But you usually don't hear about it. I call this the Al Sharpton effect. There is no white version of Al Sharpton.
As the trial of the officers involved in the Sean Bell killing begins, I've been thinking more about police-involved shootings and race. Given media reports, it certainly seems like police only kill black people. But I know this isn't true.
I did a little research. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports from 2000 to 2004, police-involved “justifiable homicides” kill about 350 people a year, 99 percent by shooting. Virtually all police-involved killings, most for good reason, are categorized as justifiable. Of those killed by police, 32 percent are black and 64 percent are white. While the percentage of blacks killed is high compared with the black percentage in America (13%), it is low compared with other indicators of violence, such as the percentage of homicide victims and offenders believed to be African American (both 48%).
Perhaps it is more useful to compare police-involved shootings with those killed by non-police officers. Among “justifiable homicides” by regular citizens—about 210 a year—African-Americans are 40 percent of those who kill and 56 percent of those killed. Compared with these numbers, police seem restrained in their use of force toward the black community.
Of course the numbers do not tell us the race of innocent people killed. And numbers are no solace to the family of any victim of police bullets.