Updated on July 7 at 10:05 a.m. ET
It wasn’t until recently that it became easy to find a number to go with the gruesome reality that black people—and black men in particular—live with every day: the ever-present threat of police violence.
Police officers fatally shot nearly 1,000 people last year, according to The Washington Post’s ongoing count. Halfway through 2016, police have shot and killed 506 more. “Unarmed black men are seven times more likely than whites to die by police gunfire,” the Post wrote last year.
And though it seems overly clinical to talk about hundreds of civilian deaths as a number; there’s power in knowing that number. The Washington Post’s impressive tracking work represents the professionalization of an effort that first bubbled up on individual blogs and among smaller advocacy groups.
Of course, this is just one count. The Guardian’s tally is 561 deaths, including 526 shootings. And that discrepancy suggests that as important as these efforts have been, in the absence of a comprehensive federal effort to track such shootings, the full scope of the problem remains unknown.
Still, attempts to track police shootings are meaningful. Coupled with video footage of police violence against black people—grainy, raw, and deeply disturbing in ways that are foreign to many white people but all too familiar to people of color—new technology is forcing Americans to confront life-and-death realities of inequality in the United States.