Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology

Hedwig Lee and Michael Esposito Co-Author PNAS Study on Likelihood to Die From Police Use of Force

Posted: 8/14/2019 ()

The study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this August finds that African American men are more than twice as likely as their white peers to die from police use of force. The study was co-authored by CSDE Affiliate Hedwig Lee, Professor of Sociology at Washington University in St. Louis, and CSDE Fellow Alumnus Michael Esposito, Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Michigan, as well as co-author Frank Edwards, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University.

The authors use data on police-involved deaths to estimate how the risk of being killed by police use of force in the US varies across social groups. They find that African American men and women, American Indian/Alaska Native men and women, and Latino men face higher lifetime risk of being killed by police than do their white peers. Risk is highest for black men, who face about a 1 in 1,000 chance of being killed by police over the life course. Risk peaks between the ages of 20 and 35 for all groups. For young men of color, police use of force is among the leading causes of death.

“It’s a striking number,” said Esposito. “There have been arguments about how widespread of a problem this is…This study shows us that police killings are deeply systematic, with race, gender and age patterning this excess cause of death.” He also added that, “Because a lot of our talk about this in public spaces is focused on black men, we sometimes lose sight of other groups with elevated risk…Conversations around who’s most at risk have to incorporate the diversity and intersectionality highlighted in this study.”

“I think that our results really underscore that police killings are a lot more common than we might have imagined,” commented Lee. “Our work also provides more evidence that people of color, particularly African American men and women, but also American/Indian and Alaska Native women are at risk.”

The study was featured by US News and the University of Michigan.




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