Nationwide, police shoot black people at a rate three times higher than white people. Between 2013 and 2018, 28% of police shooting victims were black, twice their proportion of the overall population, according to the Mapping Police Violence Project.
Many experts say police officers’ individual biases are the reason black people are shot at such a high rate. If that were true, then every city should have similar rates. But at the city level, the rate at which police shoot black people compared to white people varies widely.
New research from Boston University suggests it’s more than individual bias.
“The key finding of our study is that the level of segregation is directly related to the level of the disparity in police shootings,” said Dr. Michael Siegel, professor of Community Health Sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health.
Siegel and his colleagues studied segregation levels and police shootings in 70 U.S. cities and found that it’s not a problem of individual officers treating individual black people differently.
“When you have neighborhoods that are viewed as being black neighborhoods,” Siegel said, “they are policed differently than neighborhoods that are considered white neighborhoods or mixed neighborhoods.”
An emphasis in police training on individual bias may miss the point, Siegel said. Focusing on how police view different neighborhoods may have a bigger impact.
Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.