If you ever find yourself in the United States of America, you might end up getting shot by a police officer.
It doesn’t matter if you live in what you consider a safe place: Police shootings aren’t correlated with a city’s violent crime rate, and can happen anywhere from Honolulu to Oklahoma City to Washington, D.C.
After the recent police killings of Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott, following on the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, among others, we thought we’d offer a quick rundown on how to reduce your chances of being shot by police.
Here’s our primer, in two easy steps.
1. Don’t Be Black
The Washington Post calculated that police shot and killed 990 people in the United States in 2015, or about one person every eight or nine hours. Those fatal shootings surpassed our worst years of lynchings (161 African Americans were lynched in 1892) and capital punishment. This year, we’re on track to hit or surpass 2015’s number, with 509 shooting deaths at the hands of police as of this writing.
These police shootings disproportionately affect black men. The Washington Post’s review found that of the unarmed men shot and killed by police last year, 40 percent were black ― even though black men only make up 6 percent of the population. The Guardian, also looking at 2015 data, found that young black men were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by police officers.
The Washington Post reports that “[i]n the majority of cases in which police shot and killed a person who had attacked someone with a weapon or brandished a gun, the person who was shot was white. But a hugely disproportionate number — 3 in 5 — of those killed after exhibiting less threatening behavior were black or Hispanic.” The paper added that one-fourth of those killed were mentally ill or experiencing an emotional crisis.
Every story about police violence brings with it a wave of people pointing to stats about black people committing more crime than white people — but the real story has many more layers. FBI statistics suggest that African-Americans are more likely to be convicted of violent crimes, but black people are disproportionally arrested, convicted and sentenced across the country. One survey found that half of African-Americans respondents, including 6 in 10 black men, said they personally had been treated unfairly by police because of their race, compared with 3 percent of whites. There’s also a proven track record of black Americans being punished more harshly for the same crimes as their white counterparts.
2. Consider Moving To Another Country
More people died at the hands of cops in America in the first 24 days of last year than in the last 24 years in England and Wales. That’s just one example.
Whether it’s due to our affinity for guns, our fear that everyone around us has them or a lack of training among police officers, many Americans aren’t surprised anymore to see gun violence between officers and civilians.
In many other democratic, developed nations, violent confrontations between citizens and law enforcement officers pan out a little differently.
Just a month after last year’s terrorist attacks in Paris, police officers in London were faced with a knife-wielding suspect who was threatening to kill them. The suspect was asked to put his weapon down, then hit with a Taser and subdued. That same week, a similar incident took place in San Francisco, but the suspect’s fate was not the same:
Warning: The below video contains graphic content.
By Sept. 1 of last year, police in the United Kingdom had killed one person. In the U.S., cops had killed 776 by that time. University of California at Berkeley Professor Jerome Karabel noted last year:
This is a level of police violence that is simply unimaginable in other wealthy democratic country; in Germany in 2012, a total of seven people were killed by the police, and in England a single person was killed in 2013 and 2014 combined. And Japan, a nation of 126 million people that is as non-violent as the US is violent, had no police killings over the past two years.
And if you think police are more likely to shoot at civilians in high-crime areas, think again. Campaign Zero, an advocacy group working against police brutality, reports that there is no correlation between police violence and community violence:
“For us it was pretty simple. We’ve been hearing these arguments going around without any data or any evidence from folks who are saying that police are killing so many people — particularly black people — because they say black people are in high-crime communities and potentially involved in criminal activity,” Samuel Sinyangwe, a member of Campaign Zero’s planning team, said last year.
Police, meanwhile, are rarely indicted over fatal shootings, though charges have been filed more often over the past few years as civilians use smartphones to record altercations. Of the few officers actually charged over a shooting in the last decade, one-third were convicted.
If you’re a black American in 2016, you have every reason to wonder why you’re being targeted.
To be sure, it isn’t easy being tasked with carrying a firearm and policing your community.
“Every officer is taught that every encounter on the street ― whether it’s a burglary or traffic ticket ― that there is always a gun involved because you’re armed. Every situation is a gun situation,” Bill Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, told The Huffington Post. “These men and women are not from Mars, they’re neighbors, they’re young people you grew up with. They’re trying to do the best with a very difficult job.”
That may be true, but it doesn’t justify the deaths of these two men ― and so many other people ― at the hands of people sworn to protect them.
This piece has been updated to include more recent examples of men who have been shot and killed by police.