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TikTok video misleads on police shooting data

George Floyd protests in D.C.
Demonstrators gather to protest the death of George Floyd on June 2, 2020, near the White House in Washington. (AP News)

*VPM editor's note: This piece by PolitiFact investigates the misleading claim that more white people are shot and killed by police than Black people. The claim ignores the most important context: White Americans greatly outnumber Black Americans. The rate at which Black Americans are shot and killed by police is disproportionately high. 

*This story is reported by Daniel Funke for Politifact.

Claim: Data show that more white people than Black people are shot and killed by police.

If your time is short: 

  • A TikTok video cites data from the Washington Post showing that more white Americans are shot and killed by police than Black Americans.
  • The numbers check out, but they lack important context — Black Americans are killed at a much higher rate than white Americans.

Nestled among dances on the video-sharing app TikTok are videos about Black Lives Matter demonstrations and police violence. Sometimes the posts don’t tell the full story.

In  a May 29 video, one user plays a song called "America" as he points to  a database on Statista, an online portal for statistics. The numbers show that between 2017 and 2020, more white Americans were shot and killed by police than Black Americans.

"Race isn’t the issue!" the TikToker wrote in the caption. "Police are not racist! Left wing news just make it seem that way. They need our support not hate."

(screenhsot from TikTok)

While the numbers cited in the TikTok video check out, they lack context about how Black Americans are disproportionately killed by police.

The numbers published by Statista come from  the Washington Post’s database of police shootings around the country. It shows that, since 2015, nearly twice as many white people have been shot and killed by police than Black people.

However, the data comes with a big caveat: Black Americans are killed at a higher rate than white Americans.

"They account for less than 13 percent of the U.S. population, but are killed by police at more than twice the rate of white Americans," the Post reported. "Hispanic Americans are also killed by police at a disproportionate rate."

Since May 25, more than 350 American cities  have seen demonstrations over the death of George Floyd, a Black man  who died in Minneapolis police custody after a white officer kneeled on his neck. Floyd was the latest in a long line of Black men who have died in police custody.

Some federal agencies, such as the FBI and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, keep track of fatal shootings by police. But those officials acknowledge that their data is incomplete, in part because it relies on voluntary reporting from police departments.

"Since 2015, The Post has documented more than twice as many fatal shootings by police as recorded (by these agencies) on average annually," the newspaper reported.

The TikTok video is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context. We rate it Half True.

VPM News is the staff byline for articles and podcasts written and produced by multiple reporters and editors.
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