Are African–Americans Disproportionately Victimized by Police?

In general, the most obvious and stubbornly ignored problem with “anti–racist” sociological analysis is that the treatment of a given demographic is simplistically judged to be fair or unfair according to one shallow dimension: whether or not treatment of that demographic matches that demographic’s representation of the population. The basic problem with this sort of reasoning is obvious to anyone who looks at it for a second without blinders: imagine someone making the argument that there is rampant bigotry and discrimination against men in the United States justice system, and that they drew this conclusion solely because men represent 90% of the U.S. prison population despite being only 50% of the general population. No one would fail, for a second, to notice that the crucial step missing in this argument would be: “Fine, but how much of the violent crime is that male 50% of the population committing? Who says it isn’t somewhere around 90%?” And no one would consider this question to constitute bigotry against men. As a man, no one will consider me “self–hating” for expressing the opinion that this would be a reasonable and justified question. No one will worry that talking about or acknowledging this statistic will perpetuate “stereotypes”, say, that men are as a rule “simply more violent” than women—in fact, no one will be even slightly opposed to considering the possibility that this could turn out to be empirically true. No one will take offense to it.

 _______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

One of the most common memes in popular consciousness regarding the relationship between crime, police and race is expressed by the phrase, “driving while black.” The phrase sardonically implies that black drivers are arrested so disproportionately to their numbers that this can only be because operating a vehicle while black is literally a crime.

Not everyone who uses the phrase is aware of its origins. Writing for NewsOne, Al Sharpton recalled: “In the 1990s … I was among those in the civil rights leadership that raised the country’s awareness on the outrageous policing practice of racial profiling, which systematically singled out minority drivers and disproportionately pulled them over on America’s roadways. … Through my organization … we were able to show that motorists of color were overwhelmingly harassed (…) [and w]hile pushing for reforms, we popularized the phrase … “driving while Black.””

The case Sharpton refers to here took place on the New Jersey Turnpike (see this article from 1993). As it is one of the few cases where we have a comprehensive and objective way to compare actual racial differences in behavior to disparate treatment by police, it serves as an excellent starting point for our discussion, and an excellent demonstration of how deeply utterly unfounded accusations of racism can become implanted in popular awareness as unquestionable truth. In 1995, a New Jersey state judge threw out charges against fifteen black drivers who, in the judge’s judgment, had been pulled over without proper cause. During the ensuing trial it emerged that, on a 26–mile long stretch on the south end of the New Jersey Turnpike, minorities accounted for a full 46 percent of drivers stopped for speeding—and the case for lawsuits against the New Jersey police was bolstered.

Of course, the crude opening assumption held within the trial was the same held today in equivalent contexts by “anti–racists”:  if black drivers are 13% of the population and 23% of those arrested for speeding, then this can only mean police are deliberately singling out black drivers because of their race. As the trial came to a close, New Jersey officials were ordered to collect more data on rates of speeding on the Turnpike—which the Justice Department clearly expected to bolster its charges of profiling. So the Public Service Research Institute used specially designed radar gun cameras to catch automated photographs of speeders. In the end, 38,747 photographs were captured, and of these only 26,334—in which at least two out of three evaluators (who were not told which subjects had or had not been speeding) were able to agree on the race of the photographed individual—were used for the analysis. What did it find?

In the southern segment of the turnpike which had been the primary subject of the previous lawsuit and in which the bulk of the stops had occurred, where “speeding” was defined as driving at least 80mph in a 65mph zone, 2.7% of black drivers were found speeding compared to 1.4% of white drivers. In other words, black drivers, who were 16% of drivers on the turnpike, were also 25% of the speeders—and when subjects were restricted to a speeding rate of at least 25 miles above speed limit (that is, 90mph or more), the disparity was even greater.

The Justice Department’s pathetic response was to block the release of the study, making a handful of obviously desperate arguments against the validity of the findings: the main argument offered by Mark Posner, who asked the state attorney general’s office to withhold the study, was that results may be skewed by the removal of photos affected by windowshield glare from the analysis. Why would anyone expect windowshield glare to affect races differently? And even if it did, why would anyone expect it to affect white drivers in particular several times more often than it affects blacks?! Such spurious objections were finally abandoned, and the study was finally allowed to be released—but not until 2005; three full years after it had been completed (read it here).

