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Police killings are the sixth leading cause of death among young men, study shows

“Policing plays a key role in maintaining structural inequalities between people of color and white people in the United States," lead researcher Frank Edwards said.
Image: Protesters march and rally on the fifth anniversary of the death of Eric Garner in New York
Members of Black Lives Matter protest on the fifth anniversary of the death of Eric Garner, a day after federal prosecutors announced their decision not to prosecute NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo or other officers on charges related to his death, in New York on July 17, 2019.Michael A. McCoy / Reuters

Young American men are at a high risk of being killed by a police officer, according to a recent study.

Police killings — which can include shootings, choking and other uses of force — are the sixth-leading cause of death among men of all races ages 25-29, according to the study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences.

Accidental death, a category that includes drug overdoses and car accidents, was the biggest cause at 76.6 deaths per 100,000, followed by suicide (26.7), other homicides (22.0), heart disease (7.0), and cancer (6.3).

The risk of being killed by the police is more pronounced for black men, who are 2.5 times more likely than white men to be killed by police, while black women are 1.4 times more likely than white women to be killed by police.

According to Frank Edwards, lead researcher of the study and an assistant professor at the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University, the numbers “may be an undercount.”

While the killings of Michael Brown, 18, Charleena Lyles, 30, and other black men and women at the hands of law enforcement have brought national attention to the role race plays in police violence against Americans, researchers lack basic estimates of the prevalence of police-involved deaths, in large part because of an absence of official and authoritative data.

Edwards told NBC News that the federal government “never collected adequate data” speaking to racial, gender-based and age disparities among victims of police violence and that researchers cannot rely on police departments to self-report such cases.

“Police departments have very little incentive to record the number of deaths, nor are they mandated to do so,” Edwards said.

In conducting this research, Edwards and his team instead relied on data from Fatal Encounters, a journalist-led effort that uses news reports, public records requests and crowdsourced information to document police-induced fatalities.

Edwards said that he hopes the study shows the need for a “multi-pronged approach” to collecting data that doesn’t require exclusively relying on media reports. He also hopes the numbers will lead to others understanding police-involved deaths and police brutality as public health issues.

“There’s clear evidence that shows the harmful and distinct ways police violence expands inequality,” Edwards said, citing other research that shows "stop and frisk" and aggressive policing can affect both mental and physical health. “Policing plays a key role in maintaining structural inequalities between people of color and white people in the United States.”