If you’ve watched the debates between the Democratic presidential candidates, you’ve seen a common thread among the candidates – their anti-police rhetoric.
It’s reminiscent of the Obama years.
Take, for example, the criminal justice plan by Joe Biden, which promises that after he passes his policing reforms, black mothers and fathers will no longer have to fear when their children “walk the streets of America”.
According to him, that threat comes from cops, not gangbangers.
You may remember when President Barack Obama claimed during the memorial for five Dallas police officers killed by a Black Lives Matter–inspired assassin in July 2016 that black parents were right to fear that their child could be killed by a police officer whenever he “walks out the door.”
South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg has showed his disdain for law enforcement, arguing that police shootings of black men won’t be solved “until we move policing out from the shadow of systemic racism.”
Then there’s Beto O’Rourke, who claims that the police shoot blacks “solely based on the color of their skin.”
But a new study that was just dropped in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences absolutely destroys the Democratic narrative regarding race and police shootings. It completely rejects the argument that white officers are engaged in an epidemic of racially biased shootings of black men.
Turns out, according to the study, that white officers are no more likely than black or Hispanic officers to shoot black civilians.
And as we’ve long known, it reinforces the fact that it is a racial group’s rate of violent crime that determines police shootings, not the race of the officer.
Here’s what it comes down to – the more frequently officers encounter violent suspects – no matter what that racial group is – the greater the chances that members of that racial group will be shot by a police officer.
It gets even more interesting. The study found if there is a bias in police shootings after crime rates are taken into account, it is against white civilians.
The authors are faculty at Michigan State University and the University of Maryland at College Park. They completed the study by creating a database of 917 officer-involved fatal shootings in 2015 from more than 650 police departments.
When examining those shootings, 55 percent of the victims were white, 27 percent were black, and 19 percent were Hispanic.
Between 90 and 95 percent of the civilians shot by officers in 2015 were attacking police or other citizens and 90 percent were armed with a weapon.
There were very rare cases of what’s called threat-misperception shootings, in which an officer shoots an unarmed civilian after mistaking something for a gun.
It’s not the first study to shoot down the idea that white officers are biased in shooting black citizens.
There’s also a shift underway right now thanks to political pressure for police departments to hire on race, based on the theory that doing so will decrease police shootings of minorities.
Buttigieg, for example, was attacked by his presidential rivals for not having more black officers on the South Bend force after a white officer killed a black suspect this June.
In that case, the officer had responded to a 911 call about a possible car-theft suspect, saw a man leaning into a car, and shot off two rounds after the man threatened him with a knife.
Back in 2016, the Obama administration pushed for police departments to lower their entry standards in order to be able to qualify more minorities for recruitment.
By that point, departments had already been deemphasizing written exams or eliminating requirements that recruits have a clean criminal record – it’s a trend that significantly intensified after.
Take, for example, the Baltimore Police Department.
They actually changed their exam to such an extent that the director of legal instruction in the Baltimore Police Academy complained in 2018. He said rookie officers were being let out onto the street with little understanding of the law.
Biden’s criminal-justice plan would take that a step further. It would require police hiring to “mirror the racial diversity” of the local community or not get federal funding.
The PNAS study concluded that this effort to increase minority representation will not reduce racial disparities in shootings. Why? Because it found white officers are not responsible for those disparities; black crime rates are.
To make matters worse, dropping hiring standards can lead to bad police work and corruption.
Just look at the 2015 Justice Department study of the Philadelphia Police Department.
It found black officers were 67 percent more likely than white officers to mistakenly shoot an unarmed black suspect.
It also found that Hispanic officers were 145 percent more likely than white officers to mistakenly shoot an unarmed black suspect.
The study didn’t address whether lowered hiring standards are responsible for those disparities.
So what’s causing the belief that we’re living through an epidemic of racially biased police shootings?
Simple – selective reporting.
Look at the year the PNAS study focused on – 2015.
That was the same year the white victims of fatal police shootings included a 50-year-old suspect in a domestic assault in Tuscaloosa, Ala., who ran at the officer with a spoon; a 28-year-old driver in Des Moines, Iowa, who exited his car and walked quickly toward an officer after a car chase; and a 21-year-old suspect in a grocery-store robbery in Akron, Ohio, who had escaped on a bike and who did not remove his hand from his waistband when ordered to do so.
Because they were white, their stories never hit the mainstream media – which tends to focus only on stories that they can spin to be race-centric.
This whole idea that “police are racists” is simply increasing anti-cop tensions in minority communities. It also makes cops unwilling to engage in the proactive policing that can save lives.
