In a year-long study, The Washington Post reports that incidents in which white police officers shoot unarmed black men — incidents that have sparked nationwide anger and controversy and which launched the Black Lives Matter movement — actually represent less than 4 percent of fatal police shootings.
After the highly controversial shooting death of Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014, The Post initiated a project to compile a record of every fatal police shooting in the nation this year, something no government agency had done, and concluded that "[r]ace remains the most volatile flash point in any accounting of police shootings."
The great majority of people who died at the hands of the police, says The Post, fit at least one of three categories: they were wielding weapons, they were suicidal or mentally troubled, or they ran when officers told them to halt.
As of December 24, 2015, The Post calculated 965 fatal police shootings this year. Of those, 564 victims were armed with a gun and 284 were armed with some other weapon, whether a knife or car or something else. In the majority of cases in which police shot and killed a person who had attacked someone with a weapon or brandished a gun, the person who was shot was white.
Ninety victims were unarmed. The Post report shows that although black men make up only 6 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 40 percent of the unarmed men in that number. But a disproportionate number — 3 in 5 — of those killed after exhibiting less threatening behavior, says The Post, were black or Hispanic.
The indictment rate for police officers in such cases more than tripled this year. The Post found that an average of five officers per year have been indicted on felony charges over the previous decade; but in 2015, 18 officers thus far have been charged with felonies including murder, manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm.
Only 11 of the 65 officers charged in fatal shootings over the past decade have been convicted.