Compliments of Washington Post
On the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, Las Vegas police cornered Keith Childress Jr., who was wanted for a number of violent felonies. They opened fire on the black 23-year-old after he refused to drop the object in his hands, which turned out not to be a gun but a cellphone.
And with that, the nation logged what is probably its final police shooting death of 2015, a year in which 986 such killings occurred, well more than double the average number reported annually by the FBI over the past decade.
The shooting is the final one to be counted as part of The Washington Post’s year-long project tracking on-duty police killings by firearm, an issue that has taken on new urgency after a number of high-profile killings of unarmed African American men. The Post sought to document every shooting death at the hands of police in 2015, revealing troubling patterns in the circumstances that lead to such shootings and the characteristics of the victims.
The project will continue this year. Embarrassed federal officials have announced plans to improve their data collection, but the new initiative will not be in place until 2017. Already, The Post has tallied 11 fatal police shootings in 2016.
Over the past year, The Post found that the vast majority of those shot and killed by police were armed and half of them were white. Still, police killed blacks at three times the rate of whites when adjusted for the population where these shootings occurred. And although black men represent 6 percent of the U.S. population, they made up nearly 40 percent of those who were killed while unarmed.
Regardless of race, about a quarter of those killed displayed signs of mental illness. December was the fourth-deadliest month in 2015 for police shootings, with 89 shootings. There was only one state without a fatal police shooting last year: Rhode Island.
The number of shooting deaths may yet rise for 2015. The Post is tracking a few cases where it’s unclear whether police gunfire killed someone or whether the person committed suicide. And new cases that have gone unreported could always emerge.
Childress’s death in many ways encapsulates the complex nature of these incidents. On one hand, the young man was unarmed, carrying nothing but a cellphone. At the same time, he had a history that suggested a capacity for violence, and he behaved suspiciously, ignoring officers’ commands for a full two minutes and advancing even as the officers threatened to shoot.
And like an increasing number of police interactions with citizens, the incident was partially captured on a camera worn by one of the police officers.
Two weeks before his death, Las Vegas police said, Childress failed to show up for a sentencing hearing in Phoenix. In December, a jury had convicted him of a litany of charges, including kidnapping and robbery in connection with a 2013 home invasion in which he and several others posed as bounty hunters and robbed a house at gunpoint.
“Based on the fact that Childress was facing a lengthy stay in prison, it appears he skipped the sentencing and fled to Las Vegas to avoid prison time,” Undersheriff Kevin McMahill of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department told reporters during a briefing this week.
Childress was staying with close friends in Las Vegas when the U.S. Marshals Service became aware of his location, McMahill said. But when the marshals attempted to approach him, he fled, prompting the federal agents to seek help from local police.