From the abstract: “Racial profiling is often measured by comparing the racial and ethnic distribution from police stop rates to race and ethnicity data derived from regional census counts. However, benchmarks may be more appropriate that are based on … the population of traffic violators. … The results revealed that the racial make–up of speeders differed from that of nonspeeding drivers and closely approximated the racial composition of police stops. Specifically, the proportion of speeding drivers who were identified as Black mirrored the proportion of Black drivers stopped by police.” That is what the most thorough analysis of the most objective possible data—recorded by automated machines, which can’t very plausibly be accused of racist bias; and classified so thoroughly that more than 12,000 out of 38,000 uncertain photographs were thrown out just to be safe—found. Black drivers were being stopped more frequently because they were speeding more frequently—period. Had the Public Service Research Institute not been ordered to collect this information after the fact, the claim that the New Jersey Police Department was practicing egregious racial profiling on the Turnpike would most likely have continued to stand without serious challenge.

 _______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

Similarly, in all the discussion of the disparate treatment of minorities by police, what almost every conversation systematically lacks is any contextual awareness of how much crime minorities are or aren’t responsible for in the first place. Now, as then, most analysis of the relationship between race and crime simply compares a groups’s statistical outcomes to their representation of the population—which completely leaves aside the only relevant question: how does the group comprising that percentage of the population behave on average? Again, no one would ever fail for a moment to keep this question in mind if the topic were the crime or imprisonment rates for men in general. 

And the truth is that African–Americans are (like men) responsible for an extremely disproportionate amount of crime in the United States in general. Contrary to a popular impression, we are not reliant solely on arrest rates themselves to determine the relative rates of criminal offending here—so police bias does not enter as a confounding figure into the calculation. A primary source for reliable data here is, in fact, in reports from victims and witnesses themselves.  Using the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data to analyze data from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), this report[1] finds that: “For the most recent report, the government surveyed 149,040 people about crimes of which they had been victims during 2003. They described the crimes in detail, including the race of the perpetrator, and whether they reported the crimes to the police. The survey sample, which is massive by polling standards, was carefully chosen to be representative of the entire US population. By comparing information about races of perpetrators with racial percentages in arrest data from the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) we can determine if the proportion of criminals the police arrest who are black is equivalent to the proportion of criminals the victims say were black.

UCR and NCVS reports for the years 2001 through 2003 offer the most recent data on crimes suffered by victims, and arrests for those crimes. Needless to say, many crimes are not reported to the police, and the number of arrests the police make is smaller still. An extrapolation from NCVS data gives a good approximation of the actual number of crimes committed in the United States every year. The NCVS tells us that between 2001 and 2003, there were an estimated 1.8 million robberies, for example, of which 1.1 million were reported to the police. The UCR tell us that in the same period police made 229,000 arrests for robbery. Police cannot make an arrest if no one tells them about a crime, so the best way to see if police are biased is to compare the share of offenders who are black in crimes reported to the police, and the share of those arrested who are black. Figure 1 compares offender information to arrest information for all the crimes included in the NCVS. For example, 55 percent of offenders in all robberies were black, 55.4 percent of robbers in robberies reported to police were black, and 54.1 percent of arrested robbers were black.”

What this implies for the justification for supposing police disproportionately target minorities for arrest is surprising: “For most crimes, police are arresting fewer blacks than would be expected from the percentage of criminals the victims tell us are black (rape/sexual assault is the only exception). In the most extreme case, burglary, victims tell police that 45 percent of the perpetrators were black, but only 28 percent of the people arrested for that crime were black. If all the NCVS crimes are taken together, blacks who committed crimes that were reported to the police were 26 percent less likely to be arrested than people of other races who committed the same crimes. These figures lend no support to the charge that police arrest innocent blacks, or at least pursue them with excessive zeal. In fact, they suggest the opposite: that police are more determined to arrest non–black rather than black criminals.”

