# Once again: is the higher per capita rate of black deaths at the hands of police due to racism?

June 21, 2020 • 12:30 pm

In the past couple of weeks I’ve written about the views of the African-American English and Comparative Literature Professor John McWhorter (e.g., here and here) on whether the higher per capita rate of deaths of black people at the hands of police implicates racism.  His view was “not necessarily,” and he posed an alternative hypothesis. His hypothesis is based simply on the fact that arrests for violent crime in America is higher for blacks than for whites; the article below, from the Boston Globe, says 3.6 times as often.

Now if presuppose that there is no racism as the null hypothesis, and then posit that there is a probability x, identical for blacks and whites, that an encounter with the police will lead to police murder of the suspect. If this is the case, and blacks encounter police more often, then one can still get a higher per capita death rate of African-Americans than of whites even with identical “x”s.  So the higher per capita rate does not in itself implicate racism (n.b., McWhorter does highlight that there are data, like those from traffic stops, that do indicate racism on the part of police).

As I pointed out at the time, nobody seems to have adduced the right data needed to settle the situation:

Of course these are just parallels and don’t answer the question we want to know: are black people more likely to be murdered by cops on a per capita basis, in a given set of encounters, with controls from white suspects in similar situations, with all other things roughly equal? If that’s the case, then racism is implicated. Anecdotes like those above won’t answer that question.

The same point is made by Aubrey Clayton, a mathematician and author, in this Globe article (click on the screenshot below).  I think he makes the point unnecessarily complicated because he uses math and many American are innumerate, but the point is pretty much the same as mine:

Here’s Clayton’s analysis, which is further complicated because he doesn’t use equal number of incidents for whites and blacks, so you have to multiply up:

Could the reaction to high-profile killings like those of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd be a matter of confirmation bias? Could the narrative of police racism be disproved with a tweet-sized calculation?

No.

These statistics are consistent with excessive use of deadly force against Black people, due to a mathematical phenomenon called Simpson’s Paradox.

The key point is that not all encounters with police are equally deadly. In any given kind of encounter with the police, a Black person can be likelier to be killed than a white person even if the overall rate of deaths per encounter appears lower for Black people. This would happen because Black people have many more interactions with police in non-deadly situations — a dynamic exacerbated by racism. And all those extra encounters dilute the rate.

Consider two extremes of police encounters: traffic stops and active shooter scenarios. Suppose, hypothetically, that a white suspect is killed by police in one out of 100,000 traffic stops and nine out of 10 shootings. And imagine that Black suspects are killed by police after 20 out of 1,000,000 traffic stops and in 10 out of 10 active shooter incidents. In each kind of incident, Black suspects are killed more often than white suspects. In aggregate, though, the percentage is higher for white people: 10 out of 100,010 white people are killed vs. 30 out of 1,000,010 Black people, because the white people tend to encounter the police in more grave situations.

He could have given the per capita death rate here, which is 0.01% for whites and 0.003% for blacks, despite the higher per capita death rate of black suspects in both traffic stops and shootings. This depends on the particular figures chosen, of course, but the upshot is that if encounters with the police have different death rates for different races, and those encounters have substantially different frequencies among races, then one is not justified in imputing different death rates as a statistical result of number of police encounters. In other words, higher crime rates of blacks than whites doesn’t take racism off the table as a cause of higher per capita death rates of black suspects. In fairness to McWhorter, I don’t think he makes that argument, but broaches it as a possibility that needs to be considered, and I agree.

(Note, though, that the 3.6-fold difference cited by Clayton is “arrests for violent crimes”, not traffic stops.)

Getting the right data, however, involves more than just calculating homicides in traffic stops versus active shootings. If someone stopped in traffic has a gun, or refuses to obey police orders to show their hands, those factors may differ among groups and also lead to differential death rates in very similar kinds of arrests. Getting the right “controls” here may, I’m starting to realize, may be impossible, as each encounter has its unique aspects. Clayton realizes this:

There are, of course, more than two types of police encounters in reality, and whether any of them involves deadly force will depend on many factors, such as whether the suspect is armed and making threats, how many officers are on the scene, and so on. The actual data is far more complex than in this simplified example, and there isn’t consensus over whether clear evidence of encounter-specific racial bias exists. There are just too many variables for the data to be definitive on its own.

That’s why one study, frequently cited as evidence that Black people are killed just as often (or less often) as others in similar situations, has been critiqued by other researchers who noted that “its approach is mathematically incapable of supporting its central claims.”

