17% Of Whites’ Killings of Blacks Termed Justifiable

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In one in six cases when a white person kills a black man in the U.S., there is no criminal sanction, reports the New York Times and The Marshall Project based on an examination of 400,000 homicides committed by civilians between 1980 and 2014. That rate is far higher than ones for homicides involving other combinations of races. In almost 17 percent of cases when a black man was killed by a non-Hispanic white civilian over three decades, the killing was categorized as justifiable, the term used when a police officer or a civilian kills someone committing a crime or in self-defense. Police classify fewer than 2 percent of homicides committed by civilians as justifiable.

The Marshall Project obtained dozens of data sets from the FBI and looked at various combinations of killer and victim. Two types of “justifiable homicide” are noted: “felon killed by private citizen” or “felon killed by police officer.” (The person killed is classified as a felon, because the homicide could be justified only if a life was threatened, which is a crime.) The data were processed to standardize key variables and exclude more than 200,000 cases that lacked essential information or were homicides by the police. The resulting data detail the circumstances of each death: any weapons used; information on the killer’s and victim’s race, age, ethnicity and sex; and how police investigators classify each type of killing.

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