While it may appear to be a glitch in this analysis that “more crime victims report crimes to police when the criminal is black than when he is of another race”, the reason for this appears to be that: “NCVS victims are more likely to call the police about more serious crimes within the same category—for example, if a robber had a gun or a knife. According to NCVS victims, blacks are nearly three times more likely than criminals of other races to use a gun and more than twice as likely to use a knife. Therefore, even within the same crime categories, blacks are committing more serious offenses—which makes it even more striking that police are less likely to arrest them than criminals who are not black.”

To be clear, these facts hold regardless of the reason why they are true—no implication that blacks are ‘more dangerous’ when all else is held equal is necessary in order for this point to stand on its own irrefutable merits. One partial explanation of higher crime rates in black communities, for example, is surely that most crimes are committed across the peak ages of 15–25—and the African–American population skews closer towards this younger demographic than others (as of 2011, more than 50% of the African–American population was under 18 years of age). Even still, if—as I could accept—there is no independent “race factor” in perpetration of crimes whatsoever, and the real explanation of “higher African–American criminality” is in some incidental factor like the younger age structure of the African–America population, then it would follow that the explanation for disproportionate African–American encounter with police, too, is in the younger age structure of the African–American population (or whatever other factor or combination of factors might be deemed most relevant)—and not in discrimination on the basis of race.

In closing, I note this study from 2013: No evidence of racial discrimination in criminal justice processing: Results from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health — “One of the most consistent findings … is that African American males are arrested, convicted, and incarcerated at rates that far exceed those of any other racial or ethnic group. This racial disparity is frequently interpreted as evidence that the criminal justice system is racist and biased against African American males. Much of the existing literature purportedly supporting this interpretation, however, fails to estimate properly specified statistical models that control for a range of individual-level factors… …This racial disparity … was completely accounted for after including covariates for self–reported lifetime violence and IQ.”

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Thus, a 2002 study in the American Journal of Public Health found that from 1988 to 1997, the death rate due to what the CDC calls “legal intervention” was three times higher for blacks than for whites: “Of the 5486 total deaths due to legal intervention during the 19–year period 1979 to 1997, 5330 decedents (97%) were male. Whites accounted for 3447 deaths (63%), Blacks for 1885 deaths (34%), and “others” for 154 deaths (3%). … mortality rates for both White and Black males were highest in the 20–to 24–year-old age group … [which] roughly parallels the age distribution of death rates for homicides due to all causes, which peaks at 15 to 24 years….” Of course, once again, no one thinks to take a study like this as evidence for systematic bias against all men; and few would doubt—much less consider it sexist—that differences between male and female behavior during interaction with police is a major factor in this statistic.

However, once again, when we control for the actually relevant data—violent crimes committed—as a proxy measurement for interactions with police (which is, as we have seen, well empirically supported) we find the following:

2012 Violent Crime Rate (per 100,000):
Non–Black: 122.7
Black: 465.7

2012 Deaths By “Legal Intervention” (per 100,000):
Non–Black: 0.15
Black: 0.32

(Sources: 1, 2)

Placing the two figures together, we get figures for deaths by “legal intervention” per violent crime.

Non–Black: (122.7/.15) =
1 non–black death by “legal intervention” per 818 violent crimes committed.

Black: (465.7/.32) =
1 black death by “legal intervention” per 1,455 violent crimes committed.

Dividing the first number by the second gives us the answer to the question, “how many violent crimes did it take to result in one death by ‘legal intervention’ for blacks and non–blacks?” And once again, once we control for the figure that is actually relevant—the number of violent crimes committed, which justifies the number of encounters with police—we find that it is in fact non–blacks who are most likely to have a fatal encounter with police: 1.78 times more likely, in fact—almost twice as likely. In other words, any given black individual who commits a violent crime has a 0.0687% chance of dying in an encounter with police—while any given non–black individual who commits a violent crime has a 0.122% chance of dying in an encounter with police. The non–black risk of death by “legal intervention” is, in other words, an additional 0.0535% larger. [See more] Again, the term “non–black” is used here because “white” and “Hispanic” appear to be lumped together by this data. But for the “white” risk of death by “legal intervention” to be lower than the black risk of death by “legal intervention,” the “Hispanic” risk of death by “legal intervention” would have to be extremely larger than both the white and black risks of death by “legal intervention” in order for the numbers to balance out. Given that almost all statistics conflate “whites” and “Hispanics,” this is an extremely difficult question to resolve, but there are a variety of reasons why it is extremely unlikely (one of these will be discussed below). [See more]

