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Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., at the State of the Union address, Feb. 7, 2023, in Washington. (AP) Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., at the State of the Union address, Feb. 7, 2023, in Washington. (AP)

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., at the State of the Union address, Feb. 7, 2023, in Washington. (AP)

Samantha Putterman
By Samantha Putterman February 8, 2023
Yacob Reyes
By Yacob Reyes February 8, 2023

If Your Time is short

The death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of Memphis, Tennessee, police officers loomed over this year's State of the Union address. His parents, RowVaughn and Rodney Wells, watched the speech with other guests of first lady Jill Biden.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus and other Democrats wore black buttons with "1870" written on them to show their support for law enforcement reform.

The year is a reference to the first known police killing of an unarmed Black man. Officers in Philadelphia shot Henry Truman, who was 26, on March 31, 1870, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. 

Explaining the significance of the pin, Rep. Bonnie Watson, D-N.J., said Black Americans are still waiting for justice.

"I mourn each and every life that has been stolen from us," Watson said in a Feb. 7 tweet. "In 2022, police killed at least 1,176 people, the highest number on record."

PolitiFact recently looked into whether 2022 was a "record year" for police killings. Our report found that it’s hard to say for sure. The U.S. lacks a reliable, government-sponsored national data collection system for police use of deadly force.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention keep tabs on deaths resulting from interactions with police, but both sources provide insufficient data that doesn’t come close to capturing all police-related killings.

Each of these data sets faces distinct limitations. Law enforcement agencies are not required to participate in the FBI's National Use-of-Force Data Collection. The CDC data relies on death certificates, but that practice is not systematic.

The U.S. Justice Department does not have a comprehensive data source on police killings, either. Journalists, researchers and others have created their own tallies. 

The Washington Post in 2015 started its own project focused only on fatal police-involved shootings. It reported that "officers have shot and killed more people every year, reaching a record high in 2021 with 1,047 deaths."

Meanwhile, the Mapping Police Violence website, founded by data scientist and racial justice activist Samuel Sinyangwe in 2013, reported that 1,192 people had been killed by police in 2022. But these figures are nuanced. 

Some of the incidents included in these numbers involve situations when police killed people who posed legitimate threats to the public.

Limited historical data also makes it difficult to compare the extent of ​​police use of force over decades. Still, a 2021 study published in The Lancet medical journal found a 38% increase in fatal police violence of all kinds since 1980. 

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Our Sources

PolitiFact, Are more people dying at the hands of law enforcement now than ever, Feb. 6, 2023

Tweet, Feb. 7, 2023

Washington Post, Families of Black people killed by police among State of the Union guests, Feb. 7, 2023

The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Homicide Case, April 2, 1870

Mapping Police Violence, Accessed Jan. 30, 2023  

The Washington Post, 1,110 people have been shot and killed by police in the past 12 months, Updated Jan. 25, 2023

Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Use-of-Force Data Collection, Accessed Jan. 30, 2023 

The Lancet, Fatal police violence by race and state in the USA, 1980–2019: a network meta-regression, published Oct. 2, 2021

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