Let's start here: The vast majority of police shootings are self-defense.
In 74 percent of all fatal police shootings, the individuals had already fired shots, brandished a gun or attacked a person with a weapon or their bare hands, according to an analysis of actions immediately preceding the shootings, which draws on reports from law enforcement agencies and local media coverage. These 595 cases include fatal shootings that followed a wide range of violent crimes, including shootouts, stabbings, hostage situations, carjackings and assaults.Source: The Washington Post
Another 16 percent of the shootings came after incidents that did not involve firearms or active attacks but featured other potentially dangerous threats. These shootings were most commonly of individuals who brandished knives and refused to drop them.
The 5 percent of cases that are often second-guessed include individuals who police said failed to follow their orders, made sudden movements or were accidentally shot. In another 4 percent of cases, The Post was unable to determine the circumstances of the shootings because of limited information or ongoing investigations.
Most police shootings happen when the police truly don't believe they have another choice. It's also true that blacks are disproportionately shot by police:
In 2015, The Washington Post launched a real-time database to track fatal police shootings, and the project continues this year. As of Sunday, 1,502 people have been shot and killed by on-duty police officers since Jan. 1, 2015. Of them, 732 were white, and 381 were black (and 382 were of another or unknown race).Source: The Washington Post
But as data scientists and policing experts often note, comparing how many or how often white people are killed by police to how many or how often black people are killed by the police is statistically dubious unless you first adjust for population.
According to the most recent census data, there are nearly 160 million more white people in America than there are black people. White people make up roughly 62 percent of the U.S. population but only about 49 percent of those who are killed by police officers. African Americans, however, account for 24 percent of those fatally shot and killed by the police despite being just 13 percent of the U.S. population. As The Post noted in a new analysis published last week, that means black Americans are 2.5 times as likely as white Americans to be shot and killed by police officers.
So that looks bad. Why are black Americans 2.5 more likely to be shot and killed by police than white Americans?
Former mayor Rudy Giuliani opined:
“There’s too much violence in the black community,” former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani said Sunday on CBS’s “Face The Nation.” “If you want to deal with this on the black side, you’ve got to teach your children to be respectful to the police, and you’ve got to teach your children that the real danger to them is not the police; the real danger to them, 99 out of 100 times, 9,900 out of 10,000 times, are other black kids who are going to kill them. That’s the way they’re gonna die.”(Same Story as immediately above)
As a tangent, according to a Department of Justice report in 2015 about the Philadelphia Police Department, and further confirmed by a study conducted by University of Pennsylvania criminologist Greg Ridgeway in 2015 it was determined that black cops were 3.3 times more likely to fire a gun than other cops at a crime scene. That is, white officers aren't the most likely to fire a gun at a black suspect.
It seems like police, knowing that they're more likely in a violent situation in black communities, are more likely on edge and ready to defend themselves. That isn't good news. Both the police and the black community have some important and potentially difficult work ahead to fix this.
Police are also aware that black Americans are more likely to commit homicide. Around 13% of Americans are black. According to Bureau of Justice Statistics, blacks commit 52% of America's homicides.
This tells us something: there's a really, really important step the black community does need to take.
Black Lives Should Matter to Black Americans93% of black homicide victims are killed by other blacks.* This is not to say that police-involved shootings of blacks should be ignored. Both problems should be addressed. The overwhelming problem is blacks killing other blacks, though. The combined statistics show something that should trouble individual black people (and it does). In the black community, life seems to matter less than in many other communities. That's painful. That's awful. That needs to be fixed.
Black Americans are being shot and killed by police disproportionately to other races. They're also killing disproportionately to other races. Black Lives Matter has a point, but also needs to turn its attention to the black community to solve the much larger, much more troubling issue of black-on-black violence. This is a problem the rest of America is not able to solve for the black community, but we want to help in any way we can. Black lives do matter to me. Every life matters to me. I understand the problem, and I want everyone to see life as more precious than we seem to now.
Update: Several early reports are now saying the officer involved in the police shooting in Milwaukee is also black. I'm not sure that matters to Black Lives Matter.
Update: I'm not alone in my thoughts.
*This statistic is similar to white homicides--84% of white people are killed by other whites. White lives should matter to white Americans. And every life should matter to every American.