Similarly, extrapolating from data peculiar to New York, Heather MacDonald writes that: “…blacks in New York are less likely than whites to be killed by the police when their higher rates of using mortal force against the police are taken into account. In 2011, for example, New York officers fired at 41 suspects and killed nine of them — an astonishingly low number in light of New York’s population and the size of its police force. … Blacks were 22% of those fatalities; whites were 44% of them. Yet blacks were 67% of all suspects who fired at the police; no white suspect fired at the police. … This pattern holds nationally. The black percentage of suspects killed by the police, historically around 29%, is lower than one would expect based on the best available data on those who represent a mortal threat to the police … In 2013, for example, blacks made up 42% of all cop killers whose race was known, even though they are only 13% of the nation’s population.” Once again, measuring the actually relevant data not only reveals no indication that black suspects are treated unfairly in response to their behavior, but that if anything, this response is less than actual black rates of violence would render statistically justifiable.

Two other conclusions from the aforementioned study, “Trends in Mortality Due to Legal Intervention in the United States,” bear notice: (1) “Legal intervention is an uncommon external cause of death, accounting for roughly 1% to 2% of all homicides.” And: (2) “Absolute numbers of yearly deaths due to legal intervention, as well as rates of death for all age– and race–specific categories examined, decreased significantly from 1979 to 1988 and did not display statistically significant trends thereafter. This decline roughly parallels a concurrent decline in the overall homicide rate during this period.” In other words, as crime goes down, so does the number of criminal suspects who die in encounters with police—this should be obvious, but it puts lie to any impression that instances of “police brutality” are either on the rise (due to proper causes or not), or unrelated to the actions of violent criminals themselves.

One hardly irrelevant contributing factor to this declining homicide rate is, in fact, the incarceration rate—see the 2007 study, From the Asylum to the Prison: Rethinking the Incarceration Revolution from Bernard E. Harcourt, Professor of Law at the University of Chicago. Page three includes the following chart:

And states—“Th[is] relationship between aggregated institutionalization and homicide rates … is remarkable…. Later…, I test and quantify the relationship and find that, … holding constant the leading structural covariates of homicide (poverty, demographic change, and unemployment), the relationship is large, statistically significant, and robust.”

Notice: because most violent crime—especially murder—takes place within, rather than between, racial groups, when black criminals are stopped it is their primarily black victims who primarily gain (this point may be brought up again in a later discussion of New York’s stop and frisk policies). It should be hard to see in principle why “racism” would explain police putting themselves in harm’s way to act for the benefit of violent black criminals’ primarily black victims. Wouldn’t the truly “racist” move be to move somewhere else and ‘avoid the ungrateful bastards’ entirely?

_______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

All of this data coincides, as well, with a relatively recent experimental study which tested, for the first time, how quick to press the trigger officers would be on suspects of various racial demographics ‘on the field.’ This study is notable and important for two reasons: first, the officers in this study were told that they were being tested for shooting errors (which meant either shooting unarmed suspects, or failing to shoot armed suspects) and speed—and were given no reason whatsoever to believe they were being tested for racial bias (and as the study authors further note, “there were no racially charged events or news stories in the area at the time.”)

Second, all previous findings have been based on what are known as Implicit–Association Tests. In short, these tests work by showing a screen with something like ‘White’ on the left–hand side and ‘Black’ on the right–hand side, then flashing positive or negative words in the middle and requiring participants to press either a left or right arrow as quickly as possible. The speed at which participants slide positive or negative words to the right or left is supposed to demonstrate the degree to which they subconsciously view whites or blacks in a positive or negative way.

