Story at a glance

  • The police killing of George Floyd brought renewed attention to police violence in the United States.
  • Police brutality disproportionately affects Black Americans, who are more likely to be stopped by law enforcement.
  • There is no federal database of information of police violence in the United States.

On the day George Floyd was killed last year, six other Americans were killed by police, according to a database by Campaign Zero. By that point in the year, police had already killed 474 people. By the end of the year, they would have killed more than 600 additional people. 

“The pandemic and the lockdown did not change this pattern of police violence: more people were killed by police in 2020 than in 2019 and only 16 of these cases resulted in officers being charged with a crime. The police know, and the data confirms, that they can kill people with impunity,” said Samuel Sinyangwe, a data scientist and co-founder of Campaign Zero, in a release.


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Without a publicly available federal database, various groups of activists, journalists and citizens have stepped up to fill in the void of information on police killings in the United States. A project of the charity organization WeTheProtesters, Campaign Zero tracks police violence through the Police Scorecard, which evaluates different departments in California, and Mapping Police Violence (MPV), which uses data from FatalEncounters.org, the U.S. Police Shootings Database and KilledbyPolice.net. Unlike others, like the Washington Post database, which only track fatal shootings by on-duty police officers, MPV also tracks police killings both on and off duty by shooting, chokehold, baton, taser or other means. 

Of the 1,127 people killed by police in 2020, 96 percent were killed by police shootings and most others involved tasers, physical force and police vehicles, according to the report. Half of those were reportedly armed with a gun, but the report found that 1 in 6 people with a gun were not threatening anyone when they were killed and may have been de-escalated instead. 

Most started as suspected nonviolent offenses or cases where no crime was reported, 121 of which were traffic stops. Black drivers are stopped by police, as well as searched, at higher rates than white drivers nationwide; in Berkeley, Calif., where recent reforms included ending stops for low-level offenses, Black people are more than six times more likely to be stopped while driving and four times more likely to be stopped on foot. Another 94 were reports of someone behaving erratically or having a mental health crisis, underscoring the intersectional issues tied with police violence. 


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“In 2020, 626 deaths caused by police were traffic stops, responses to mental health crises, or other situations that can and should have been handled differently,” said DeRay McKesson, activist and c-founder of Campaign Zero, in a release. “That’s 626 people that would still be here today if we began to embrace alternatives to policing. It’s time we reimagine a system that for ages has disproportionately harmed communities of color.” 

Black people were more likely to be killed by police than any population, according to the report, but also more likely to be unarmed and less likely to be threatening someone when killed. Reforms such as those in Berkeley have been adopted in other parts of the country with the intention of providing an alternative ending to these situations, which have previously ended in death. 

“Mental health, substance abuse treatment and other community-based investments are necessary components to ensuring we fully address the needs of communities. Time and time again we’ve seen the police respond to these issues in a manner that escalates the situation, further endangering the public. It’s time we adopt policies that task trained professionals with responding to cases that reflect their expertise,” said McKesson in a release. 


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Published on Mar 17, 2021