Places not to visit if you are black: NYC

Seriously. If I were a black man in New York, I would walk everywhere with my hands over my head – and it still might not do me any good.

Today, a grand jury acquitted a NYPD officer of choking a black man to death during an arrest. The use of the choke hold is forbidden by the NYPD. The entire event was video taped. The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide.

Since I last posted about the statistics of death by cop in August, the Fatal Encounters project has added a bunch more events – about 5,500 nationwide police killings from 2000 to present. These numbers seem in line (or a bit low) with those published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics which give the total as 2,900 for the period from 2003 to 2009. So, with the NYPD’s glory on full display, let’s look at their fair city. (NB: the following maps show areas outside NYC. Incidents in those areas were not committed by the NYPD, but for technical reasons cannot currently be filtered out.)

It turns out the NYPD is pretty good at killing poor people, but there are areas of poverty with low to no killings.


Cross-hairs mark police killings. Blue gradients denote areas above the US median income; tan gradients denote areas below.

It’s even better at killing poor black people.*


Darker blue areas represent a higher % black population; cross-hairs represent police killings.

Now, I’m not fantastic with statistics, but that’s some convincing correlation going on there.

But wait, you say – aren’t all black people criminals? Perhaps these are just also the high-crime areas.

Well, no.


Same shooting data, this time with crime. Note all those areas with the same crime rates but few to no shootings? Note that the center of the major black neighborhoods have LOWER crime-rates than their surroundings?

“Correlation doesn’t imply causation but it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively and gesture furtively while mouthing look over there” – Randall Munroe

*Technically, since there is very little data available on the race of those killed by police, the NYPD is very good at shooting people in predominantly black neighborhoods.

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Fiat iustitia, ruant coeli

“Let justice be done, though the heavens may fall.”

I am tired.

I am tired of talking. I am tired of arguing. I am tired of ignorance, stupidity, and straightforward cruelty.

I am tired of pointing out that we are letting officers get away with murder. I am tired of pointing out that only white people are allowed to use guns. I am tired of telling people that they’re focusing on the symptoms and not the disease.

I have, truth be told, lost all hope. I have lost all hope that the situation will improve, that the bigotry, racism, and marginalization will cease. Not just in my lifetime, but ever.

I have thus far survived on something akin to righteous anger, but even that is lukewarm. I am white, straight, male, upper middle class, Ivy-educated. I cannot begin to fathom the anger, the fear, the hopelessness of those who experience oppression within this land of the supposedly free. My anger manifests in blog posts; we have ensured that they have no way to manifest theirs.

So, although I am tired, I will talk. Although I am without hope, I will keep that lukewarm, righteous anger alive and attempt to inspire it in others. In my little corner, I will tell those who defend this broken world that they do not speak for me. I will not let the issue rest. I will not be silent.

Are you with me?

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Police Killings by the Numbers (Part 4): the Final Tally

Because of the proprietary nature of some of the datasets I’ve been working with, I’m limited in my avenues of analysis, which means I have a fairly limited number of things to talk about here. This being the case, this is going to be my last post on the subject for a while.

However, before I leave off, I want to give out some of the data I’ve been working with, in case anyone wants to tinker

Here is a spreadsheet of police shootings by county with additional demographic information – information I’m going to be talking about today.

Here is a spreadsheet with each known shooting geolocated.

Both these sheets are valid for information known as of the date of this post, and neither will be updated.

So, let’s talk about police killings by county. First, let’s look at some maps, then some numbers. Here’s the number of police killings by county for the Midwest. As we might expect, Chicago leads the pack.

Same deal, US East coast. The cities are hotspots, though neither NYC or DC is too bad, and Philly has 10 fewer incidents than Cleveland, which clearly does not in fact rock. There are 34 shootings in Maine, which is like a third of the population.

The Northwest is a bit of a mess, particularly pleasant, weird old Portland, Oregon. Someone want to explain that to me?