A variety of conceptual and empirical problems plague the question of how well the results of IATs are actually supposed to apply to the real world: first, it is unclear whether IATs actually measure bias held personally by the participant himself—it could be just as likely that in split–second scenarios, forced to apply a word either to one category or the other, the participant is simply demonstrating knowledge of a cultural stereotype rather than any sort of ingrained personal conviction in its truth. I have no doubt, personally, that if I was given a screen with the word “Blonde” on one side and “Brunette” on the other and forced to slide “Dumb” to either the left or the right, I would select “Dumb Blonde” over “Dumb Brunette”—simply because I am aware that the former’s existence. I am extremely skeptical that this would suffice to show that I would unfairly judge the same woman exhibiting the same identical behavior as less intelligent if she were blonde rather than brunette. (Note: even though the stereotypical “dumb blonde” is attractive, and attractiveness is in fact statistically associated with higher IQ, there may nonetheless be an empirical basis behind the “dumb blonde” stereotype just as there is for the stereotype of the dumb athlete, even though athletic capability is statistically associated with higher IQ as well. These questions are more complex than either people who too readily dismiss, or too readily accept, common stereotypes usually realize.)

Next, what if these perceptions are actually justified? I can recognize—as I do—that it is rational to associate men more closely with violent crime than women because men commit a massive majority of violent crimes, even though a majority of men do not commit violent crimes and it therefore makes no sense to expect any given man to be more probably violent than not on the basis of this fact. In other words, I can recognize that it makes sense to associate men with more “violent” words without any implication following that if all else is held equal, I am going to be biased against a man exhibiting identical behavior to a woman in some given scenario—say, that I would expect a man knitting while wearing an egg–white face mask watching Days of Our Lives in a room full of cats to be intrinsically more prone to violence than a woman doing the same, or a female police officer with a mean, orcish face to be less violent than a similar–looking male cop. Likewise, it should be just as possible to associate criminality with African–Americans in exactly the same way without it following that I am biased to see any African–American exhibiting identical behavior in an identical scenario as more inherently prone to violent behavior than a Caucasian (say, expecting the economist Thomas Sowell to be more violent than Thomas Picketty). (See also the second paragraph of the first footnote, which starts: “Criminologists estimate that seventy percent of all crimes are committed by just seven percent of the offenders….”)

Third, even if implicit–attitude tests do measure personally held beliefs and not the mere awareness of stereotypes, and even if these beliefs are irrationally overextended by those who hold them to individuals in irrelevant situations rather than merely believed as true generalizations (which people fully well understand carry exceptions), it is still true that people can very easily overcome these split–second biases—even within the confines of the IAT itself.

Quoting from Alfred Mele and Joshua Shepherd in Situationism and Agency

“Xiaoqing Hu and colleagues (2012) had participants take an IAT and then take it again. On the second trial, they separated participants into four groups. Group 1 simply repeated the IAT to test for the influence of task repetition. Group 2 repeated the incompatible response block of the IAT three times to test for the influence of practice. Group 3 was explicitly instructed to speed up their responses in incompatible response situations. Group 4 was told the same thing as group 3, and they were also given more time to practice; they repeated the incompatible response block three times, just like group 2. … If a conscious intention to speed up responses is to be effective, one would expect group 3 to respond faster than group 1 in the incompatible response conditions. One would also expect group 4 to respond faster than group 2 in the incompatible response conditions. This is what happened (Hu et al. 2012, p. 3, Table 1). Group 3 improved response time by 168 ms (from 902 ms to 734 ms), while group 1 improved response time only by 45 ms (from 950 ms to 905 ms). Compared with group 2, group 4 significantly improved response time as well. Practice certainly seemed to help: group 2 improved response time by 80 ms (from 922 ms to 842 ms). But group 4 improved response time by 215 ms (from 858 ms to 643 ms). … That both a conscious intention and training in speeding up responses had large effects on behavior constitutes important evidence in favor of our optimism. Participants were, in effect, asked to control the influence of implicit attitudes on behavior at a very rapid time scale—less than a second. Participants informed about the influence of implicit attitudes on behavior were able to successfully control the influence of these implicit attitudes. This directly counters the common assumption that implicit attitudes influence behavior in ways not susceptible to conscious control. Knowledge about effects on agents that normally fly under the radar of agents’ consciousness can give people the power to weaken those effects. The fact that relevant knowledge can do this at such rapid time scales is striking, and it speaks against a pessimistic perspective on agential control.”

