Racial Disparities: The Impact of Police Encounters on Black Communities

Amid encounters with law enforcement officers in the United States, individuals of African descent faced a disproportionately high mortality rate, as revealed by an inquiry conducted by The Associated Press.


Collaborating with FRONTLINE (PBS) and the Howard Centers for Investigative Journalism, the AP study uncovered that individuals of Black ethnicity, excluding those of Hispanic origin, comprised roughly one-third of the 1,036 fatalities resulting from recorded over a decade, despite constituting merely 12% of the populace.

Here are key insights from the AP's :

Statistical Insights Over 330 Black individuals succumbed following encounters with police involving non-lethal force. The AP scrutinized such fatalities spanning a decade until 2021, documenting these incidents in a comprehensive database.

Recent probes by the U.S. have highlighted racial discrepancies. Numerous investigations identified elevated rates of unwarranted stops targeting Black individuals for minor infractions such as jaywalking, unjustified searches yielding no illicit items, excessive use of force, or arrests lacking probable cause.

Lowery, a lifelong resident of New Jersey's third-largest city, expressed his desire to relocate to North Carolina with his three children to be nearer to his mother and escape potential harassment or arrest by Paterson police.

Afflicted by bipolar disorder, he experienced escalating hallucinations and paranoia, according to relatives, when he arrived at city police headquarters early one January Saturday during a mental breakdown. Clad in only pajama pants and a sweatshirt, Lowery initiated a social media livestream, launching into an anti-police diatribe.

“Why are you attempting to end my life?” Lowery queried several Paterson police officers via his Facebook Live broadcast. “If I perish within the next couple of hours, they are responsible.”

Subsequently, an ambulance was summoned, and Lowery was transported to St. Joseph's University Medical Center. Yet, the events within the ambulance became another contentious issue in the deteriorating relationship between the Black community and the city's law enforcement.

Upon arrival at St. Joseph's University Medical Center, Lowery, unconscious and handcuffed to a gurney, passed away two days later. Authorities later asserted that officers resorted to forceful restraint and strikes when Lowery became combative. However, his sister and activists contend that the police employed excessive force due to his race.

Questions Surrounding the Fatality Passaic County Prosecutor Camelia Valdes reported in August 2019 that Lowery's demise resulted from a “medical event,” citing an autopsy attributing his death to cardiac arrest induced by bath salts intoxication, dismissing police involvement.

Nevertheless, the mother of one of Lowery's children pursued legal action against the Paterson Police Department, three officers, and St. Joseph's University Medical Center, where he had been treated and discharged before visiting the police station. Her legal representatives enlisted the expertise of Dr. Michael Baden, a former medical examiner, to conduct a secondary autopsy and review pertinent documents.

Dr. Baden's findings, outlined in a comprehensive report, revealed Lowery's sustenance of “traumatic blunt force” injuries to his facial area, jaw, arm, and chest, alongside indications of “compressive choking.”

Paterson's Persistent Issues Lowery's demise galvanized protests, notably among Black residents who have long lamented mistreatment by law enforcement.

During the mid-1960s, Paterson witnessed confrontations between police and Black residents coinciding with the enactment of federal civil rights legislation. The city also inspired Bob Dylan's 1975 song “Hurricane,” chronicling the plight of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a boxer wrongfully convicted by an all-white jury in 1967. A federal judge later overturned the conviction, denouncing it as racially motivated.

Tensions between the city's Black populace and law enforcement resurfaced on multiple occasions. In the mid-1990s, incidents involving the fatal shootings of an unarmed Black teenager and a 28-year-old man by white officers sparked widespread outrage.

In recent years, the department faced scrutiny for permitting a renegade group of officers to form a “robbery squad” responsible for assaulting residents and pilfering their belongings. Since the onset of 2019, city police have fatally shot four individuals, while two others, including Lowery, succumbed following instances of restraint.

Assessment and Intervention Lowery's death prompted the city to enlist an external entity, the Police Executive Research Forum, to conduct an audit of the police force. The nonprofit's assessment, released in 2022, documented at least 602 instances of forceful encounters from 2018 to 2020. Black individuals accounted for 57% of these incidents, despite comprising roughly a quarter of the city's populace.

In March 2023, police fatally shot Najee Seabrooks, a 31-year-old violence intervention worker, after he barricaded himself in an apartment bathroom. His death elicited outcry from residents and advocates, prompting State Attorney General Matt Platkin to assume of the police department. In an interview with AP, Platkin acknowledged longstanding complaints from Black residents regarding police bias.

“I don't fault longtime Paterson residents for their distrust,” Platkin remarked.

Platkin acknowledged the challenges inherent in reforming the beleaguered police force, acknowledging that it would be neither simple nor swift.

This narrative forms part of an ongoing investigation led by The Associated Press in partnership with the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism and FRONTLINE (PBS). The investigation encompasses the Lethal Restraint interactive narrative, database, and the forthcoming documentary, “Documenting Police Use Of Force,” premiering April 30 on PBS.

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