Just look at the viral videos last month in Harlem, the Bronx, and Brooklyn as people assaulted passive New York Police Department officers. The videos demonstrate that hostility toward the police in inner-city neighborhoods remains at dangerous levels.
It also pulls away from discussing real solutions to criminal justice problems, which includes high rates of black-on-black victimization.
Black men are murdered at eight times the rate of non-Hispanic white men.
But they aren’t being killed by cops – they are being killed by other black men.
If we’re going to really have a conversation about racial justice, we need to start there.
Let’s talk about police use of force. It’s time to systematically destroy the argument that cops are racist killers. And I’ll break this down pretty simply so everyone can understand.
- The U.S. population is about 314,000,000 people.
- There are approximately 670,439 police officers.
- That means there are less than 2.2 police officers per 1,000, or 2,133 officers per million.
- Police officers are less than .22 % of population.
- Officers come into contact with 17% of the population annually.
- That means 53,380,000 contacts …
- Which led to 26,000 excessive force complaints against officers.
- That’s 0.049% of contacts.
- Only 8% of those complaints were sustained.
- That’s 2,080 out of 53,380,000 contacts, or .0039%
A good friend of mine who is a Chief of Police put that into perspective:
- You are seven times more likely to be murdered …
- 15 times more likely to be killed in a traffic accident …
- 42 times more likely to be raped …
… than to have a police officer use excessive force on you.
But we’re just warming up. Let’s look at 2015 police shootings – a time during which some argue police “brutality” spiked.
990 people were shot by police in 2015. Here’s the demographic breakdown of those “victims”:
- White — 494, 50%
- Black — 258, 26%
- Hispanic – 172, 17%
- Other — 66, 7%
- Mental illness played a role in 25%.
- 25% involved fleeing suspects.
- In 75% of the incidents, the officer was under attack or defending someone that was.
- Indictments of police officers tripled from previous years.
Listen. I’m not suggesting racism doesn’t exist in law enforcement. It exists everywhere – that’s the sad truth of it.
And yes, black people in the United States are more likely to be victims of violent confrontations with police officers (per capita) than their white counterparts. But let’s dive deeper into why this is.
Statistically, minorities come to police attention far more than their population would suggest.
- Black Americans make up about 13% of the population.
- But according to the FBI, they account for about 50% of murders, and about 38% of all violent crime overall.
Chicago gives us some great examples. And let’s not forget the insanely strict gun laws there, by the way. For example, during the first eight months of 2016 (the most recent period for which the numbers are available), 2,818 people were shot — only 12 by police. (That’s one-half of 1 percent).
In cities with large black populations, homicide rates have skyrocketed during that same period:
- In Washington D.C., homicides are up 54%. In Cleveland, up 90%. Overall, homicide is up 17%.
- The U.S. Department of Justice says that Black people make up 15% of the population in the 75 largest counties in the United States, yet account for 62% of all robberies, 57% of murders, 45% of all assaults.
So what’s going on here? Are we confusing the color of one’s skin with poverty or inequality? It’s a fair argument. Black people tend to be greater offenders, statistically speaking, because they tend to be more disadvantaged, living in poorer urban areas with less access to public services.
Then of course there’s the argument about the “violent subculture theory.” This is the idea that some black communities have developed cultural values that are more tolerant of crime and violence.
I want to leave you with a few recent studies.
First, a 2016 study by Roland G. Fryer Jr., who is an economics professor at Harvard. He found that no racial bias could be detected in police shootings, in either the raw data or when accounting for controls. He also found racial bias was detected in lesser use of police force, but not deadly encounters. His recommendation?
“Black Lives Matter should seek solutions within their own communities rather than changing the behaviors of police and other external forces.”
Second, there were 6,095 black homicide deaths in 2014 according to FBI Data — the most recent year for which such data are available — compared with 5,397 homicide deaths for whites and Hispanics combined. Almost all of those black homicide victims had black killers.
Finally, police officers — of all races — are also disproportionately endangered by black assailants. Over the past decade, according to FBI data, 40% of cop killers have been black. Officers are killed by blacks at a rate 2.5 times higher than the rate at which blacks are killed by police.
Seems to me like the real problem here is socioeconomic disparities along with a public perception issue thanks to biased reporting. And let’s not forget the huge role that social media plays in disseminating false narratives and creating emotional, knee-jerk reactions.
It’s important to have very real conversations about racism in America and accountability among those who hold the thin blue line. Let’s just make sure we’re basing those conversations on facts and not feelings.