Real journalism seems to be happening: We’ve been struck by an ongoing project at the Washington Post.
On its face, it’s a journalistic project. The Post is attempting to compile a record of all police killings-by-gunshot in the United States this year.
To visit the project, click here.
The statistics compiled at that site are, of course, gloomy statistics. It’s worth noting that most police officers never shoot and kill anyone. Beyond that, in a society which is famously “awash in guns,” we would assume that most police shootings are probably “justified.”
That said, our society produces a lot of police shootings, especially as compared to other developed nations. Did we mention the fact that we’re “awash in guns?”
This phenomenon has received a lot of attention in the past year or so, sometimes from advocates of X, Y or Z whose claims may be a bit tendentious. In the midst of all this discussion, a peculiar state of affairs has sometimes been noted—the federal government produces no complete, official record of such shootings.
Into that breach steps the Post. The paper is employing a methodology borrowed from several smaller orgs. This is the paper’s description of its approach:
THE WASHINGTON POST: The Washington Post is compiling a database of every fatal shooting in the United States by a police officer in the line of duty in 2015.For better or worse, the Post adjusts its numbers on an almost daily basis. As of today, the Post is reporting 518 killings so far this year.
The Post is tracking more than a dozen details about each killing—including the race of the deceased, the circumstances of the shooting, and whether the person was armed—by culling local news reports and monitoring independent databases such as Killed by Police and Fatal Encounters. In some cases, The Post conducted additional reporting.
The Post is documenting only shootings in which a police officer, while on duty, shot and killed a civilian— circumstances that most closely parallel the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. The Post is not tracking deaths of people in custody, fatal shootings by off-duty officers or deaths in which police gunfire did not kill the individual.
The FBI and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention log fatal shootings by police, but officials acknowledge that their data is incomplete.
Once again, we want to stress a basic fact. The Post is not attempting to say how many of these killings have been “unjustified.”
We stress that fact because many people in our own liberal tribe have been somewhat promiscuous of late in their claims about police conduct. In that environment, it’s easy to assume that the Post is discussing police misconduct. In fact, the Post is making no attempt to determine the frequency with which misconduct may have occurred.
The Post shows the number of shootings by race—and by age, and by gender. It shows how many of the people who died were armed/unarmed.
You can even review the statistics for each individual state. So far, only four of the fifty states are without a fatal shooting this year.
It seems to us that the Post’s statistics offer a starting point for a better-informed discussion of police shootings. Some of the data seem surprising to us. Your results may differ.
To see the data in full detail, click here for the Post site, then click again where it says CLICK HERE TO EXPLORE THE DATA.
You'll see some very basic statistics. Your reactions may differ from ours.