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More black people were killed by US police in 2015 than were lynched in the worst year of Jim Crow

AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
Mourning Alton Sterling.
  • Annalisa Merelli
By Annalisa Merelli

Senior reporter

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

After the disturbing deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile at the hands of law enforcement officers this week, racial bias and police brutality have once again become heated subjects in the US. Several online commenters have noted that the safety of black Americans doesn’t seem to have improved much since Jim Crow laws were struck down in 1965. In fact, US police seem to be killing more black citizens today than were lynched at the height of US segregation.

Following the lead of Twitter user @such_A_frknlady, Quartz checked the data. According to the historic record “Lynchings, white and negroes” (pdf) kept by Alabama’s Tuskegee University, a total of 2,911 black Americans were lynched between 1890 and 1965, when the so-called Jim Crow laws were enforced. Beginning in the 1890s, these racist laws segregated black Americans in several states until about 1965. During this time, black Americans were often victims of unspeakable violence, and infamous extrajudicial lynchings.

On an average, 39 black people were lynched per year under Jim Crow. In 1892, the worst year, 161 black Americans were lynched.

More than a century later, the numbers have hardly improved. In 2015, 258 black people were killed by US police, representing over 26% of deaths.

For 2016, the trend seems similar. As of July 7, US police have shot dead 509 people this year, of whom 123 were black.

Even counting only the deaths of black people who were unarmed, the results are staggering. A conservative count puts that death toll at 38, right in line with the average during Jim Crow.

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