VICE's story, which published this week, has a national focus and only mentions DeKalb once, but the data it got from the department offers more insight.
For instance, most of the cops who shot the 25 black residents were black, not white. It was roughly 2-to-1. The officer who shot the white person was black.
“There’s a lot of demographics at play,” Russell Covey, Georgia State University law professor, told the AJC. “The racial identity of the shooters themselves suggests there’s more going on here than simple racism.”
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Another factor could be the higher police presence in impoverished areas, several who analyze police shootings said.
L. Chris Stewart, an attorney who’s represented victims’ families in many high profile cases, sees more people shot by officers in such areas, which are often largely black. More police presence means more interactions with black people.
Growing up in south Atlanta, Stewart, who is black, said his apprehensions about interactions with police weren’t based on the race of the cop.
“A lot of people get caught up too much in the color of the officer, thinking if it’s a white officer, he’s purposely out looking for a black person to kill,” he said. “The biggest problem is not the color of the officer, it’s the officers who are obsessed with power.”
Associate GSU law professor Nirej Sekhon also found more shootings in poor areas when he studied the city of Chicago for an expansive paper.
He found something else that could also apply to DeKalb police: the percentage of white and black officers involved in shootings tended to be reflective of the percentage of white and black cops on the force. In other words, if most of DeKalb’s officers are black, it stands to reason that black officers do most of the shooting.
“I think race plays a role at the individual level and the institutional level,” Sekhon said. “(But) I think the role of race may be more subtle and less sensational.”
His GSU colleague, Covey, pointed out that racial bias against black people can be held by people of all races. “It’s a product of our cultural influences,” he said.
In DeKalb, ex-officer Robert Olsen was the only one to be found unjustified by the grand jury in recent years. Olsen, who is white, is charged with murder in the death of unarmed black military veteran Anthony Hill.
DeKalb police spokesman Lt. Lonzy Robertson also said the agency was one of the first in Georgia to join a state and nationwide use-of-force database.
“We have given great effort to use data and scientific evidence to aid in tracking and reducing use-of-force incidents each year,” Robertson said in an email. “The department will continue to be vigilant in ensuring that good training and data collection are utilized to improve public safety.”
Data specialist Jennifer Peebles contributed reporting.
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