In February of last year, police shot 38-year-old Oakland resident Yuvette Henderson at the end of a four-block chase, after they suspected her of shoplifting from a Home Depot.
Four months later, it was Demouria Hogg, 30, who Oakland police shot and killed after finding him unconscious in a car with a pistol visible on the passenger seat.
And in July, 23-year-old Richard Linyard, otherwise known as East Oakland rapper Afrikan Richie, died after fleeing police at a traffic stop.
These deadly encounters were just three of the 90 officer-involved killings of Oakland residents since 2000, according to analysis of new data obtained by the Express.
The most alarming discovery: 74 percent of Oakland residents killed by law enforcement between 2000 and 2016 were Black men and women.
More Black residents were killed by police in Oakland than in any other California city besides Los Angeles, which is nearly ten times larger.
Although Oakland has one of the largest Black populations in the state, the percentage of Black fatalities by law enforcement is greater than in U.S. cities nearly as diverse, including New York City, Long Beach, and Boston.[pullquote-1]
This analysis is based on reporting and statistics from the award-winning website Fatal Encounters (see “About the Data” for more about the statistics and information analyzed in this story).
Nearly all Oakland residents were slain by cops in high-poverty communities in the city’s flatlands, the East and West Oakland neighborhoods below Interstate 580. Residents in these areas also demonstrate the East Bay’s lowest life expectancies, employment levels, and educational attainment, according to the Alameda County Public Health Department.
There is no clear explanation of why disproportionately more Black men and women die at the hands of police in Oakland than in any other California city. But Jeralynn Blueford, whose son Alan was killed in 2012 by police, thinks racial profiling is to blame.
She said her son’s death has been nearly impossible to overcome. “You have an unimaginable amount of pain, it hurts to your core.”
UC Berkeley professor Jack Glaser, who studies racial profiling and policing, says that officer-involved fatalities are just a small window into systematic inequalities that affect how different racial groups are policed. He also says law-enforcement leaders aren’t doing enough to reduce officer-involved deaths.
“I think the best thing departments can do right now is to reduce the amount of force they’re using, period,” Glaser told the Express.
The Oakland Police Department says it is implementing new training to curb use of force, including exercises that don’t promote forceful action, but instead de-escalation.
But critics are doubtful that law enforcement can change. “It doesn’t seem to matter where we go in Oakland,” said Nanci Armstrong-Temple, a Berkeley City Council candidate and a member of the Anti Police-Terror Project. “There is not a place in Oakland where Black people are safe from the police.”
Black Deaths and the Data
Since 2000, Oakland’s 90 officer-involved killings were the fourth most in California, trailing only Los Angeles (321), San Diego (102), and Fresno (101).
The Express‘ analysis examined all civilian fatalities due to interactions with police. This encompasses more than just officer-involved shootings to include other causes of death, such as by Taser, asphyxiation, or vehicular chases.
We found that the proportion of Black individuals killed by cops in Oakland was more than double that in San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Sacramento. (See our infographics on officer-involved killings in California, above.)
This can be attributed in part to the fact that Oakland has one of the largest Black populations in the state, 28 percent of the city’s residents. The statewide average is just 6.5 percent, according to U.S. Census Bureau.
There is an undeniable relationship between a city’s demographic breakdown and the race most represented in its pool of fatalities, according to national data. In Los Angeles, for example, where the population is 48 percent Latino, the largest share of officer-involved fatalities (42 percent) are Latino individuals.
But Oakland’s percentage of Black fatalities is higher than other California cities with significant Black populations. This includes Inglewood, where 68 percent of known-race fatalities were Black; Compton (48 percent), and Hawthorne (40 percent). In the City of Los Angeles, the U.S. Census data says that 9 percent of the population is Black, but some 33 percent of those killed by law enforcement were Black. The same trend of increased Black fatalities exists in San Francisco, where the Black population is 6 percent, but 24 percent of individuals who were killed by police were Black. (It’s worth noting that data from these other cities is incomplete, because we don’t know the race of all individuals who died at the hands of police.)
Fatal encounters involving Black Oakland residents are also much higher than other U.S. cities with similarly large Black populations.
For instance, in Raleigh, N.C. — a city with almost the same size population (451,000) and proportion of Black residents (29 percent) as Oakland — there were just twelve officer-involved fatalities overall between 2000 and 2015.
