These sorts of claims have become conventional wisdom on the political left. A well-run and large-N study from the Skeptic Research Center in February 2021 found that 54% of Americans who “identify as very liberal” believe that the average number of unarmed Black men killed annually by U.S. police is somewhere between “about 1,000” and “more than 10,000.” A major empirical survey conducted by the political scientist Eric Kaufman in April 2021 found that 80% of African Americans and 60% of educated white liberals believe that more young Black men die annually at the hands of police than in car wrecks.
OK. The actual number of unarmed Black men killed by police last year was 17. Given the grave importance of this issue, it’s worth repeating that number—17—across the tens of millions of annual police-citizen interactions. As it turns out, about 1,000 people of all races, sexes, and ages are shot to death by on-duty police officers in a typical year (1,021 in 2020), and about 250 of those are identified as Black.
Even this gap—between the share of Americans who are Black (13%) and the share of police shooting victims (24%-25%)—largely vanishes when a simple adjustment is made for the gap in reported crime statistics (and thus in police encounter rates) between Blacks and whites, which was 2.4 to 1 when the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Study collected data on violent crime victims in 2019.
Even leaving such academic points aside, it is clear that estimates of police violence on at least the political left are several orders of magnitude higher than reality.