without George Floyd in it (and with Chauvin locked up).

Whenever there is a publicized incident of a cop killing an African-American, everybody breaks into 2 camps–African-American activists who are certain the killing was unjustified, and the police who think they should be allowed to commit police brutality with impunity. The truth is more complicated. Sometimes the police are justified because the suspect endangered their lives or the lives of innocent civilians, and sometimes the police are not justified and become criminals themselves when they kill innocent people. I look at these incidents on a case-by-case basis and don’t always side with 1 camp or the other.

Because these cases get so much publicity, many African-Americans express great fear when they get pulled over by the police. In fact, I’ve heard some state they become “paralyzed with fear” when they encounter a police officer. I’ve heard some claim deaths by police in the U.S. amount to genocide. Chelsea Handler, a white celebrity talk show host, even suggested black people shouldn’t ever cooperate with police, thereby (inadvertently, I’m sure) urging them to commit suicide by cop. I am writing this blog article today to counter this hysteria by showing that the chances of being killed by police are tiny compared to other causes of death.

There are approximately 42 million African-Americans living in the U.S. today. Between the years 2017-2020 an average of 227 black people were killed by the police annually. During this same time period an average of 420 white people were killed by police. But because black people make up a smaller percentage of the population, they suffer a greater chance of being killed. According to a University of Michigan study, black men are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white men. However, this is a small enough number that I would consider it rare. Most were likely resisting arrest in some way. This same study found 1 in every 1000 black men and about 1 in every 2500 white men will die at the hands of the police in their lifetimes but this percentage is surely much smaller for detained people who were not resisting arrest.

For black men between the ages of 20-35 death through the use of police force ranks lower than death from heart attacks. Think about how rare it is for a young man to die of an heart attack, yet there is a greater chance of death from that than from being killed by the police.

A University of Michigan study determined African-American men between the ages of 20-35 are over 2 times more likely to be killed by police than white men that age. Nevertheless, deaths from police brutality rank 6th…behind heart attacks. Chart from the University of Michigan study.

Chart showing deaths at the hands of police by race from 2017-2021. From the Statista Research Department.

Top 10 causes of death for African-American men. Deaths at the hands of the police does not rank in the top 10. Raising public awareness of the importance of an healthy lifestyle would save far more lives than police reform. Chart from the CDC.

Now, let’s compare the risk of death from other causes compared to deaths through the use of police force. On average 73,000 African-Americans die from cancer every year, so black people are 321 times more likely to die of this than from police brutality. On average 86,520 black people die from hypertension yearly, making them 381 times more likely to die from this than police brutality. I’m all for reforming the police, but putting more emphasis on living an healthy lifestyle would save far more lives than police reform.

An average of 4656 black people are killed in car accidents yearly (26 times the risk of death from cops), and 2100 black people on average commit suicide yearly (7.9 times the risk of death from cops). More than 1 study estimates 200,000 people per year die from medical malpractice. This is likely a vast underestimate. Based on this figure, about 30,000 black people die each year in this country due to medical mistakes. So black people should be 132 times more afraid of doctors than the police.

When I first conceived of this blog topic, I wanted to show that the chances of being killed by police were comparable to being struck by lightning. However, based on National Weather Service statistics, only an average of 5 black people are killed by lightning each year. (This was an extrapolation as was the malpractice estimate–neither statistic is broken down by race). So risk of death from use of police force is higher than risk of death from a lightning strike.

References:

Crosby, A.; S. Molock

“Suicidal Behaviors in the African-American Community”

Journal of Black Psychology 12 (3) 2006

Anderson, J.; K. Abrahamson

“Your Health Care May Kill You”

Study Health Technology Information 234 2017

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