Study that claims white police no more likely to shoot minorities draws fire

Science | AAAS | 8/15/2019 | Staff
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Researchers are raising red flags about a recent study on race and deadly encounters with police in the United States, highlighting the difficulties in measuring racial bias. The study claimed that white police were no more likely than their nonwhite colleagues to shoot minorities. But now, other researchers say the study was flawed and that it adds little to the debate over whether minorities have a greater chance of getting shot by police than white civilians.

“It’s just a completely indefensible conclusion to draw from the data that’s available,” says Dean Knox, a political scientist at Princeton University who published a critique of the study this month. To begin to justify such a claim, he says, researchers would need to know how often black and white civilians encounter police officers—something the authors of the original study did not consider in the paper.

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Another criticism: the study did not investigate the possibility that all police—white and nonwhite—could be biased in shooting black men, says psychologist Phillip Atiba Goff at the Center for Policing Equity and John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. “It’s not a serious framing of bias to think that white people have bias and other people don’t,” he says.

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In the original study, published on 22 July in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, researchers at Michigan State University and the University of Maryland compiled a list of more than 900 fatal U.S. police shootings in 2015 using crowdsourced databases from The Washington Post and The Guardian. Then, they asked police departments for information about the race of the officers responsible for the shootings. Their data revealed that black police were more likely to kill black civilians than white civilians. However, the...
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