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Police use of deadly force is not about racism
By David Wojick
The screaming headline said "Black Americans 2.5X more likely than whites to be killed by police." The statement is false. It is the kind of assertion that is used to claim police are systemically racist. It leads to fewer police, fewer arrests, more crime, more racial discord, and more innocent black deaths.
Accurate, honest statistics show just the opposite. When police must use deadly force, whites are more likely to be killed than blacks. But we rarely see these statistics, because they do not support claims of systemic, systematic racism against blacks. The statistics we do see are too often agenda-driven.
The sad reality is that, as a percentage of their total American population, black deaths by police are around 2.5 times white deaths. But this has nothing to do with likelihood, because the vast majority of people of both races have near-zero likelihood of being killed by police.
In fact, up to 88% of people killed by police were armed and being arrested at the time of their deaths. Such people are indeed at greater risk of being killed. However, racism has nothing to do with it.
On a per-arrest basis, the data say whites are much more likely to be killed by police than blacks. If so, the police are clearly not racist. Indeed, they seem to be deliberately trying not to kill blacks. Another study found that 36% of officer-involved shootings were “suicide by cop,” 16% of whom were blacks.
Statistical reality must begin with the fact that black males represent 6.5% of the US population – but according to FBI data they constitute 54% of arrests for robbery and 53% of arrests for murder. Far worse, nationally syndicated talk show host Larry Elder points out, in 2018 there were approximately 7,400 black homicide victims, more than half of America’s total homicides, and nearly all were murdered by other blacks. (Have Black Lives Matter or NFL-NBA-MLB athletes ever acknowledged any of this?)
Those are the real reasons blacks outnumber whites in the nation’s prisons – the real reasons more blacks are likely to be killed during arrests and other confrontations with police.
Even more telling, when we look at the issue that motivates and infuriates Black Lives Matter (BLM) and its allies – unarmed blacks killed by police – we learn that the Mapping Police Violence database tabulates “just” 25 such police killings in 2019, resulting from shootings, tasers, beatings, chokeholds and vehicles. (A Washington Post databaserecords only police shootings.)And then we read this:
“A wave of gun violence swept through the nation over the [July Fourth 2020] holiday weekend, leaving dozens dead from coast-to-coast – with children as young as 5 among the casualties,” the New York Post despaired. In Chicago, the article continued, police reported 87 shootings and 17 deaths, and nearly a dozen [of those shot] were children caught in the crossfire. The vast majority were black.
Think about that. In one weekend, in one city, we had three-fourths the number of deaths that BLM is raging about, for the entire nation, over the course of an entire year. Or consider this awful news:
“Every single person who has been shot in New York City [so far] this July, nearly 100 in total, has been a member of the minority community” and “97% of shooting victims in June were members of the city’s minority community,” NBC News reporter Tom Winter tweeted. New York City witnessed a 204% increase in shooting victims over the past 28 days, compared to the same period in 2019, he added.
Meanwhile, Darrius Sutton participated in at least three drive-by shootings after he was released from NYC jails without bail on attempted murder charges – a far too frequent occurrence in Di Blasio Town. Again, no comments, no outrage from BLM.
What about law enforcement officers like David Dorn and Patrick Underwood? What about Mekhi James, LeGend Taliferro, Secoriea Turner and too many other Black children gunned down by their fellow blacks? Seven-year-old Natalia Wallace was playing with other children in Chicago over this year’s Fourth of July weekend, when thugs leapt from a car and sprayed gunfire into a crowd, killing her.
Why don’t their black lives matter to Black Lives Matter, its often violent supporters, and its corporate, Hollywood and pro athlete funding sources? Does anyone really think the solution is “defunding” or “reimagining” police forces – perhaps replacing thousands of police officers with social workers?
The victims’ families certainly don’t. Natalia’s father told local news media he wants more police, not fewer. Her aunt said, “We talk about Black Lives Matter, but at the end of the day, we’re killing each other off. We’re killing our babies.”
“The No. 1 cause of preventable death for young white men is accidents, such as car accidents and drownings,” Larry Elder notes. “The No. 1 reason for death, preventable or otherwise for young black men, is homicide, almost always at the hands of another young black man.” How depressing.
Police have to deal with way too many criminals, attacks, confrontations and murders, especially in poor and minority areas of our cities. They never know who will pull a gun, even during a routine intervention, traffic stop or domestic disturbance – or which incident might be a setup, an ambush. That’s part of the reason some officers are jumpy or feel they must use potentially deadly force when they would much prefer not to. But racist tendencies, much less systemic racism, have nothing to do with it.
The United States once had systemic, government-decreed racism. This is no longer the case, and elevating individual, thankfully now pretty rare cases of racism into something systemic gets us nowhere.
It is much more likely that what is happening today is the result of too many black boys being raised fatherless, by gangs, amid street violence – and to their not attending school, and thus growing up with no education, skills or future. They likewise receive no grounding in civics, humanity, morality or religion, and have few scruples and little remorse over murdering someone to settle a score or perceived insult.
Just as in medicine, getting the diagnosis wrong can be much worse than useless. Trying to blame or cure systemic white racism or supposedly widespread individual white racism will only make matters worse. Blaming people for things they are not doing just makes them angry. Intimidating them into silence over these accusations just makes them angry and resentful.
Honest, probing social science, media coverage and debate could help us find solutions. Name calling, guilt trips and false assertions of systemic racism will make the situation worse. That people are being told everything is due to racism is tearing us apart, instead of pulling us together in search of solutions. It is a political trick that is causing horrific, widespread social upheaval, whether by accident or design.
Marching, screaming, burning, looting and simplistic, deceptive slogans are not solutions. They are not even calls for constructive action. They are certainly not calls to ponder the points presented here and in countless other articles and reports – or to reexamine some of the well-intended but woefully misguided government programs that helped get us where we are today.
Angrily demanding that “things have to change” is not a step forward. It may even be a step backward, if it leads to more confusion, and more stupid or useless programs. Promoting racial division and discord will ensure that the real causes of crime, violence and murder in our black and other minority communities are never addressed
These issues cry out for attention they are not getting. Perhaps after the elections, after the insanity and riots are over, we can have honest, no-holds-barred conversations about this, without being shouted down and canceled out. We must hope so. Otherwise, our nation’s future is bleak indeed.
David Wojick, PhD is an independent analyst working at the intersection of science, technology and policy. He writes regularly about climate change, energy and social issues.