Thus, the findings of this study from 2012 put to the test, for the first time, the premise that previous tests of the racial biases of police officers merely held as an unquestioned assumption: how does this any of this apply in practice once we actually make our way out into the field? And the results: “In all three experiments using a more externally valid research method than previous studies, we found that participants took longer to shoot Black suspects than White or Hispanic suspects. In addition, where errors were made, participants across experiments were more likely to shoot unarmed White suspects than unarmed Black or Hispanic suspects, and were more likely to fail to shoot armed Black suspects than armed White or Hispanic suspects. In sum, this research found that participants displayed significant bias favoring Black suspects in their decisions to shoot.” The paper also references a 2007 study by Joshua Correll, ‘The influence of stereotypes on decisions to shoot,’ of which it says: “ … unlike civilian participants, the sample of police officers showed no significant racial bias in their errors (they did not mistakenly shoot unarmed Black suspects or fail to shoot armed White suspects disproportionately). Correll and his colleagues suggested that: “by virtue of their training or expertise, officers may exert control over their behavior, possibly overriding the influence of racial stereotypes….””

Where the 2012 study improved over the 2007 study was that the former, for the first time, ran this experiment with an actual weapon, rather than asking participants to press a button that simply says “Shoot” or “Don’t Shoot” in a video game—as the authors write in explanation, “Firing a handgun is a complicated endeavor; at minimum, it involves un–holstering, bringing the weapon to a ready position, aligning sights with the target, and ultimately pulling the trigger. Pushing a button is a simple reflex, dramatically different to the complex process involved in shooting a firearm. Furthermore, there is no active difference between pressing a “shoot” and a “don’t shoot” button. The same action is required for a decision to shoot and a decision not to shoot, whereas in field encounters a decision not to shoot is marked by inaction.” This should very obviously recall the points just made regarding the speed at which participants in IAT experiments are found capable of adjusting and controlling their “biased” responses: the very existence of a handgun, in the real world, immediately weakens any implications that are supposed to extend from these findings by inherently increasing the time for a decision. Adding only the increase of complexity brought out by firing a handgun rather than making a simple button press was enough to change the findings of the experiment even more. How much more would it impact these dynamics to factor in extended interaction with the actual behavior of a real, live suspect?

In any case, the study found that “[active duty police] participants [in experiment 3] took significantly (1.34 s) longer to shoot Black suspects than White suspects … … we calculated that [active duty police] participants were 25 times less likely to shoot unarmed Black suspects than they were to shoot unarmed White suspects …. There was no significant difference between the likelihood of shooting unarmed Hispanic suspects and unarmed White suspects. … [active duty police] participants were equally likely to fail to shoot armed White, Black, and Hispanic suspects at each level of difficulty.” Critically, the hesitation towards Black suspects became greater—not lower—as uncertainty rose in the more difficult experiments: “There was … a significant interaction between suspect race/ethnicity and scenario difficulty; participants were most likely to shoot unarmed White suspects in journeyman [the highest difficulty–level] scenarios.” Not only does this, the best experimental data so far available, converge with the analysis of the actual empirical data presented above; it also adds strong support to the conclusion that the “Hispanic” death–per–crime rate is not illegitimately inflating the high “white” death–per–crime rate presented there—and implies that the explanation for this disparity in the data is that police simply do hesitate more to fire at armed black suspects in particular.

In conclusion: the best empirical evidence and the best experimental data agree. 

_______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

If police hesitate more to fire at armed black suspects, why might that be? The authors of the 2014 study quote a 1977 study (which already then found that police shootings of black suspects were proportionate to black suspects’ disproportionate shooting of police officers) giving the obvious answer: “ … police behave more cautiously with Blacks because of departmental policy or public sentiment concerning treatment of Blacks….”

In other words, when a white suspect is shot, the police department doesn’t face the prospect of accusations of racism—so there is quite simply less to worry about. And cases which have been widely covered in the media over the past handful of years demonstrate clearly just how powerful these accusations can be, even when the evidence for “racism” hangs on demonstrably slender threads. In more than one incident, an individual who merely defended themselves against assault’s entire life changed in such a way as to render any return to a normal life impossible due to death threats (and worse) because the suspect who assaulted them was black, and accusations of racism therefore entered the picture and permanently clouded all future evaluation of the actual evidence or facts of the case.