Suffolk County in Massachusetts, which encompasses the City of Boston and surrounding areas, has a population nearly twice the size of Oakland’s. It has seen just 27 officer-involved fatalities over the same period.
In Oakland, most fatalities were the result of police gunfire (53). Others died as suspects or bystanders in car chases with law enforcement, or because of asphyxiation, bludgeoning, or cardiac arrest during the process of arrest.
Nearly all of these killings of Black men and women by cops occurred in the flatland communities in East and West Oakland, where a majority of residents are Black and Latino. These communities are the most heavily policed neighborhoods in Oakland, and have the highest rates of violent crimes.
They are also communities in flux, threatened by displacement due to the Bay Area’s housing-affordability crisis. Since 2000, more than 25 percent of Oakland’s Black population has moved out of the city. Low-income homeowners in the Flatlands are particularly susceptible to being priced-out of the East Bay, where advocates say lax rent-control regulations often fail to protect those who are the area’s most vulnerable residents.
East Oaklanders, for example, have a life expectancy fourteen years shorter than the whiter and more affluent residents of nearby Oakland Hills, according to the Alameda County Public Health Department. They are twice as likely to be hospitalized for asthma as children. They are more likely to drop out of high school before graduation. More than two thirds of households earn less than $30,000 a year; and 85 percent of households are people of color.
Statistically, children born in these neighborhoods are more likely to have classmates or family members die in interactions with the police — or to become a victim of lethal force themselves.
‘An Elephant in the Dark’
It was May 6, 2012, just after midnight, and a few weeks before Alan Blueford’s graduation ceremony at Skyline High School. Oakland police officers spotted the Black 18-year-old and two friends near a corner store in deep East Oakland. Police said the teenagers were passing around an object, which they thought might be a weapon or drugs. That’s when Officer Miguel Masso and his partner stopped the three teenagers and subjected them to pat-down searches.
As they frisked his friends, Blueford — who, unknown to police, was on probation for burglary in a different county — ran.
During the chase, Masso alleged that Blueford withdrew a firearm and pointed it at him several times.
Eventually, the teenager tripped and fell at a driveway. According to a witness, there was a gun twenty feet away from Blueford, but he made no attempt to retrieve it. As he tried to rise from the ground, Masso fired three times, fatally wounding him.
Immediately after the incident, media outlets erroneously reported that Blueford had fired at Masso. OPD later corrected the report and stated that Masso had fired a fourth shot, which hit himself in the foot, and that the pistol found at the scene was never fired.
Alan’s mother, Jeralynn, told the Express that the killing rocked the community. “Throughout the entire family, the grandchildren, the cousins, the nieces, the schoolmates, the teachers — everybody that was involved in that person is hurting from that,” she explained.
“It can possibly take a person’s life with that kind of hurt. People die from that kind of pain.”
Blueford’s killing left a neighborhood reeling because of the growing number of unarmed Black men shot by police. It sparked protests in Oakland’s streets and at city council meetings. Alan’s family subsequently sued the city for wrongful death and received a settlement for $110,000.
In the last fifteen years, the city of Oakland has settled fourteen wrongful death suits worth more than $7.3 million in response to officer-involved fatalities.
And while it’s true that Oakland’s violent-crime rate has fallen during this period, the number of officer-involved killings has remained consistent year-to-year.
For more than thirty years, researchers have attempted to systematize these complex and fatal interactions between police and community. Despite the enormous public outcry against officer-involved fatalities since Michael Brown was fatally shot two years ago in Ferguson, experts say clear indicators of why encounters escalate to fatalities remain elusive.
“The data is kinda coarse,” explained Steven Raphael, a UC Berkeley professor who has studied racial disparities in policing with the Center for Policing Equity.
“It’s like sketching out an elephant in the dark.”
Raphael explained that researchers are doing their best to source statistics and data from various departments to reach an improved understanding of officer-involved use of force nationwide. Their findings have sometimes challenged public perception.
Last month, for instance, Harvard University economics professor Roland G. Fryer Jr. published a study that found no evidence of racial bias in police shootings. The study examined a pool of incidents that included non-lethal shootings, in ten major departments across the country.
His study did, however, find that Black suspects were more likely to experience various other methods of force, including being touched, forced to the ground, pepper-sprayed, and Tasered by police.
Still, Raphael reaffirmed that researchers are far from arriving at definitive conclusions about these kinds of deadly encounters.