So give credit to Clayton as well for saying that we just don’t know the role racism plays overall in the disparity between death rates between whites and blacks in police encounters. And perhaps we can’t settle that with data (remember that the race of the police officers must be considered as well, assuming that blacks can’t be racist against blacks nor whites against whites).

And here’s Clayton’s conclusion, which seems reasonable. It’s not really a conclusion but a caveat:

The inflated number of non-lethal encounters Black people experience due to racial profiling could be what shifts the balance, perversely using one kind of discrimination, over-policing, to mask another: the greater use of deadly force against Black suspects. Simpson’s Paradox predicts these counterintuitive results whenever data is averaged over inconsistent group sizes. Here, the inconsistency lies in the types of interactions Black and white people have with police. Since these are distributed differently, the pooled numbers can get the story backwards.

. . . as they do in Clayton’s example above.  The lesson for us: while in certain cases racism is clearly involved in the murder of black suspects (police remarks on the scene, differential deaths due to racial profiling in traffic stops, which is a fact, and so on), we cannot say, as so many are doing now, that the disproportionate number of deaths of blacks at the hands of police is prima facie evidence of structural racism in the police. We need controlled data to say that. We may not get that data, but at least we can do things to try to eliminate anything that smacks of racism in police departments, like getting information on traffic stops and other stops for nonviolent crimes like drugs.

h/t: Scott

## 69 thoughts on “Once again: is the higher per capita rate of black deaths at the hands of police due to racism?”

1. Carey Haug says:

A minor correction. John McWhorter teaches linguistics, not English. I have read several of his books and listened to his lectures on linguistics from the Great Courses series.

1. Well, he’s listed as an associate professor of English and Comparative Literature. I’ll add the Comparative Lit part above.

1. Ken Kukec says:

I think McWhorter has made his major academic mark as a linguist with books like Word on the Street: Debunking the Myth of “Pure” Standard English and Spreading the Word: Language and Dialect in America and The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language.

He first came to prominence with the general public, as I recall, during the dispute over teaching “Ebonics” in public schools.

2. A C Harper says:

I understand that there are cops who are white and cops who are black.

I’d like to know if the numbers of white and black fatalities correlate with the colour of the cops involved.

I don’t know the answer, but it would be a start in unpicking the ‘certainty’ held by various people.

1. I think the stats show that a black cop is slightly more likely to shoot a black man than a white cop is.

(Partly because a black cop is more likely to be policing inner city areas where more people get shot.)

I recall reading about tests that wouldn’t be affected by what neighborhoods they police. People – police and non-police, and of all races – were placed in a police training simulator where they were shown first-person video of some police encounter and they had to decide whether or not to shoot in real time.

They were least likely to shoot blacks (especially whites) and overall people were most likely to shoot Latinos.

Harvard’s Implicit Bias project and other studies have shown that blacks have a bias against blacks, though not to the same extent that whites do. (Also, women are as biased against women as men are!)

Also, a confounder in any study of black officers’ encounters with black subjects would be whether they are more likely to be assigned to high-crime precincts.

Supposedly, they would feel more empathy toward the subjects and see their humanity more, which seems logical, but they would also be people with clean records who never participated in crime, so they would be as likely to “relate” as a white person would be to a white criminal.

3. DrBrydon says:

I don’t think the question of whether racism is involved can be determined statistically. At the same time should we be looking at just deaths, or should we be looking at all shootings? Whether someone dies from being shot adds another whole set of variables related to the timeliness and effectiveness of treatment. It seems to me that shootings by police, that is the use of deadly force, rather than its result might be more useful.

1. Statistics can’t always tell us why something is the way it is but they are still important, if only to tell us what questions to ask next. And they’re certainly better than emotion or guessing.

1. DrBrydon says:

Don’t disagree with that, Paul.

A perennial best-seller book is “How to Lie with Statistics.”

4. FB says:

Journalists and politicians don’t seem to be aware that controlled data matters, too.

5. jezgrove says:

Interestingly, similar statistical effects to those now known as Simpson’s Paradox were first spotted by Karl Pearson et al. in 1899. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simpson%27s_paradox

UCL just decided to remove Pearson’s name from one of its lecture halls, because of his ties to Francis Galton and eugenics.

