Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Myth of Epidemic Racist Police Shootings

Someone who got their news only from the major news outlets might easily assume that white cops are killing innocent black men willy-nilly across the length and breadth of the country. The fact of the matter is, however, that this is a myth created by those who believe another myth, the myth that white Americans are inveterately racist.

The New York Post recently featured an article which brings some clarity to this discussion. The NYP story actually built off a story which originally appeared in the Washington Post. Here are a few highlights:
Last week, The Washington Post published a study of the police shootings that took place in 2015. Likely they intended the story to be shocking — as on Dec. 24, 965 people were killed by police! Instead, the report quells the notion that trigger-happy cops are out hunting for civilian victims, especially African-Americans. Among its key findings:
  • White cops shooting unarmed black men accounted for less than 4% of fatal police shootings.
  • In three-quarters of the incidents, cops were either under attack themselves or defending civilians.
  • The majority of those killed were brandishing weapons, suicidal or mentally troubled or bolted when ordered to surrender.
  • Nearly a third of police shootings resulted from car chases that began with a minor traffic stop.
The moral of this story is: Don’t point a gun at the cops and don’t run when they tell you stop, and you’re likely to survive. Since the population of the US is about 318 million people, a thousand deaths at the hands of police works out to 1 in 318,000. You have a better chance of being killed in a violent storm (1 in 68,000) or slipping in the tub (1 in 11,500) than being shot by a cop, no matter what color you are.

But even these figures are deceptive. Of those 965 killed, only 90 were unarmed, and the majority of those were white. (And that doesn’t take into account other extenuating circumstances besides a weapon that would have caused a police officer to fire).

Still, the “killer cop” narrative refuses to die, and The Washington Post decided to throw fuel on the racial fire with context-free statements like these: “Although black men make up only 6% of the US population, they account for 40% of the unarmed men shot to death by police this year.”

This ignores the fact that black violent-crime rates are far higher than those of whites. According to the Department of Justice, blacks committed 52.5% of the murders in America from 1980-2008, while representing only 12.6% of the population.
Indeed, the murder rate in some Chicago neighborhoods is higher (117 per 100,000) than in countries with a reputation for homicidal violence, e.g. Honduras (90.4 per 100,000).

Nevertheless, there is a problem with excessive use of force by some police officers. The shooting last spring of Walter Scott by an officer (who was subsequently placed under arrest and awaits trial) seems to be a clear case of homicide, but these cases are rare and just as importantly, they're not limited to instances of white cops shooting black men. This story recounts a shooting of a white teenager by a white cop, which, if you watch the video, seems totally unjustified. Yet no charges were brought against the cop.
Another instance occurred in Hummelstown, PA where a female cop killed an unarmed white man after the man had been tasered. She was exonerated.
Perhaps she should have been exonerated, and perhaps most of the cops who shoot black suspects should have been exonerated as well. It's hard to say, but to find in these incidents support for one's assumption that the nation is fundamentally racist is unwarranted.