Skip to main content

Here’s the Racial Breakdown of Who’s Most Likely to Die From Police Bullets

Black and Hispanic Americans fare far worse than whites.

By Francie Diep


Demonstrators march in St. Louis, Missouri, on August 20, 2015, protesting the police shooting of Michael Brown. (Photo: Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, was shot and killed by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, this week. The officers were responding to an anonymous 911 caller, who said “a black male who was selling music [CDs] and wearing a red shirt [had] threatened him with a gun,” National Public Radio reports. The story garnered national attention, protests, and a Department of Justice investigation after a bystander’s video circulated, showing the officers seemingly pinning Sterling, then shooting him at very close range. Sterling did have a gun, but didn’t reach for it during his altercation with the police, a witness told the Advocate, a Baton Rouge newspaper.

Sterling’s death brings fresh attention to the use of force by American police, particularly in their interactions with black men. When the issue first galvanized the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement, in 2013–14, there were no thorough, nationwide statistics on fatal police shootings. Throughout 2015, however, the Washington Post began collecting such data, using public sources including news reports. In the wake of Sterling’s shooting, here’s a quick look at that data, which now spans a year and a half. The database “helps explain why outrage continues to simmer” long after protests ended in Ferguson, Missouri, as Post reporters wrote in late 2015.

Although whites make up the largest number of people killed by police since the beginning of last year, black and Hispanic Americans are far more likely than whites to be killed by police, and to have been unarmed at the time of their deaths. Since the beginning of 2015:

  • Seven hundred twenty-seven white men and women have been fatally shot by police, making up 49 percent of deaths by police shooting. In the 2010 census, whites made up 75 percent of the American population.
  • Three hundred eighty black men and women have been fatally shot by police, making up 25 percent of police shooting deaths. In 2010, 12 percent of Americans were black.
  • Two hundred fifty-one deaths by police shooting — 17 percent of the total — were Hispanic men and women. Twelve percent of the U.S. population is Hispanic, according to the Census Bureau.
  • The above numbers mean Hispanic Americans are twice as likely to die from a police shooting as white Americans. Black Americans are three times as likely as whites to die this way.
  • Among white fatalities, 84 percent were armed with a gun or knife or were driving a vehicle. Seven percent were unarmed. The rest were either armed with a toy weapon, or reports on whether the suspect had a weapon conflict.
  • Among Hispanic fatalities, 82 percent were armed and 10 percent were unarmed.
  • Finally, among the black fatalities, 79 percent were armed and 13 percent were unarmed — nearly twice as many as among white fatalities.