It begins with a relatively minor incident: A traffic stop. A burglary. A disturbance. Police arrive and tensions escalate. It ends with an unarmed black man shot dead.

That pattern played out in March in Madison, Wisconsin, where police responded to reports of a man yelling and jumping in traffic.

It was repeated two months later in Los Angeles, where beachgoers complained that a homeless man was harassing people on the Venice boardwalk.

It surfaced again in Cleveland, where police were called to a burglary at a store. And in Tallahassee, where a man was reported banging on someone’s door. And last month in Cincinnati, where Samuel DuBose, 43, wound up with a bullet in his head after being pulled over for driving without a front tag.

Perhaps most infamously, the pattern played out one year ago Sunday in Ferguson, Missouri, where a white police officer searching for a convenience-store robber shot and killed an unarmed black teenager. That incident sparked a national movement to protest police treatment of African Americans and turned 18-year-old Michael Brown into a putative symbol of racial inequality in America.

So far this year, 24 unarmed black men have been shot and killed by police – one every nine days, according to a Washington Post database. During a two-week period in April, three unarmed black men were and killed. All three shootings were either captured on video or, in one case, live on local TV.

Those 24 cases constitute a surprisingly small fraction of the 585 people shot and killed by police through Friday evening, according to The Post’s database. Most of those killed were white or Hispanic, and the vast majority of victims of all races were armed.

However, black men accounted for 40 percent of the 60 unarmed deaths, even though they make up just 6 percent of the U.S. population. The Post’s analysis shows that black men were seven times more likely than white men to die by police gunfire while unarmed.


The latest such shooting occurred on Friday, claiming Christian Taylor, 19, a defensive back at Angelo State University. Police said Taylor crashed an SUV through the window of a car dealership in Arlington, Texas, and was shot in an altercation with responding officers. The case is under investigation.

The disproportionate number of unarmed black men in the body count helps explain why outrage continues to simmer a year after Ferguson – and why shootings that might have been ignored in the past are now coming under fresh scrutiny.

“Ferguson was a watershed moment in policing. Police understand they are now under the microscope,” said Mark Lomax, executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association, which represents police.

Video shot by bystanders or captured on police camera, meanwhile, has served in some cases to undermine trust in police. So far this year, three officers have been charged with crimes after fatally shooting unarmed black men. All three were caught on video. One – the April shooting of Eric Harris in Tulsa – appears to have been an accident. But in the other two, the footage contradicted the officer’s initial account.

“Prior to Ferguson, police were politically untouchable. Ferguson changed that calculus,” said Georgetown University professor Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor whose book, “The Chokehold: Policing Black Men,” is scheduled to be published next year.

“Five years from now, every major police department in America will have officers who wear body cameras,” Butler said. “That is a change that is happening right now because of Ferguson.”

Some in law enforcement worry that public sympathy is shifting toward suspects and away from the police who put their lives on the line every day. They are concerned that people will forget that Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Michael Brown, was exonerated by the Justice Department.

Most of all, they fear that the legacy of Ferguson will include a higher death toll for police.

“We are worried that police officers who should rely on their intuition and training to make a split-second decision – which could mean life or death for them – won’t do it. That their fear of being second-guessed, and maybe even prosecuted, will take over instead,” said Jim Pasco, executive director of the national Fraternal Order of Police.

So far, there is no sign of an increase in police fatalities. Still, 18 law officers have been shot and killed in the line of duty by a suspect this year, including Memphis police officer Sean Bolton, who died last weekend after a routine traffic stop.


In its ongoing analysis of every fatal shooting by police in 2015, The Post is separating the dead into four categories:

Someone is considered armed if he or she had a deadly weapon or some other object that could inflict fatal injury. People who drove aggressively at officers or otherwise used a vehicle to try to inflict harm are also considered armed.

A person is considered unarmed if he or she was not in possession of a weapon at the time of the shooting or was holding an object unlikely to inflict serious injury.

People brandishing pellet guns or other toy weapons – which often are indistinguishable from firearms – make up a third category.

And in some cases, The Post could not determine whether a person was armed because of conflicting accounts from witnesses or a lack of information.

Four black men fall into this last category, along with one black woman: Janisha Fonville, 20, who died in February after Charlotte, North Carolina, police responded to a call about a domestic dispute. Police said Fonville, who had a history of mental illness, lunged at the officer with a knife. Fonville’s girlfriend, who summoned officers, said Fonville was no longer holding the weapon.

A person who is unarmed may nonetheless pose a threat. In April, for instance, New York City police shot and killed David Felix, 24, as they tried to arrest him for assaulting a friend and stealing her purse. Police said Felix, who was mentally ill, wrested away a police radio and battered one of the officers in the head.

In many of the 24 shootings of unarmed black men, however, the threat was not readily apparent. In most of those cases, investigations are ongoing.

The 24 dead range in age from 18, the same age Michael Brown was, to 50. Most killings occurred in the South, where blacks are more heavily concentrated, with five shootings in Florida alone.

The events that led to the fatal encounter run the gamut. Routine traffic stops and calls about erratic behavior were most common. Other shootings followed reports of petty theft or attempts by police to serve a warrant. Two shootings occurred during sting operations.

In each case, the situation rapidly spun out of control. Often, police said they pulled the trigger during a struggle or because the person physically attacked them. In at least four cases, police reported that the person appeared to be reaching for a weapon.