A newly released study indicates the number of Latinos and Black people killed while in police custody is likely much higher than reported by the media and national databases—perhaps by more than double.
According to the report revealed on May 27 by the Raza Database Project and UnidosUS, 32,542 people were killed while in police custody since 2000, with Black people and Latinos making up 20 percent and 17 percent of those killed, respectively.
The numbers of police abuse and killings of Latinos has been routinely undercounted.
Overall, people of color, who make up 40 percent of the US population, make up more than 60 percent of all people who die in police custody, while white people, who make up more than 60 percent of the population, accounted for less than 40 percent of all police custody deaths, according to the released study.
The Raza Database Project is a network of some 50 researchers, scholars, journalists, activists and family members of victims killed by police. UnidosUS (formally known as the National Council of La Raza or NCLR) is considered the nation’s largest Latino civil-rights and advocacy organization, partnering with a national network of nearly 300 affiliates across the country to serve millions of Latinos in the areas of civic engagement, immigration, education, workforce and the economy, health, and housing.
“[The study] is a disturbing indication that the already overwhelming concern about over-policing of communities of color might be even more widespread than we know,” UnidosUS President and CEO Janet Murguía said upon the report’s release.
“The numbers we already knew about are unacceptable; these new numbers are unconscionable. This data demands immediate consideration by those in Congress who are working on much-needed law enforcement reform legislation to ensure that their solutions truly reflect the scope of the problem,” Murguía said.
The study included data research of those persons not only shot by police —at 23,664, the majority of deaths, by far—but also those who died from various other incidents, including 6,200 from a vehicle, 576 from an undefined “medical emergency,” 325 from “physical restraint” (as George Floyd was subjected to), 194 from beatings and 40 from pepper spray.
Researchers at the Raza Database Project aggregated all names reported in national databases of all deaths by or in police custody from 2000 through May 9, 2021, eliminating duplicate names based on standard social science practices. Then, researchers checked the names against the 2010 Decennial Census of Population and Housing: Surname datasets.
By adjusting for known ethnic surnames, they found that the number of Latinos killed while in police custody increased 24 percent from 2,139 to 2,653 from 2014-2021. The number of Asian and Pacific Islanders increased by more than six times, from 217 to 1,427, while the number of those classified as White decreased from 6,536 to 5,871
Even more sobering, said Claudia Ruiz, a civil rights policy analyst for UnidosUS, is the reality that the study is “just scratching the surface” because the data in all likelihood still undercounts Latinos and Asians and Pacific Islanders because a significant number have non-ethnic surnames because of relatively high intermarriage rates.
“One of the surprises [about the data] is that there was a large number of individuals who were listed as ‘race unknown’ or ‘other.’ Which highlights that the lack of data collection requirements makes it so that we really have no idea just how far this problem extends,” Ruiz said
“Even our best early attempts…has still resulted in a problem that is greater than we can ever know. We’re still figuring out what exactly we can do to make sure we fully understand the scope of the problem as it comes to police brutality and violence, and individuals of color being killed by them while in police custody.”
Ruiz does not expect a followup study to be released anytime soon.
“There’s no real concrete timeline,” she said. “But there’s probably a whole lot of extra data already out there that we could excavate if there are other police departments willing to share this data. Working with police unions or departments to see if there is a way we can make sure the data is more publicly available; part of that would probably come from any police reform legislative package.
“That’s one direction; on the other hand is expanding the number of resources we look at specifically,” she said.
But this study has plenty of material for the public, media outlets and legislatures to ponder.
“Individuals in general should be well aware of what’s happening within their own communities, especially when news coverage of it is not always necessarily happening, or providing a platform for a lot of incidents of brutality,” Ruiz said.
“To the media itself: going back to this notion that we truly want accountability and transparency from law enforcement, news coverage is really important so people understand the magnitude this issue really presents to communities of color in particular. Finally, when it comes to lawmakers and policy makers, we live in the Era of Big Data. If we want to make sustainable, long-term prescriptions for a problem, we should be able to make an accurate diagnosis.”