For the last year or so, the Washington Post has been gathering data on fatal police shootings of civilians. Its database for 2015 is now complete. Commentators have taken the Post’s data as evidence that the police are gunning down unarmed blacks out of implicit bias. But a close examination of the Post’s findings presents a more complicated picture of policing and casts doubt on the notion that these shootings were driven by race.
In one of those unintended cases, an undercover cop from the New York Police Department was conducting a gun sting in Mount Vernon, just north of New York City. One of the gun traffickers jumped into the cop’s car, stuck a pistol to his head, grabbed $2,400 and fled. The officer gave chase and opened fire after the thief again pointed his gun at him. Two of the officer’s bullets accidentally hit a 61-year-old bystander, killing him. That older man happened to be black, but his race had nothing to do with his tragic death. In the other collateral damage case, Virginia Beach, Virginia, officers approached a car parked at a convenience store that had a homicide suspect in the passenger seat. The suspect opened fire, sending a bullet through an officer’s shirt. The cops returned fire, killing their assailant as well as a woman in the driver’s seat. That woman entered the Post’s database without qualification as an “unarmed black victim” of police fire.