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Black Residents Bear Brunt of Philly's Trigger-Happy Police Department

New Department of Justice report finds high rate of shootings and severe lack of transparency

Black people "were the most likely to be the subject of a threat perception failure," the report notes. (Photo: Perry Quan/flickr/cc)

Black people "were the most likely to be the subject of a threat perception failure," the report notes. (Photo: Perry Quan/flickr/cc)

Philadelphia police shoot people at a rate far higher than much larger cities, opening fire roughly once a week, with black residents disproportionately impacted by such violence, a damning new investigation (pdf) by the Department of Justice finds.

Released Monday, the report was requested by Philadelphia’s police commissioner following a Philadelphia Inquirer article in 2013 that found that police shootings were drastically increasing.

Between 2007 and 2013, nearly 60 percent of the officers who used lethal force were white, while 80 percent of the people shot were black, the 174-page report concludes.

In the 59 reported cases over the past eight years where unarmed people were fired at by police, officers frequently reported that they were falsely under the impression the person was reaching for a gun. Black people "were the most likely to be the subject of a threat perception failure," the investigation notes.

This is not the first time the DOJ has taken issue with police violence in Philadelphia. In 1979 federal authorities sued the city for systematic brutality by its law enforcement. Just six years later, however, the troubled department bombed the black liberation group MOVE, killing six adults and five children and sparking wide-spread outrage.

The new probe comes on the heals of another DOJ investigation earlier this month, which found that racism is endemic throughout the Ferguson, Missouri law enforcement system—manifesting in everything from traffic stops to predatory court fines to physical attacks.

Unlike the Ferguson report, which was conducted by federal prosecutors, the Philadelphia investigation was carried out by officials with "Community Oriented Policing Services."

The new report concludes that the police department fails to fully review or disclose their use of lethal force to the public, or adequately train officers, leading to an "undercurrent of significant strife between the community and the department."

Curiously, the investigation falls short of alleging racial discrimination in the Philadelphia police department. But people across the city—including participants in Black Lives Matter protests—have charged just that.

"As with stop-and-frisk, African-Americans bear the brunt of the Philadelphia Police Department’s use of deadly force," said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, in response to the report. "These racial disparities have created a deep mistrust of law enforcement in communities of color."

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