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Race is a big factor in Ohio police killings

Rob Moore

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Protesters in downtown Columbus. Photo by Susan Tebben.

According to CNN, police shot and killed about 1,000 people in the United States in 2018. Compare this to Germany, where police shot and killed 11 people, Sweden, where police shot and killed six people, the U.K., where police shot and killed three people, and New Zealand, where police shot and killed a whopping one person.

These numbers aren’t just because the U.S. has more people, either. Even on a per-capita basis, U.S. citizens are shot and killed by police anywhere from five times as much as in Sweden to over thirty times as much as in the U.K.

It’s not just the prevalence of police killings that is prompting hundreds of thousands of people across the country to take to the streets, though. It’s the disparity in victimization rates between black and white Americans. About a quarter of people killed by police in America are black, much higher than the 13% of total Americans who are black.

Ohio is an especially bad offender when it comes to racial disparities in police killings. From 2013 to 2019, 215 Ohioans were killed by police, 80 of whom were black. That means over a third (37%) of people killed by police over that time period were black, despite the fact that only 12% of Ohioans as a whole are black according to Census Bureau estimates. This 25-percentage-point disparity makes Ohio a top 10 worst state for racial disparities in police killings and constitutes a bigger disparity than all of its neighboring states.

When people across the country think about large-scale activism, they might not think Columbus, Ohio, but Ohio’s capital city has exploded with protests over the past couple of weeks in the wake of the killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd. Columbus is no stranger to police killings, though: Officers of the Columbus Division of Police killed 40 people from 2013 to 2019, more than three times as many as any other agency in the state of Ohio. Of those 40 people killed by Columbus Division of Police officers, 27 were black, a number more than three times as high as any other agency in the state.

In case you were following along, this means that over two-thirds of people killed by Columbus Division of Police officers were black. This is in a city that is, according to the US Census Bureau, only 29% black as a whole. That means that black people are being killed by police at a rate 39 percentage points higher than would be expected by their share of the Columbus population. If Columbus was its own state, it would only be behind Rhode Island for how disproportionately its police officers kill black residents.

So this means that Columbus police are killing black people at higher rates than police across Ohio are, who are killing black people at higher rates than police across the United States are, who are killing people as a whole at higher rates than police in other developed countries are.

Despite these sobering statistics, police in the Ohio kill people on average less than the country as a whole, killing 26 people per 10 million citizens per year compared the nationwide average of 34, a lower rate than 36 other states. Hopefully after this nationwide wakeup call, cities across the state will figure out why they can’t extend the same courtesy to their black residents.

Rob Moore is the principal for Scioto Analysis, a public policy analysis firm based in Columbus. Moore has worked as an analyst in the public and nonprofit sectors and has analyzed diverse issue areas such as economic development, environment, education, and public health. He holds a Master of Public Policy from the University of California Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy and a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from Denison University.

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