6. Mike Anderson says:

I have some black relatives (technically half black, but they look blacker than Obama) and they get harassed by cops way more than any white person I’ve known. Traffic-stopped for no valid reason, traffic-stopped and forced to get out and lay face down on the ground (never happened to any white person I’ve known) – it’s shocking to hear those first hand accounts from someone you know.

This is of course anecdotal, but in absence of solid data indicating otherwise, you won’t convince me there isn’t systemic racism in policing.

1. John Conoboy says:

I think it is pretty well documented that blacks are stopped more often and for no valid reason. I was in law enforcement for 22 years and worked alongside officers from federal, state, county, and city departments. I would have to say that I saw considerable racism among law enforcement officers.

7. Randall Schenck says:

If it is reasonable to assume there is racism in our society as a whole, it would seem reasonable the same is true of the police. Then, if hiring practices are skewed toward hiring whites in the police force in higher number that would also affect the amount of racism in the police. Racism has always been relatively high in the military. Integration of the military began during Truman’s years nearly a 100 years after the civil war. When various city police departments first begin hiring African Americans would be interesting to know. We know when major league baseball first integrated and how that went as well. Just recently the first top position in a branch of the military was given to an African American (Air Force).

1. max blancke says:

I saw the other day that Fulton County, Ga, where the Wendy’s shooting and arson was, Has a population that is 44% Black, and a police force that is 64% Black.

Just from a little internet research, it looks like most police departments roughly reflect the demographics of the populations they serve.

1. Randall Schenck says:

Maybe police in general but what about the higher ups.

1. max blancke says:

I guess we can look at national data, but at least for the county I mentioned, the Chief of Police is Black, and has worked for that police department for 25 years. The County leadership is exactly 50% Black, from what I can determine, with the county attorney and the head of Public safety being Black, as is the County Commissioner, which I think is the highest executive position.

Obviously, that is one county out of a great many, and I have no idea how representative it is. However, it is one location recently under protest because of perceived police oppression. It seems that if racism is an issue there, it is not likely because of under-representation.

“Racism has always been relatively high in the military.”

You must have been in a different military than I was.

2. Mike Anderson says:

>> Racism has always been relatively high in the military.

IME racism in the military is relatively lower than in civilian America. We had anti-racism classes in boot camp. That wasn’t for political correctness or social justice, it was for military readiness.

1. “racism in the military is relatively lower than in civilian America.”

So 8 for the military and 9 for civilian America? 😉

I’ve always imagined that black and white soldiers serving together in the same unit would be one of the best ways to reduce racism. I have never served so it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that I’m being hopelessly naive.

1. Mike Anderson says:

>> So 8 for the military and 9 for civilian America?

Maybe so. It starts in boot camp – regardless of ethnicity everyone is a lowlife recruit scumbag and everyone is afraid of the company commander (or drill sergeant).

8. John Donohue says:

Challenging: The use of the word “murder” when an officer of the law kills a suspect during an encounter.

The correct term is “homicide,” meaning one human killed another.

Aprox. 1000 people are killed by law enforcement in the United States each year. Every one is a homicide.

Only a very small handful result in conviction of murder. The rest are justified. If these ‘justifications by protocol’ seem cruel, evil, wrong — I suggest close examination on a case by case basis. The Washington Post database is ‘clickable,’ linking to deeper information on each.

There was a rash of murders by law enforcement in the window 2015-2017, but the count has diminished significantly and importantly since that outbreak. This hopeful and magnificent fact is buried under the outrage over one incident.

Is one murder by police –– even if horrific, extreme, and inexcusable –- sufficient basis for rioting, looting, and even for peaceful protest accompanied by an appeal for the nation to assume collective guilt and shame?

Side note: the homicide of an “unarmed” suspect is not prima facie evidence of murder due to an illegal “bad shoot.”

On the obverse, a suspect might be armed, and if the officer violates protocol and commits homicide, that could be murder. Atlanta Officer Garrett Rolfe has been indicted for such a murder. He is in jail without bond.

1. Randall Schenck says:

I recall reading that article in the Post. A thousand a year in the U.S compared to almost nothing in some European countries. The idea in the U.S. being the police are trained to be very aggressive and always looking for guns. Training for cops in the U.S.,about 5 months. In Europe two years. Also the only way the Post got it’s stats was to get them themselves. The federal govt. does not keep them. It’s like testing for the virus, if you don’t test there won’t be so many.