The Southeast is surprisingly quiet, although this probably has something to do with the fact that the counties are smaller so the totals are divided up a bit. Still, we’re talking different police departments and different departmental cultures, so the size isn’t that important.

Finally, what you’ve all been waiting on, the Southwest. All I have to say on this is damn, son.

OK. Yes. Part of the reason this map looks so scary is that the counties in the SW are friggen huge. Still, Clark County – containing Las Vegas – has 153 shootings. The county with the next largest number of police shootings – Alameda, California – has 44. That’s messed up.

The top-10 worst counties in the US for police shootings by raw numbers are:

Clark Nevada 153
Alameda California 44
Bernalillo New Mexico 42
Multnomah Oregon 39
Cuyahoga Ohio 35
Washoe Nevada 32
Riverside California 32
Philadelphia Pennsylvania 25
Maricopa Arizona 24
Los Angeles California 22

However, if we look at this same data in terms of police shootings per square mile, we get this top-10 list:

Kings New York 0.19
Philadelphia Pennsylvania 0.18
Multnomah Oregon 0.08
Cuyahoga Ohio 0.08
Baltimore City Maryland 0.07
Alexandria Virginia 0.07
District of Columbia District of Columbia 0.06
San Francisco California 0.06
Alameda California 0.06
Suffolk Massachusetts 0.05

If we look at police shootings per head of population, we get a top-10 list of counties with one incident and populations under 10,000 – not really useful. Instead, let’s look at police shootings per head of population in counties with more than five incidents:

Clark Nevada 0.00008
Washoe Nevada 0.00007
Bernalillo New Mexico 0.00006
Multnomah Oregon 0.00005
Kootenai Idaho 0.00004
Ada Idaho 0.00004
Cumberland Maine 0.00003
Solano California 0.00003
Alameda California 0.00003
Cuyahoga Ohio 0.00003

While these lists are not identical, we can see a bunch of usual suspects. Alameda, CA, Cuyahoga, OH, and Multnomah, OR occur on all three lists. Bernalillo, NM, Clark, NV, and Washoe, NV, occur on lists 1 and 3, and Philladelphia, PA, occurs on lists 1 and 2. 

I guess it all depends on your definition of “worst.”

Still, if you’re planning a trip to Vegas, bring some body armor.

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Addendum to Part 3: St. Louis

Here are the known police killings in and around St Louis:


Michael Brown we already know.

Kevin Worley, suspected of breaking and entering, was shot when he pulled a gun on officers who were trying to arrest him.

Cary Ball was an ex convict who threw his gun to the ground before being shot 25 times by police.

Jaleel Jackson was shot by an off-duty reserve police officer (an active member of the force until 2007) who claimed Jaleel was breaking into his house under the castle doctrine.

William Dupree was shot two years later by the same reserve officer, again off-duty, in the course of a domestic argument. That officer, James Little, has been charged with first degree murder. Little is, for the record, black.

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Police Killings by the Numbers (Part 3): the Victim’s Race

(Read Part 2 Here)

I was finally able to obtain data which codes instances of police killings by race, which was not part of the Fatal Encounters project’s map layer release.

In total, the Fatal Encounters has approximately 1,100 mapped incidents. Unfortunately, approximately 350 of these are not coded for the race of the victim, meaning this data is very shaky and preliminary. Of the remaining 735 coded incidents, the victim was black in 261 (35.5%) cases, white in 351 (47.7%), and hispanic in 123 (16.7%). Blacks comprise 12.2% of the US population, whites, 63.7%, and hispanics, 16.4% [NB: I’m pulling basic demographic information from wikipedia. Sue me.]

These numbers are in and of themselves troubling, but that’s far from the whole story. Both racism and police use of force should be understood as institutional. We get nowhere by treating “the police” as a monolithic entity.