“It’s a relatively thin body of research to draw conclusions on,” he said. “Just collecting data, to some degree, is in its infancy for this particular outcome.”
Additionally, some critics say that the data available relies too much on reports written by the officers themselves, who may try to justify their actions whether or not they’re aware of bias.
The California Department of Justice requires that police agencies report all deaths that occur during the process of arrest. But Raphael published a report finding that this data set was less complete than the Fatal Encounters data that the Express analyzed for this story.
Many researchers are hopeful that police departments will choose to collaborate — as OPD did with Stanford University — and make more statistics on police activity publicly available. Proponents see data as a tool to better understand interactions between community members and police and, in some cases, to win back the community’s trust.
For this story, however, OPD was less than willing to discuss officer-involved killings or its shooting data. After more than a month of requesting to speak with officials about use-of-force training, a department spokesperson only emailed the Express generic policy statements.
The spokesperson also provided statistics from its Criminal Investigations Division on officer-involved shootings. This data stated that, between 2000 and 2015, 28 Oakland residents were killed by officer gunfire. This contradicts the Express‘ data, which shows this number to be 53.
The spokesperson would not discuss these statistics or provide the data in its original source for analysis.
Changes and Solutions
In the nearby City of Richmond, historically one of the worst cities in California for violent crime, officer-involved fatalities have plummeted over the last decade. Since 2010, only two civilians have died due to use of lethal force.
Academics credit a simulation-based training program implemented by the Richmond Police Department in 2007, which helps officers develop the skills to make non-force-based judgements in the field. This live-action simulation tests an officer’s response to a hypothetical scenario — often a pedestrian or vehicle stop where a weapon is present, or where a civilian refuses to comply with orders. At the exercise’s conclusion, both the officer and “civilian” speak with an evaluator to discuss their experiences. These evaluations happen at a high frequency — about once a month.
Richmond Police Lt. Felix Tan isn’t sure if his department’s live-action-training model is an end-all solution to eliminating fatal police encounters. But he explained that it gives officers the opportunity to make high-stakes mistakes — such as being surprised by the presence of a gun or killing an unarmed person — in a training environment instead of in the community.
“The idea is to engage officers to be critical of how they’re handling situations,” he said. “But officers will always have the need for self-defense, and there will always be people ignoring orders.
“We can’t prevent that.”
Police in Oakland have adopted a similar training exercise that uses live actors to practice lethal-force situations, according to a former official familiar with the training who spoke to the Express on the condition of anonymity.
This source explained that the training occurs in an extended session only once a year, rather than in monthly sessions, as in Richmond.
The Express contacted OPD for more than a month to discuss this training model and other strategies used to avoid deadly force, but a spokesperson would not discuss these issues, or make officers available for interview.
OPD did state that it has implemented various policy and training changes over the years in an effort to reduce officer-involved killings. For instance, a new strategy disallows officers to chase a suspect who is believed to be armed; instead, they set up perimeters and use K-9 and air support.
The department has also added hours of crisis-intervention and de-escalation training, specifically as it pertains to encounters with mentally unwell individuals.
Elected officials in Oakland, specifically council members representing East and West Oakland and the mayor, declined an email invitation to discuss local officer-involved killings for this story.
Regardless of whether or not there exists a racial-bias in individual officers’ judgement in the use of force, the reality is that certain communities continue to experience the brunt of harassment and lethal force at the hands of law enforcement.
A study published this past June by Stanford University psychologists, in cooperation with OPD, confirmed what Black community members have long asserted, at least anecdotally: substantial racial disparities exist in interactions with police.
Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt’s examination of traffic-stop data from 2013-14, for instance, found that 60 percent of those stopped were Black — three times the rate of the next largest group, Hispanics. Black men were also more likely than white men to be handcuffed during a stop without being arrested.
To this end, UC Berkeley professor Glaser called officer-involved fatalities “the tip of the iceberg” in understanding racial disparities in policing.
“For every one of these fatalities, there are thousands of pedestrian and vehicle stops that are unjustified,” he explained. “They might not be as dire and fatal, but they significantly affect the lives of people of color.”
Alan Blueford’s mother says its incumbent on police to change. “Sadly it’s been in our culture for a very long time,” Jeralynn said. “The outrage of today is that it’s still going on. Decades of killings. … That’s not the way it should be.
“It’s up to them to change that. It’s too late for Alan.”