The terror imposed on Black, Indigenous and other communities by the police is hard to quantify. Some measure it by the sheer number of people killed, while others seek to evaluate the subjective psychological toll. A new study by sociologist Elizabeth Wrigley-Field from Minneapolis, Minnesota—ground zero for the 2020 Uprisings—has offered another framework: the number of lifetime years stolen from people killed in police encounters.
The results are staggering. For every 100,000 (presumably cisgender) Black men, approaching four millennia of their collective lifetimes compared with life expectancies—3,772 years—are taken by police officers’ use of force. That represents an average of approximately 14 days of life lost per Black man across the population.
That mind-boggling timespan expands to well over five millenia lost (5,696 years) per 100,000 when considering all Black men’s deaths during police encounters—not just those involving force, but also including causes like suicide and traffic accidents.
The figure was calculated from a previous estimation that (presumably cisgender) Black men face a lifetime one-in-1,000 risk of being killed by police violence in their lifetimes. Each year, about 56,000 years of life are taken by police encounters in general, found a previous study.
The scale of death suffered by Black men is the highest of any racial-gendered group. Black men’s cumulative loss of life to police violence is 2.5 times that of white men, who lost approximately 1,500 years per 100,000 population. The equivalent figures for Native and Latino men were over 2,000, while Asian and Pacific Islander men had the lowest cumulative loss of life, below 1,000.
Among (presumably cisgender) women, cumulative lifetime years lost to police violence were highest among Native (a little over 200 years per 100,000 population) and Black (a little under 200) women. Rates for white and Latina women were between 100 and 150, while that for Asian and Pacific Islander women was below 50.
The youth of people killed also varied by demographics. Native women who were killed in police encounters lost more years on average (52) compared with their life expectancy than any other racial-gendered group. White men saw the fewest such years lost on average, at 39.
Of all those who died in police encouters, Native women and men were most likely in their respective gender groups to have lost their lives to violence, at 41 percent and 79 percent respectively.
The brief study was conducted in response to anticipated efforts to undermine the 2020 Uprisings by disingenuously citing COVID-19 risks. Activists are aware of the potential for coronavirus transmission, so many have organized near-ubiquitous availability of hand sanitizer and masks at protests throughout the summer. Wrigley-Field seemed to want to provide “context,” as the researcher writes, for anti-racist protestors to clarify the stakes of the movement.
“It suggests that although protesting police violence may not be safe, neither is it safe to allow policing to continue as usual,” wrote Wrigley-Field. “In the United States, ordinary policing brings extraordinary loss of life.”