So, for example, Idaho doesn’t have very many black people, but they’re more than happy to shoot the white people they do have:

In contrast, the police in both Chicago and NYC are relatively unwilling to kill citizens, but when they do, they’re black:

And part of Las Vegas’ high rate of police killings is its clearly cheerful willingness to shoot you, whoever you might be:

Out of 131 shootings in Vegas, the victim was black in 39 (29.8%), white in 56 (42.7%), and hispanic in 36 (27.5%). In Las Vegas, blacks make up 11.1% of the population, whites, 47.9%, and hispanics, 31.5%. Shootings in Vegas correlate to actual demographics much better than in the US as a whole! [NB: the wiki article for Las Vegas does not contain the word “crime”]

I’m pretty sure no one’s going to argue that Vegas has more crime than NYC (15 incidents) or Chicago (8 incidents). There is clearly something cultural in the Vegas police department. Someone should study that.

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Police Killings by the Numbers (Part 2): What the hell is going on in Las Vegas?

Yesterday, I showed that most police shootings in San Francisco tend to occur in black neighborhoods. Today, we’re going to look at another US city with a lot of shootings by police – Las Vegas.

In fact, we’re going to look at a city with the most shootings by police from 2001 to today. This is insane:If you want to “viva” in Las Vegas, it’s probably best to avoid the Fuzz. As you can clearly see, there’s no correlation between these events and crime rates – just look at the south side of the city. Note that, as we saw with SF, the zip codes with the highest crime rates don’t actually see many shootings by police. And this is what it looks like if we look at shootings per capita by zip code:

Four zip codes have double digit figures! By way of contrast, here’s a map of police shootings and crime rates in New York City:

And Chicago:

And here’s the thing – shootings in Vegas don’t respect the same economic boundaries we saw in San Francisco. They still tend to stay in areas with average incomes below the US median, but they stray outside much more frequently:

Now, unfortunately, the data provided by the Fatal Encounters project doesn’t really have any demographic or ethnic information, so we still can’t see who is being shot by the Las Vegas police without a lot more work (if anyone wants to process that data, I’d be more than happy to manipulate it). However, as we’ve already seen, police shootings in Vegas do not follow patters of crime and follow economic patterns much more weakly than we find in San Francisco.

Time to look at race. Do police shootings occur in Las Vegas neighborhoods with below-average black population figures?

Almost never. And when they do, in all but 7 instances, they’re just on the other side of the border. 

Imagine that.

(Read Part 3 Here)

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Police killings by the numbers (part 1)

Police shootings: kind of a big deal these days. Unfortunately, for those of us who are interested in finding out more about how and why they occur – and perhaps shockingly – the government does not provide any statistics on shootings by police. In order to rectify this, Brian Burghart has recently started Fatal Encounters, a croudsourced database for these events. I’d advise you to check it out and make sure you contribute when you hear an event. This is one of those important things.

I’ve taken a first pass at the data. It’s important to remember that 1) what I’m about to say is simply about where police shootings occur, 2) what I’m about to say says nothing whatsoever about the people being killed by police – that’ll be next, 3) correlation is not causation.

Let’s look at San Francisco first. Here’s a map of fatal shootings by police overlayed with a breakdown of crime density by zip code. As you can see, here are quite a few shootings by police in and around SF, and as you can see here, they tend to occur in areas with proportionally higher crime rates, particularly in Oakland. However, there’s no real correlation – plenty of high crime areas in SF proper have no shootings whatsoever. So, in SF, crime doesn’t seem to be a determining factor. Let’s look at income: This seems to be more clear. Shootings clearly correlate to areas where the average income is below the US median. On the other hand, no clear pattern emerges within the areas which are below that median, and shootings don’t cluster in the poorest areas of town. So, let’s try looking at shootings by the percentage of the population which is black:

Here’s a very strong correlation. Almost none of the shootings occur in zip codes which have a black population below the national average. 

Maybe these are just the most densely populate areas, and so more people equals more police shootings? Not even a little bit. As you can see, almost every zip code in Oakland sees a frequency of shootings per capita at least 2.5 standard deviations above the national average. 

So, in the Bay area, police tend to shoot people in black neighborhoods.

Up next: what the hell is wrong with Las Vegas.

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