Police Shootings & Race, in an Age of Lies

What the statistics really say.

[](/sites/default/files/uploads/2014/12/police-badge.jpg)In an era where public debate is replete with Big Lies, we are routinely treated to examples of shallow, insipid journalism dedicated to propping up the most nonsensical fictions imaginable. A case in point is a piece that appeared in the far-left periodical Mother Jones, titled “Exactly How Often Do Police Shoot Unarmed Black Men?” Purporting to explain the root causes of the racial unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, the article’s author, Mother Jones editorial coordinator Jaeah Lee, presents a smattering of statistics—utterly devoid of context or analysis—as evidence that “the killing of Michael Brown by police … was no anomaly.”

For instance, Lee cites a 2007 studywhich found that in ten major cities “there were a disproportionately high number of African Americans among police shooting victims,” and another which concluded that “black people are more likely than whites or Hispanics to experience a police officer’s threat or use of force.” To buttress these allegations, the author quotes Missouri ACLU official Jeffrey Mittman’s lamentation that “unarmed African-American men are shot and killed by police at an alarming rate,” and NAACP president Cornell Williams Brooks’ claim that a destructive “culture of policing” is “rubbing salt into longstanding racial wounds” by targeting black people with “overwhelmingly major, often lethal … force.”

Apparently it never occurred to Ms. Lee, or to these other voices in her echo chamber, that there might be some significance in the fact that blacks, who are 13% of the U.S. population, themselves commit many more homicides than white and Hispanic perpetrators—combined. Young black males in particular commit homicide at nearly ten times the combined rate of their white and Hispanic counterparts. As Manhattan Institute scholar Heather Mac Donald explains, “That astronomically higher homicide-commission rate means that police officers are going to be disproportionately in black neighborhoods to fight crime, where they will more likely encounter armed shooting suspects.” Blacks nationwide are also dramatically overrepresented in the commission of other serious crimes such as rape, robbery, and assault—precisely the types of offenses most likely to trigger a confrontation with police that could result in a fatality.

In her Mother Jones piece, Ms. Lee devotes considerable attention to New York City, where “more black people have been shot by NYPD officers … than have Hispanics or whites.” But this begs an obvious question: “So what?” The same principle that applies to the United States as a whole, applies also to New York: While blacks constitute 23% of the city’s population, they commit two-thirds of all its violent crimes, including nearly 70% of all robberies and 80% of all shootings. And whites, who are 35% of the city’s population, commit just 5% of its violent crimes and a mere 1.8% of its shootings. Thus, blacks are statistically far more likely to be involved in volatile situations demanding police intervention. It’s really not very complicated.

The Mother Jones article also presents a chart with a racial breakdown of those who were shot and killed by New York City police between 2000 and 2011. Yet remarkably, the author makes no mention of the glaring fact that instances of police-on-Asian shootings are nearly invisible in this chart—indeed, blacks, Hispanics, and whites alike are far more likely than Asians to be shot in police encounters. What could explain this? If we were to apply Ms. Lee’s line of reasoning, we’d have no choice but to conclude that New York police officers, for some reason, feel less racial animus against Asians than they feel against everyone else. A more realistic explanation is that Asians in the city have very low crime rates and thus have comparatively little contact with police.

The most comprehensive information we have on the issue of police shootings and race in recent years comes from a 2011 Bureau of Justice Statistics study that covers the period from 2003 to 2009. Of all suspects who are known to have been killed by law-enforcement officers during that time frame, 41.7% were white, 31.7% were black, and 20.3% were Hispanic. Also during that period, blacks accounted for about 38.5% of all arrests for violent crimes—i.e., the types of crimes most likely to lead to a potentially fatal confrontation with police. These numbers do not in any way suggest a lack of restraint by police in their dealings with black suspects. On the contrary, they suggest the exact opposite.

Funny how the real world rarely conforms to the certainties of the race-obsessed Left, isn’t it?

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