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Justified Homicide and Black Males

By on January 13, 2013

Too many black males are dying in America.

For the first time in 2008, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified and publicized data that ‘Legal Intervention’ is a topblackmale_homicide ten cause of death for black and hispanic males. Digging deeper behind this data, we learn the days of Rodney King-like police brutality are not yet over for us. Further, there is ample evidence that minority males die in the custody of law enforcement over any other racial group. Why?  The data published on the CDC website of the ten leading causes of death among Black men in 2008, for the first time, included “Legal intervention” as one of the top causes. Where is the national outrage? The news reporting?

By “legal intervention”, the CDC is referring to police killing men, which they are now reporting as the ninth leading cause of death among Black men between the ages of 15 and 19 and the tenth among Black men aged 20 to 24.

The reality is also that many cases go unquestioned and unexamined due to the justifications given only by reporting officers. Some law enforcement precincts investigate all cases of “justified homicide” but many only look beyond the initial report in the rarest and most extreme cases—or when someone makes a big enough fuss. Think Chavis Carter an African American male placed in a police car, handcuffed, and was said to have shot himself by the reporting officer. Only public outcry prompted an investigation launched that identified grave inconsistencies in the officers’ account.

chaviscarterAccording to the report, “justified homicides” account for 0.5% of deaths among Black men aged 15 to 19 and 0.8% among those aged 20 to 24. Other national reports by the Children’s Defense Fund bear this out as well. After a little math based on this report, another by the CDC on mortality rates (by sex, age, and race), and a third from the ACS (American Community Survey), we can estimate the actual number of deaths this represents. For Black men aged 15 to 19, this totals around 14 “justified homicides” a year and for those aged 20 to 24, the total is around 20 per year.

Initially seeing “Legal intervention” among the top ten causes of death led to me to think that the numbers would be much higher than what they were. And, although one unjustified “justified homicide” is one too many, the numbers still struck me as unrealistically low. As it turns out, this was a valid suspicion as the National Vital Statistics System, the CDC’s source and one of the only two national sources of “justified homicide” statistics, necessarily contains underestimated figures. This is because the NVSS compiles its data from death certificates that do not always note police involvement in a homicide as the cause of death.

You can help stem the tide of gun violence by supporting the work of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. It’s a coalition, with 48 national organizational members. Contact them at (202) 408-0061.


Luvaire Murrell is a writer and editor for healthyblackmen.org and our monthly newsletter. Mr. Murrell is experienced in marketing, public speaking, and research. He is also a published poet.


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