The Tampa Bay Times recently published an investigative report which found that black people are twice as likely as white people to be shot by police after being pulled over for a traffic violation. As the report discusses, police shootings of unarmed black men caught on video over the past several years have ignited a national debate and sustained outrage in communities of color. In response, the Times conducted an in-depth investigation because as Ben Montgomery, reporter and author of the investigation wrote, “[w]ithout data, there’s no scope” of the larger problem.
The investigation, which examines every police shooting in the state of Florida between 2009 and 2014, provides some data, brings the situation into focus for some and confirms what others already knew. The Times found that based on the six-year time period examined, blacks are four times as likely to be shot in the back by police officers. There were four cases in Florida from 2009 to 2014 where an unarmed person was shot in the back by police after a foot chase. Each of those four people was black.
The investigation also uncovered that six unarmed people were shot during a traffic stop when the police officer mistakenly believed that that the person was reaching for a weapon. Five of those six people were black. Twenty-three-year-old Rodney Mitchell was one of those five. According to the report, Rodney was stopped by police officers in Sarasota, Florida, on the night of June 11, 2014, while driving his mom’s car. Forty-one seconds after that stop began, Rodney was shot by two police officers after they instructed him to put the car in park and he reached down to do so.
The police shootings of unarmed black people exposes a deeply rooted problem within our country’s criminal justice system: racial disparity. It is one that we see here at the Innocence Project in our case work. Over the past 25 years, 349 people in the United States have been exonerated through DNA testing; 62% of those people are black.
The Innocence Project will be delving into our data on wrongful convictions as well as researching this issue to better understand what is happening and how to prevent the loss of life and liberty that these cases represent. The Tampa Bay Times investigation takes us one collective step forward and serves as a call to action for others across the country.
Check out the full Tampa Bay Times Investigation here.