If you’re traffic-stopped by a cop of a different race, you’re more than twice as likely to be subjected to some kind of nonfatal force than if the officer who stopped you looks like you.
If a cop is conducting a personal search on you and you’re Black, you’re twice as likely to experience some nonfatal force from that officer than if you were being searched and you were White.
These little everyday facts of life about being Black and dealing with law enforcement that everyone knows but really can’t prove have just been quantified in a new study by the Justice Department.
Called “Police Use of Nonfatal Force, 2002-2011,” the Bureau of Justice Statistics-researched report, released last month, firmly asserts that Blacks are 2.5 times more likely to experience the threat or use of nonfatal force by police than Whites.
In the report, “nonfatal force” is defined as “shouting, cursing, threatening, pushing or grabbing, hitting or kicking, using pepper spray, using an electroshock weapon, pointing a gun or using other force.” In other words, some verbal or physical roughing up, with maybe a small order of ass-whupping on the side.
The study says that on average, 44 million U.S. residents 16 or older have one or more face-to-face contacts with police every year.
For the years included in the report – 2002 to 2011 – nearly 1.6 percent of U.S. residents who had those contacts with police experienced the threat or use of nonfatal force. Of those, three out of four described the force as excessive.
The study says that of those who had such contacts with the police, Blacks (3.5 percent) were 2.5 times more likely than Whites (1.4 percent) and 1.7 times more likely than Hispanics (2.1 percent) to experience the threat or use of nonfatal force.
Also, Blacks (2.8 percent) were more likely than Whites (1.0 percent) or Hispanics (1.4 percent) to perceive the nonfatal force as excessive. It could mean that cops used nonfatal force on Blacks more emphatically than Whites.
Police-initiated stops accounted for the majority (51 percent) of face-to-face contacts. Among these stops, street stops (7.6 percent) were more likely than traffic stops (1.1 percent) to involve nonfatal force, so you’re more likely to have force used on you if the cops roust you just walking down the street or hanging on the corner with your buddies.
The analyses show that police use of nonfatal force varies by race. Blacks (4.9 percent) experienced nonfatal force during police-initiated contacts at a rate nearly three times higher than Whites (1.8 percent) and nearly two times higher than Hispanics (2.5 percent).
Additionally, Blacks (14 percent) were more than twice as likely as Hispanics (6 percent) to experience nonfatal force during street stops.
The study found that Blacks were almost three times more likely than Whites to experience verbal force – being shouted or cursed at – and more than twice as likely to experience physical force. Perhaps that’s why Blacks were almost three times more likely to perceive the use of physical force to be excessive than Whites.
Interestingly, the perception that the force used was excessive varied by the type of police action taken.
People who were hit or kicked were more likely to perceive the police action to be excessive (97 percent) compared to those who had a gun pointed at them (81 percent), were pushed or grabbed (79 percent), were threatened with force (76 percent), or were shouted or cursed at (49 percent).
In addition, those who were injured were more likely to perceive the force as excessive (94 percent) than those who were not injured (74 percent).
Among residents who experienced force, 87 percent believed the police did not behave properly, but during contacts that did not involve force, 90 percent of residents believed the police did behave properly.
However, Blacks (84 percent) were still less likely to believe the police behaved properly during contacts without force than Whites (91 percent) or Hispanics (88 percent) did. Maybe it’s the tone of voice that cops use with Blacks compared to Whites, and even Hispanics, even when force or the threat of force is not present.
And although rates of contact were similar across all geographic areas, people in urban locales (2.1 percent) were more likely than those in the suburbs (1.5 percent) or rural (1.2 percent) areas to experience nonfatal force.
Other findings of the study show that:
• Males and people ages 16 to 25 are more likely to experience police contact and the use of nonfatal force than females and persons age 26 or older.
• Residents who did experience the use of force (44 percent) were more likely to have had multiple contacts with police than those who did not experience force (28 percent).
• Traffic stops involving an officer and driver of different races were more than twice as likely to involve the threat or use of force (2.0 percent) than traffic stops involving an officer and driver of the same race (0.8 percent).
• Blacks (1.4 percent) were twice as likely as Whites (0.7 percent) to experience nonfatal force when also experiencing a personal search during their most recent contact.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics is a component of the Office of Justice Programs, which provides federal leadership in developing the nation’s capacity to prevent and control crime, administer justice, and assist victims.
This report, related documents, and additional information about the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ publications and programs can be found on the BJS website http://www.bjs.gov/.