These instances show very clearly that the facts bear very little weight whatsoever once accusations of racism are made. Meanwhile, a variety of cases of at least seeming acts of police brutality against white victims went almost wholly ignored, except in small pockets of conservative media where they were used instrumentally as counter–points to the prevailing racial narrative—and even here, they weren’t being investigated out of any genuinely intrinsic interest.

I’ll restrict myself for now for the sake of brevity to a brief discussion of the facts in the case involving the eighteen–year–old Michael Brown and Officer Darren Wilson which sparked the 2014 riots in Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere. The original narrative would have it that events took place in a way that resembled something like this: Wilson was a police officer going about an ordinary day just like any other when he was suddenly so incensed to see a well–educated, upstanding black man walking the street that he dove out of his vehicle in rage—at which point Michael Brown dropped to his knees and held his hands in the air in surrender—at which point Wilson, unmoved by the display, proceeded to shoot Brown in the back until he collapsed, and then continued firing rounds into the lifeless corpse solely to vent his unrelenting and baseless hatred of upstanding, college–bound African–Americans.

Reality couldn’t have been more different.

The incident started when Brown stole from a local convenience shop—cameras caught him strong–arming the clerk:

Next, Darren Wilson encountered Michael Brown jaywalking in the middle of a street, and stopped to ask him to move to the sidewalk. Forensic evidence confirmed that Brown’s response to this was to attack Wilson by reaching through the car window and trying to grab Wilson’s firearm: a shot was fired inside the vehicle, confirming Wilson’s account of a struggle; dust on Brown’s right hand confirmed that his hand had been within very close range of the shot (which could not have taken place later); Brown’s DNA was found inside the vehicle. Once this attempt was unsuccessful, Brown fled and Wilson pursued (as this was now, after all, a case of assault, if not attempted murder). Finally,

When Wilson arrived within range of Brown and ordered him to freeze, by Wilson’s account as well as that of the most credible witnesses, Brown paused, made some sort of gesture, and then charged in something like a football tackle pose back towards Wilson’s direction. The U.S. Department of Justice’s report notes that “Brown’s blood in the roadway [as well as the pattern of shell casings] demonstrates that Brown came forward at least 21.6 feet from the time he turned around toward Wilson”—once again, the forensic evidence conclusively supported Wilson’s account. Wilson wasn’t pursuing Brown when the fatal rounds were shot—he was strafing away in defense.

The witnesses who had claimed anything otherwise were all resoundingly discredited. Every witness whose statements were compatible with the irrefutable forensic evidence corroborated Wilson’s account of events. As the DOJ report concluded, “While credible witnesses gave varying accounts of exactly what Brown was doing with his hands as he moved toward Wilson … they all establish that Brown was moving toward Wilson when Wilson shot him. Although some witnesses state that Brown held his hands up at shoulder level with his palms facing outward for a brief moment, these same witnesses describe Brown then dropping his hands and “charging” at Wilson.”

_______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

Meanwhile, at least (for sake of brevity) one significant case in which a white suspect was killed under questionable circumstances—by a black cop, no less!—received effectively no attention whatsoever: Just two days after the shooting of Michael Brown, a black police officer was cleared of wrongdoing after shooting Dillon Taylor within mere seconds of a rushed encounter, when the officer suspected Taylor was reaching for a weapon when the latter moved his hands towards his waistband most likely for the simple purpose of pulling his pants up. Taylor later turned out to be unarmed, and a body camera captured the entire event on film. No national outrage followed. No riots took place. No buildings were burned. There wasn’t a single case where any black citizens were randomly attacked in retaliation or black protesters who were sympathetic to the white victim were lured into attacks by groups of whites or smashed with hammers while wearing ‘Stop Killing White People’ t–shirts for suggesting not to destroy unrelated businesses.

