Colorism and the killing of unarmed African Americans by police

(1) The Neighborhood Academy, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between colorism and police killings of unarmed African American suspects. Previous research has investigated police violence and colorism in arrests and found that darker toned African Americans are at a higher risk of police killing. We had three hypotheses: (1) The darker an unarmed victim’s skin is, the more likely they are to be killed by police compared to the skin tones of African Americans in general, (2) the effect of colorism is greater in men than in women and (3) the officers’ race does not contribute to the proportion of dark skinned African American victims that are killed. Data was collected from the Washington Post database, which reports unarmed African American victims from 2015–2021. We found that the victims who were killed by police were darker on average than a control population of African Americans that had not encountered the police. This supports our hypothesis that the darker a victim is the more likely they are to be killed. Our hypothesis that men will face more colorism than women was not supported as results were inconclusive because there were only a few women victims to compare. Our last hypothesis that the officers’ race does not have an effect on the skin tone of victims was supported because white and black officers both preferentially killed victims with darker skin tones.

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police brutality society people & society race racism