Report: Police More Readily Use Force on Black Americans

Blurred image of police cars with lights on rainy nightPolice officers are more likely to use force against black individuals than white individuals, according to a Center for Policing Equity report. Previous research suggests that blacks are disproportionately subjected to police stops and searches. Earlier this month, reported on a study which found that police are more likely to search blacks during traffic stops, even though whites are more likely to be found with contraband.

The study comes in the wake of a new round of protests against police use of force. The protests were triggered by graphic videos of two separate incidents in which police shot and killed black men: the July 5 shooting of Alton Sterling and the July 6 shooting of Philando Castile.

How Is the Use of Force Disproportionate?

The study’s authors analyzed data on 19,269 use of force incidents in 12 geographically diverse communities between 2010-2015. Incidents involving only the threat of force or aggressive vehicle maneuvers were eliminated, reducing the total number of use of force incidents to 14,731.

One urban county and 11 large and middle-sized cities were analyzed. Among these communities, one had a predominantly black or Latinx population, five had a diverse population (each group made up less than 50% of the population), and six had a population that was predominantly white.

The study found that police used force—such as tasers, guns, or night sticks—against blacks 3.6 times as frequently as they did against whites. Factors such as the severity of the crime or the violence of the suspect did not explain differences in use of force.

Police were also more likely to use more lethal force against blacks than whites. The median use of lethal force, such as guns, against black suspects was .29 per 1,000, compared to a lower figure of .18 per 1,000 against white suspects. The only category in which this disparity did not exist was against people engaged in violent behavior at the time of arrest. Among violent suspects, the median rate of lethal force was 5.81 per 1,000 black arrestees and 6.54 per 1,000 white arrestees.

A 2015 U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) report that looked at nonlethal use of force incidents between 2002-2011 found similar disparities. Fourteen percent of blacks and 6.9% of whites told DOJ researchers they had experienced force during a routine police stop. Among individuals who had experienced police force during their last encounter with the police, nearly three-quarters described this use of force as “excessive,” and 87% did not feel police had behaved appropriately during the encounter.

Excessive Police Force Can Have Lasting Mental Health Effects

Facing a higher likelihood of potential bodily harm or even death when encountering police, even for a routine traffic stop or non-violent encounter, can have significant mental health effects that may begin as early as childhood. Many of the black individuals killed by police were unarmed and had complied with police instructions, which has led these killings to be denounced widely as racially motivated.

Encountering racism is likely to be harmful in and of itself, but black children faced with these statistics may be more likely to fear police and other authority figures, and black Americans of all ages, but especially those who have been personally affected or have lost friends and family members as a result of excessive police force, may develop anxiety, stress, or depression. People of color may also experience what has been termed racial trauma. The term racial trauma was developed by scholars to describe the ways racism, prejudice, and discrimination can have harmful physical and mental effects on people of color.

Traumatic stress experienced on basis of race—whether from being a witness to hate violence, experiencing racism or hate violence firsthand, or facing institutional racism and its effects—may lead individuals to experience humiliation, irritation and anger, low self-esteem, anxiety, symptoms of posttraumatic stress, or depression.

Racial trauma can have serious long-term effects: Family and social relationships may be affected, people may lose their sense of hope for the future, come to expect death as a likely outcome, experience diminished social attachments, and become suspicious of social institutions.


  1. The counted: People killed by police in the US. (n.d.). The Guardian. Retrieved from
  2. Goff, P. A., Lloyd, T., Geller, A., Raphael, S., & Glaser, J. (2016, July 8). The science of justice: Race, arrests, and police use of force [PDF]. Los Angeles: Center for Policing Equity. Retrieved from
  3. Hyland, S., Langton, L., & Davis, E. (2015, November). Police use of nonfatal force, 2002-11 [PDF]. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved from
  4. Swaine, J., Laughland, O., Lartey, J., & McCarthy, C. (2015, December 31). Young black men killed by US police at highest rate in year of 1,134 deaths. The Gaurdian. Retrieved from
  5. Turner, E., & Richardson, J. (2016, July 14). Racial trauma is real: The impact of police shootings on African Americans. Retrieved from

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • sloan

    July 21st, 2016 at 1:54 PM

    I am not trying to stir up any dissent here, just posing a question. There are people who would read this and then they would argue that the police are only using force against this portion of society because they are the ones who are either not doing what they are being told to do by the police or they are otherwise resisting arrest. I don’t think that this is cause for the deadly force that we have witnessed lately but you have to admit that many times there are people who just won’t shut their mouths and do what the police are asking them to do. What are the cops supposed to do then?

  • Tripp

    July 21st, 2016 at 3:19 PM

    Sign of the times

  • Javon

    July 23rd, 2016 at 9:22 AM

    I also know that there are only certain stories that make the news and others that do not so you have to be very careful with which media outlets you are allowing to inform you of all your news.

  • Phil

    July 25th, 2016 at 3:22 AM

    This is really an article that hit me like a water balloon in the face, being. since it being a article GoodTherapy.!. First, in the city I live in, the crime rate of blacks and white or so divided, like 77% black and 20% white, 3% other, that it is totally idiotic to make the comparison of blacks getting stopped and or arrested more than whites, because naturally they are the constant ones committing the crimes, and the percentage of them illegally carrying firearms/assault rifles is through the roof, as also the reason, almost daily, there broadcasting on the news of killings, black on black. And now the attacks on our law enforcement officers, as was aired on CNN, a Black Police Chief from Minneapolis I believe, stated how much of a shame (ignorance) it is to also make such a comparison. Black people as any other persons have a choice everyday when they arise, to make their life a positive one or a negative one, and unfortunately far to many choose the latter.

  • tallulah

    July 25th, 2016 at 12:35 PM

    I have a fear that given the amount of violence out there that more and more people will start to feel this kind of prejudicial treatment against them. I mean, what else are cops supposed to do when there is usually a lot of chaos and they are just trying to sort out who is doing what and half the time suspects won’t comply?

  • Cecil

    July 25th, 2016 at 2:47 PM

    Over the last several months I would say that there has been a lot of damage done to the way that people of color especially think about the police and whether they would ever consider them to be a foe or an ally. I think that you will probably find a lot of young people of color who no longer look to the police for protection because they are afraid instead that these will be people who will turn on them and harm them for no reason.

  • Karen D

    July 27th, 2016 at 2:02 PM

    Well of course it won’t matter if the offenders are violent, no matter their race police might have to resort to more physical actions just to break it up and get the suspect under control.
    The last thing they are probably thinking about at that point is whether the person is black or white.


    July 27th, 2016 at 4:58 PM

    Will we ever get to a point where we can just be blind to the color of one’s skin?

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