Unlike the case of Michael Brown, Dillon Taylor hadn’t robbed any stores or strong–armed any clerks, and he neither charged in the officer’s direction nor attempted to take his weapon away from him. In the very similar case of Tamir Rice, officers were called to the scene in response to reports that a child was walking around carrying and pointing what looked to all outside appearances to be a real weapon—and the officer who arrived at the scene fired hastily when Rice very clearly reached for that perfectly visible and obvious object. Unlike in the case of Tamir Rice, Dillon Taylor was not carrying even a replica of a weapon—and unlike the case of Tamir Rice, there isn’t even a Wikipedia entry I can link to here for further details behind the case of Dillon Taylor. The “Justice for Dillon Taylor” Facebook page has around 5,000 followers. The “Justice for Tamir Rice” page has around 8,000. The “Justice for Michael Brown” page has almost 30,000. Only one member of this group was proven by overwhelming forensic evidence to have attacked their killer fist—possibly in an attempt at murder—without provocation after committing an aggressive crime.

Yet, when the naive version of the story of the Michael Brown shooting was finally refuted once and for all, the attitude of many protesters was represented by this statement to one reporter: “Even if you don’t find that it’s true, it’s a valid rallying cry … It’s just a metaphor.” Such is the nature of recent national incidents in which race was claimed to play a major role: it simply doesn’t matter, individually, whether or not any particular claim is actually true.

But the truth is that there is more, and not less, outrage when a black suspect is victimized—not only when comparing situations which are similar (Tamir Rice vs. Dillon Taylor), but even when comparing cases where the black suspect is in fact a violent aggressor and the white suspect is not (Michael Brown vs. Dillon Taylor). In turn, this outrage leads to increased public awareness when a black suspect is victimized, and relative public ignorance when a white suspect is the victim. Disproportionate outrage towards the victimization of black suspects is fueled by the perception that black suspects are disproportionately victimized by police. The perception that black suspects are disproportionately victimized is created through nothing other than the very existence of that same disproportionate outrage.

The perception of racism in policing is like ourobouros,
fueling its disproportionate outrage by consuming
the tail of its own disproportionate outrage.

_______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

[1] To be clear, the organization behind this report is American Rennaisance. I rely on it here solely because it is one of the few sources of discussion of the racial breakdown in victim reports I was able to find, and to reject this piece of data because of anything else would be to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Notably, in his rebuttal to it, even Tim Wise says nothing about the report’s discussion of victim reports—he only attacks further extrapolations from the data derived from them, and I require none of these other points for my much more limited purposes here.

While Wise’s response has further problems of its own and I fully endorse neither the original report nor Tim Wise’s critique of it, Wise does rightly note that: “Criminologists estimate that seventy percent of all crimes are committed by just seven percent of the offenders: a small bunch of repeat offenders who commit the vast majority of crimes. Since blacks committed roughly 1.2 million violent crimes in 2002, if seventy percent of these were committed by seven percent of the black offenders, this would mean that at most there were perhaps 390,000 individual black offenders that year. In a population of 29.3 million over the age of twelve, this would represent no more than 1.3 percent of the black population that committed a violent crime in 2002. [If blacks committed 1.2 million violent crimes in 2002, and 70 percent of these were committed by 7 percent of the offenders, then 30 percent were committed by the remaining 93 percent of offenders. 30 percent of 1.2 million offenses is 360,000 offenses. 360,000 represents 93 percent of 387,000. If the remaining 70 percent of offenses (840,000) were committed by 7 percent of the population, this means that these crimes were committed by 27,000 hardcore offenders (7 percent of 387,000)].” This point is entirely valid—and also irrelevant to anything I have argued or need for the purposes of my argument here.  As I wrote previously, “I can recognize—as I do—that it is rational to associate men more closely with violent crime than women because men commit a massive majority of violent crimes, even though a majority of men do not commit violent crimes and it therefore makes no sense to expect any given man to be more probably violent than not on the basis of this fact.”

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3 responses to “Are African–Americans Disproportionately Victimized by Police?

  1. Tess Alexandra Pope May 31, 2015 at 9:43 pm

    This made me smile: “female police officer with a mean, orcish face”.

    Like

  2. Pingback: Revealed – BLM is a KKK Plot – Right On

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