Wednesday, April 29, 2015


If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately it seems like every other week there is another story about law enforcement using excessive force against Americans and many of the victims are black. But just how many US citizens are being killed by police? No one really knew, until now. American data scientist and activist Sam Sinyangwe noticed the lack of information on this prevalent issue and took action. With the help of some fellow activists and researches was born. It is a national database that compiles statistics on police killings, with a focus on African Americans who are killed, although other races are also covered.

Sam Sinyangwe found the lack of accurate information on police violence troubling as a data scientist. He grew up in the same Florida neighborhood where Treyvon Martin was shot down and when Michael Brown was killed in Missouri, he knew he had to do something. Sam stated in an interview on CNN, “A recent report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics basically admitted that the official statistics were undercounting the number of people killed by police by over 50%.” What a frustrating misuse of tax dollars!
“As a young black man, I felt unsafe,” Sinyangwe told TakePart. “This [killing of citizens by police] was happening everywhere—not just in Ferguson. Yet we didn’t really have the data to show how widespread this issue was, and how black people in particular are being targeted by police violence.”

How can a national issue begin to be addressed when we don’t even have accurate information on it? Making people aware of the scope of this problem is the first step and goal of Mapping Police Violence. The database covers “90 percent of the universe of police killings according to the best research available out there,” Sinyangwe stated. In 2014 the researchers discovered at least 1149 people were killed by police, 304 of them were black people and of those, 101 of them were unarmed. That shows that 26% of the US citizens killed by law enforcement in 2014 were black.

These statistics show the dark side of law enforcement in America, one that hopefully will begin to change. Nationwide it is 3x more probable for black people to be killed by police than it is for any other race. But it varies by location, for example they found that in Oklahoma, African Americans are 10x more likely to be killed by law enforcement than black people in Virginia.

Sam Sinyangwe and his colleagues continue to track police violence as well as compile data for past years to establish trends. Their goal is to bring this data to the attention of the general public as well as elected officials to create change. Let’s hope that awareness of this issue will lead to less Americans being killed by police.

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