The repeatedly discredited myth of an epidemic of cops disproportionately killing unarmed Blacks has surely become the Left’s version of climate change denialism on the Right. In a recent article in The Washington Post, entitled “We gathered data on every confirmed, line-of-duty police killing of a civilian in 2014 and 2015. Here’s what we found,” a Purdue political science professor (Logan Strother), the Rutgers Dean of the School of Public Affairs and Administration (Charles Menifield) and a postdoctoral researcher at the same school (Geiguen Shin) present what purports to be a trenchant analysis of the most comprehensive data on police killings of civilians for the years 2014 and 2015. After observing that “[o]f the people killed by police in 2014 and 2015, 51 percent were White, 28.1 percent were black, 19.3 percent were Latino, and 1.7 percent were Asian,” they give us their grand conclusion:
In 2014 and 2015, White people made up about 62 percent of the U.S. population and are underrepresented in this group. Meanwhile, Blacks made up 17.9 percent of the country and are dramatically overrepresented. In other words, African Americans are disproportionately more likely to be killed by police than White people. Latinos also are overrepresented in data on killings by police, making up 17.6 percent of the population but 19.3 percent of these deaths.
I will return to this willful distortion of the data in a bit, but before that, I want to highlight a few other key admissions the authors did make. First, they found that those killed by cops were overwhelmingly likely to be armed. Those who were unarmed — the ones subjected to what has now been years of overwrought, sensationalized press coverage — represented less than one percent of killings. “We found that 65 percent possessed a firearm during an encounter with police. The rest were armed with other weapons, such as knives, bats and so on,” the authors report. This, of course, is the story’s buried lede: the people cops kill are almost universally armed and dangerous.
A second significant point buried in the article likewise needs to be underlined. “We collected information about the race of people who were killed by police, but also the race of the officers …. Law enforcement officers of all races disproportionately killed African Americans” (emphasis mine). There is more: “Non-White officers were significantly more likely to kill non-White citizens, especially Latinos: 33.7 percent of the people killed by non-White officers were African American, and 32.6 percent were Latino ….” The authors dryly remark that “[t]his disparity is probably driven by urban police departments’ efforts to deploy nonWhite officers in nonWhite neighborhoods,” but they do not bother to tease out the real implication of the finding hiding in plain sight: if officers of all races are more likely to kill African Americans and if, moreover, non-White officers are disproportionately the ones doing the killing of nonWhite civilians — something you’d never know from the mainstream media’s penchant for emphasizing the race of the cop involved only when the cop is White — perhaps something other than racism is the cause of this alleged “epidemic.”
What is that something? This is the part the mainstream media, this analysis included, just keep on ignoring. The authors remark, without offering any further context for the assertion, that “many public policies, especially criminal justice policies such as the war on drugs, are designed to over-police predominantly poor African American communities.” Undoubtedly, we are expected to conclude that more White racism is afoot. But, of course, we have to ask why these “predominantly poor African American communities” are so “over-police[d].” Did it occur to anyone that predominantly poor neighborhoods — the kinds of neighborhoods where African Americans are disproportionately likely to live — are where the crime is? This isn’t over-policing; it’s Policing 101.
And this leads us to the further point that must be made, the most glaring point missing from both this story and from virtually every analysis of the false #BlackLivesMatter narrative being peddled by the mainstream media. You cannot conclude that Blacks are being disproportionately killed by cops through a straight comparison of cops’ rate of killing Blacks with the general percentage of the population that is Black. If you want to compare apples to apples, you have to factor in the disproportionate number of African Americans involved in criminal activity, especially violent crimes of the sort that are most likely to get you involved in a confrontation with police. Cops, you see, are not very likely to kill people who are sitting at home watching t.v. The very reason Black neighborhoods are more likely to be policed — viz., higher Black crime — fully accounts for the fact that Blacks are also more likely to be killed by cops. In fact, when that analysis is done properly, the result is that Whites are slightly more likely to be killed by police than African Americans. I have discussed the data in detail before. The numbers have also been discussed at length by Heather Mac Donald and many others, with the most impressive and comprehensive analysis that will make your head spin having been undertaken by David Shuey. I have no wish to go through the underlying data once again, though suffice it to say that, for instance, FBI statistics show that African Americans, though 13% of the population, are responsible for some 52% of American homicides and 37.5% of violent crimes. To put a finer point on this, being Black isn’t what gets you killed by police, but being involved in crime, especially violent crime, might do the trick.
What I have just written is, as I have noted above, a point that has been made repeatedly in response to the #BlackLivesMatter narrative. Surely the academics responsible for this latest Washington Post propaganda piece are familiar with the issue, and even if they weren’t, the obvious need to cross-check civilian killings by cops against crime data would have occurred to any honest, self-respecting analyst, especially to those who have claimed, in this same story, that “[f]or each killing, they gathered data on the person killed, the police officers involved and the circumstances” (emphasis mine). There is, in other words, simply no escaping the conclusion that these people are deliberately misleading you into believing that we live in a White supremacist nation where racist cops heedlessly kill unarmed Blacks.
This obfuscation effort is not without consequences. Most directly, there is good reason to conclude it is resulting in cops pulling out of those same, allegedly “over-policed,” Black neighborhoods, yielding a predictable increase in crime that afflicts the Blacks who live in those neighborhoods the most. The tall tale of cops killing Blacks is also apparently wreaking havoc on the psychological health of Blacks. And most difficult to quantify and to contain is the harm to our collective political health, as the fake news of this form of rampant White supremacy gets heedlessly perpetuated, sowing real racial polarization and tearing the fabric of our nation apart.
The fundamental lie of cops killing Blacks at the core of #BlackLivesMatter, the inane NFL anthem protests and the divisive grandstanding of uninformed politicos must be combatted, and responsible academics, journalists, and concerned citizens must start speaking up.