Trends in U.S. deaths from legal interventions

A study by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that, over the past 50 years, the risk of a young black man in the U.S. dying due to law enforcement action ranged from at least 3 to 10 times higher than the risk for a young white man.

The study examined trends in deaths among white and black men ages 15-34 due to law enforcement action between 1960 and 2010. They found that black men died at a rate disproportionately high respective to the percentage of blacks in the overall U.S. population. Among the men who died as a result of legal intervention, 5,489 were classified as white (55.3%) and 4,204 as black (42.3%). By comparison, the racial makeup of the U.S. in 1960 was 10.5% black and 88.6% white; in 2010, 12.6% black and 72.4% white.

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The study appeared online in the Harvard Public Health Review in January 2015.

In an accompanying editorial, lead author Nancy Krieger, professor of social epidemiology, wrote, “We in public health have the capacity — the analytic tools, the data, and the knowledge — to make the connections palpable – and actionable — between the many forms of racism, whether structural, everyday, gendered, or environmental, and the myriad ways they become embodied and manifest as health inequities.”

Asked to comment on the upheaval in Baltimore following the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray on April 12, 2015 while in police custody, Krieger said that the city “joins a long list of U.S. communities whose civilians, during the course of U.S. history, have publicly sought redress – and even rioted – due to thwarted efforts to right wrongs due to racial injustice. The anger and calls for reformed policing policies, for an end to mass incarceration, and for economic development that promotes equity, are not new, and perhaps the growing public awareness of these longstanding issues can once again usher in much needed reform, as it did in the 1930s, the 1960s, and many other moments in U.S. history.”

Trends in US Deaths Due to Legal Intervention Among Black and White Men, Age 15-34 Years, by County Income Level: 1960-2010 (Harvard Public Health Review)

Police Killings, Political Impunity, Racism and the People’s Health: Issues for Our Times  (Harvard Public Health)

Race, Criminal Justice and Health (The Forum at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health)