A new study by Pro Publica of FBI data on police-involved deaths found that black males between the ages 15 and 19 are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than their white counterparts.
The 1,217 deadly police shootings from 2010 to 2012 captured in the federal data show that blacks, age 15 to 19, were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police.
(The FBI compiles self-reported information from police departments across the country. Many departments don’t report their data; Deadspin is currently trying to put together a more complete police shooting database.)
Could higher rates of crime commission by black teens relative to their white peers explain that difference? Or, put differently, are black teenagers simply that much more likely than white teenagers to be involved in situations in which police violence is justified?
The data suggest that the answer is no. This post by activist Tim Wise points to Department of Justice statistics that break down violent crimes by the race of the perpetrator. Combining these DoJ numbers—from 2008, the most recent year for which data appears to be available—with population info, it looks like black Americans are between two and three times as likely to commit a violent crime as white Americans. But even assuming that black male teenagers are three times as likely as white teenagers to legitimately threaten the life of a police officer doesn’t explain why they’re twenty times more likely to be killed by police.