Police killings of Black people are a feature of American law enforcement and they are deliberately under counted.
The New York Times and other outlets report that most police killings in this country are “mislabelled .” The sanitized language is worse than an understatement because it implies that these murders are categorized improperly due to ordinary human error. In fact, there is a long and sordid history of covering up these crimes. The initial coroner’s report for George Floyd, whose murder was witnessed by millions of people, reported drug use and underlying health conditions as the causes of death.
According to a report in the Lancet , between 1980 and 2018 police in the U.S. killed an estimated 30,800 people. This number is 17,000 more than reported by the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS), which is a misclassification rate of 55%. The deaths of Black people are the most likely to be undercounted, with 5,670 deaths missing out of an estimated 9,540.
It isn’t hard to see how this happens. Coroners are part of the law enforcement system and work closely with the police and prosecutors. Even if they are dedicated to telling the truth they are often pressured to do otherwise when police, their colleagues, are the perpetrators.
Not only have half of all these deaths gone unreported, but this new data once again comes from groups dedicated to keeping track of these crimes, and not from any governmental source. The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement’s 2012 Operation Ghetto Storm report was the first to inform the public about the toll of police violence. It was through Operation Ghetto Storm that we learned a Black person is killed by police, private security, or vigilantes every 28 hours. Yet even this groundbreaking effort didn’t capture the full toll.