George Floyd: How are African-Americans treated under the law?

Reality Check team - BBC News
·3 min read
Woman with mobile phone in front of police lines at US demo
Woman with mobile phone in front of police lines at US demo

After a former police officer was found guilty of murder over the death of George Floyd, there's a renewed focus on the experience of African-Americans when it comes to law enforcement in the US.

We've looked at some of the data around crime and justice.

1. African-Americans are more likely to get fatally shot

The figures that are available for incidents in which the police shoot and kill people show that for African-Americans, there's a much higher chance of being fatally shot relative to their overall numbers in the US population.

Fatal shootings chart
Fatal shootings chart

According to the Washington Post police shootings database, although African-Americans make up less than 14% of the population, they accounted for almost 24% of over 6,000 fatal shootings by the police since 2015.

The number of overall fatal shootings has remained relatively steady, with police killing about 1,000 people in the US annually since 2015.

Further research shows the rate that police fatally shoot unarmed black people in the US is more than three times as high as it is for white people.

2. African-Americans are more likely to be pulled over

Studies have shown that black people are more likely to be pulled over in traffic stops by police.

One of the most recent, a 2020 study by Stanford University, analysed 100 million traffic stops by police departments across the US, and found black drivers were about 20% more likely to be stopped than white drivers.

The study also found that once stopped, black drivers were searched up to two times as often as white drivers, although they were statistically less likely to be carrying illegal items.

3. African-Americans are arrested at a higher rate for drug abuse

African-Americans are arrested for drug abuse at a much higher rate than white Americans, although surveys show drugs are used at similar levels.

Drug abuse arrests by race. .  Hispanics are not counted separately. Others is Asian, American-Indian, Hawaiian or Pacific islanders..
Drug abuse arrests by race. . Hispanics are not counted separately. Others is Asian, American-Indian, Hawaiian or Pacific islanders..

In 2018, around 750 out of every 100,000 African-Americans were arrested for drug abuse, compared to around 350 out of every 100,000 white Americans.

Previous national surveys on drug use show that white people use drugs at similar rates, but African-Americans continue to get arrested more often.

For example, a study by the American Civil Liberties Union found that African-Americans were 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, even though their rate of marijuana usage was comparable.

4. More African-Americans are imprisoned

African-Americans are imprisoned at five times the rate of white Americans and twice the rate of Hispanic-Americans, according to the latest data.

US prison population per 100,000 residents. .  .
US prison population per 100,000 residents. . .

In 2019, African-Americans made up around 13% of the US population, but represented almost a third of the country's prison population.

White Americans made up around 30% of the prison population, despite representing more than 60% of the total US population.

That's more than 1,000 African-American prisoners for every 100,000 African-American residents, compared to around 200 white inmates for every 100,000 white Americans.

The US prison population is defined as inmates sentenced to more than a year in a federal or state prison.

Imprisonment rates have dropped for African-Americans over the last decade, but they still make up more of the prison population than any other race.

This piece was originally published in June 2020, but has been updated to include the latest information.

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