The Relationship Between Structural Racism and Black-White Disparities in Fatal Police Shootings at the State Level

J Natl Med Assoc. 2018 Apr;110(2):106-116. doi: 10.1016/j.jnma.2017.12.002. Epub 2018 Jan 19.


Objective: The objective of this study was to discern the relationship between state-level structural racism and Black-White disparities in police shootings of victims not known to be armed.

Methods: Using a Poisson regression, we evaluated the effect of structural racism on differences between states in Black-White disparities in fatal police shootings involving victims not known to be armed during the period from January 1, 2013 through June 30, 2017. We created a state racism index, which was comprised of five dimensions: (1) residential segregation; and gaps in (2) incarceration rates; (3) educational attainment; (4) economic indicators; and (5) employment status.

Results: After controlling for numerous state-level factors and for the underlying rate of fatal shootings of black victims in each state, the state racism index was a significant predictor of the Black-White disparity in police shooting rates of victims not known to be armed (incidence rate ratio: 1.24; 95% confidence interval, 1.02-1.50). For every 10-point increase in the state racism index, the Black-White disparity ratio of police shooting rates of people not known to be armed increased by 24%.

Conclusion: These findings suggest that structural racism is an important predictor of the Black-White disparity in rates of police shootings of unarmed victims across states.

Keywords: Firearm violence; Homicide; Police shootings; Racial disparities; Structural racism.

MeSH terms

  • Black or African American / statistics & numerical data*
  • Economic Status
  • Educational Status
  • Employment
  • Gun Violence / ethnology*
  • Gun Violence / statistics & numerical data
  • Homicide / ethnology*
  • Humans
  • Police / statistics & numerical data*
  • Racism*
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Social Segregation
  • United States / epidemiology
  • White People / statistics & numerical data*