On November 2, 2021, USA Today published an alarming report on the high number of American teenagers hurt by law enforcement. In collaboration with The Marshall Project, the USA Today report finds that police injure thousands of teens nationwide each year. In many of these cases, excessive force is an issue. Young Black teenagers are disproportionately affected. Here are some of the key findings from this study.
The Marshall Project Reviewed Data From Large Police Departments
The Marshall Project worked with several large U.S. police departments. The law enforcement agencies in question were selected, in part, because they are among the relatively few that keep detailed demographic data on use-of-force incidents. The data includes the age, race, and sex of the civilian. The police departments that provided data to researchers included Chicago, Minneapolis, New Orleans, and Portland. Here is a brief overview of the findings:
- 4,000 Total Incidents: There were 4,000 use-of-force incidents involving teenagers among the six police department between 2015 and 2020.
- More than Two-Thirds of the Incidents Involved Black Teenagers: Black children and teenagers were disproportionately affected by use-of-force by police officers. Among the six departments examined, Black children/teens accounted for nearly 70% of use-of-force.
- 800 Use-of-Force of Incidents Involved Black Girls: The majority of use-of-force involve males. This is true of all age groups. However, Black girls were disproportionately affected compared to their white counterparts. 800 Black girls/teens were involved in a use-of-force incident in the six cities reviewed. Only 120 white girls/teens were involved.
Excessive Use of Force by Police Against Children/Teens in California
Police brutality is an issue that affects communities all across the United States. California is no exception. The USA Today report notes that researchers with the University of California, Berkeley reviewed data for California from 2005 through 2017. During that time, they found that 16,000 children and teenagers required emergency medical attention for an injury that occurred in an interaction with a police officer.
The researchers from UC Berkeley assessed that Black teenage girls were four times as likely to be injured in a use-of-force incident in California than white teenage girls. In too many cases, extreme force by police officers is used after a relatively small initial incident—such as simple trespassing or low-level shoplifting.
A Challenge: No National Database on Police Brutality or Excessive Force
In undertaking its study, The Marshall Project encountered the same challenges that cause problems for so many researchers. Most notably, the lack of a truly comprehensive national database on police brutality and the use of excessive force.
Recently, California has put reforms into place—including SB 2, the state’s police decertification law—that will help to ensure better reporting of police misconduct. Still, without a reliable national database on excessive force, there are significant gaps in transparency. Public knowledge is necessary to end these inequities.
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