The unrest this week in Charlotte, sparked by a police officer fatally shooting Keith Lamont Scott there, has made that city the latest epicenter of an ongoing debate over how police use deadly force.
Yet even as demonstrations and anger have erupted in cities across the country in recent years, pushing this issue firmly into the national consciousness, the actual pace of deadly shootings remains unchanged.
Police in the United States are on track to fatally shoot about as many people this year as they did last year, when officers shot and killed nearly 1,000 civilians, according to a Washington Post database.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers begin to move protesters down a street in Charlotte. Photo / AP
Officers have shot and killed at least 706 people so far this year, a tally that includes people like Scott, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn., whose names became hashtags and whose stories became nationally known.
The recent deaths of Scott, a 43-year-old man shot and killed by a Charlotte police officer, and an unarmed black man shot and killed last week in Oklahoma, have created the most intense moment in the ongoing argument over policing and race since a bloody three-day span in July in Louisiana, Minnesota and Texas. During that period, police fatally shot Sterling and Castile on consecutive days, and a gunman killed five Dallas police officers in an act of apparent retaliation.
What is unfolding in Charlotte is among the most heated responses to a shooting in any city since the wave of nationwide protests began in Ferguson, Mo., two years ago. But information collected by The Washington Post as part of an ongoing effort to track fatal police shootings shows that despite the focus on this issue, many things appear largely unchanged from last year.
In 2015, officers killed 990 people. So far, this year is showing remarkable similarities to last year, including the number of fatal shootings, the incidents that prompt them and some common factors.
There is one big difference in the shootings this year, though: More of these incidents are being captured on camera.
Video recordings can often – but not always – be the factor that helps push a fatal shooting into the national consciousness. In Scott’s death, anger has erupted without it amid differing descriptions of the shooting from police and his relatives, and authorities have so far refused to release any footage.
There have already been at least twice as many police shootings captured on dashboard cameras (30) so far this year than all of last year (14). And the 90 shootings recorded by body cameras this year already exceeds the 71 such shootings in all of last year.
Other video footage, including bystander recordings, appears on track to exist in about the same number of shootings as last year. Like the recordings by police cameras, this tally only includes what The Washington Post knows about, and other footage that has not yet been revealed could exist.
Still, the intense scrutiny on police shootings does not appear to have affected the number of them in any noticeable way. At the midway point of this year, police had shot and killed more people than at the same point last year.
Once again, the overwhelming majority of people killed by police are men, accounting both years for about 95 percent of those fatally shot. Slightly more people last year who were shot by police had guns, according to officers, while the number of people shot and killed who were reported to have knives has inched up this year.
More of the shootings last year began with domestic disturbance calls, while about the same number in both years – 1 in 10 fatal shootings – began with traffic stops. Mental illness was reported to be a factor in more than a quarter of the shootings last year, and the same is true this year.
Police shot and killed 18 people younger than the age of 18 last year, and have killed 12 such people so far this year, most recently 13-year-old Tyre King in Columbus.
He was the second-youngest person shot and killed by an officer this year; Ciara Meyer, a 12-year-old in Pennsylvania accidentally shot and killed during an eviction, was the youngest. Dating back to the beginning of last year, only one person younger than the two of them is in the database: Jeremy Mardis, a 6-year-old shot while his father tried to flee officers in Louisiana.