9. Dawn Flood says:

Is a single lynching sufficient statistical evidence to justify rejecting the null hypothesis that there is no racism in the United States?

1. max blancke says:

I cannot recall anyone ever claiming that any place has ever been completely free of racism, except perhaps for isolated populations who might have been unaware that other races exist.

It appears that accusations of racism are an effective attack in the US right now, because people are generally horrified at the idea of racism. That strategy would have been much less effective in a country populated largely by actual racists.

Similarly, the tactics employed by Gandhi against the British would likely have failed spectacularly if they had been employed a few generations earlier against the Mughal Empire.

1. Randall Schenck says:

Racism in the U.S. is baked in. The only one that does not know that is Trump.

1. John Donohue says:

It is not baked in. Just as every child is born atheist, every child is born innocent of prejudice.

Adults teach/imbue innocent children with bigotry.

Actually, by that, there is no such thing as “racism.” There is only bigotry and pre-judging in the hearts and minds of individuals. This can be over race, appearance, sex, and a thousand other trivialities that no innocent person would deem a basis for moral judgement.

Adults infect children. It is much worse than a virus.

That is what must be defeated.

1. Mike says:

As many Bayesian statisticians would note, this comment reflects a key part of what’s wrong with null-hypothesis significance testing.

1. Dawn Flood says:

It was Mark Twain who stated, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Inferential, frequentist statistics has a proven track record for double-blinded, randomized placebo controlled studies, whereas correlational, longitudinal studies can sometimes provide conclusive evidence in a multitude of areas, such as the association of lead paint in homes and the subsequent lead poisoning in children. However, in the case of George Floyd, the exception proves the rule; there were *alternatives* to his slow asphyxiation.

10. I’m not sure that black cops can’t be racist with black suspects. I think some minority members might feel the need to prove to their white supervisor that they can be just as tough (racist) as white folks.

This also happened under slavery, when the black slave foreman was sometimes even more cruel than the white owner.

1. Tom B says:

I am struggling to see how your hypothesis regarding black men trying to appease white superiors applies in the Fulton county case where the police chief was black, the officers were white, and the man shot was black.
If you want this hypothesis to be taken seriously, I think a citation to a rigorous and careful study is needed.

1. darrelle says:

Lou didn’t claim anything about the specific Fulton county case. How does it make any sense to require that an idea about what could be a factor in “some” cases either be shown to be true about any single specific case or else be entirely invalid?

1. Thank you Darelle. I wasn’t trying to make a universal statement, Tom B, I was trying to say that we shouldn’t automatically assume that black policemen would not be racist. Some may be racist in their behavior, for the reason I mentioned.

11. jezgrove says:

My theory, which is mine, is that (some) cops are lazy and prejudiced, and operate by stopping people who they think look suspicious. Growing up in the south east of England, there weren’t many people of colour (to use a phrase that the cops back then most definitely wouldn’t have used!), so they weren’t the “go to” for officers wanting to make an easy arrest. Instead, as a long-haired male teenager I regularly got stopped and searched walking home at night (on one memorable occasion, twice on the same four-mile journey) because obviously I’d be in possession of illicit drugs, surely? I never was, but it pissed me off considerably so I totally get how continual police harassment when you are going about your lawful business leads to loss of faith (at best) and hatred (at worst) of the police.

12. Roo says:

I think poverty may also be a factor, as minorities are significantly more vulnerable to becoming impoverished. I don’t know what the quality of these studies is, but a few that have looked at this link:

Here

Here

1. Yes, McWhorter makes that point several times in his videos and his Quillette piece.

1. Roo says:

If violent crime, gangs, and drugs are more prevalent in poorer neighbors (anecdotally I would say that is true although I don’t have a study on that specifically,) it seems to me that this would create an atmosphere where police would err more on the side of force in ambiguous situations. Higher crime rates make it more likely that the person being arrested is armed; gang culture can create an atmosphere wherein the police worry more about losing face and being seen as ‘weak’; and drugs, especially drugs like meth, can lead to all kinds of unpredictable and erratic behavior.

1. Tom B says:

Low socioeconomic status also provides fertile ground for a culture where submission to authority (ie. resisting arrest) is seen as weakness and a character flaw. Mix that in with the incentive of participating in a lucrative illegal drug trade, which depends on violence for market share, and I don’t think it is any mystery why we see problems.

1. Roo says:

That’s a really interesting point, and I hadn’t thought of this from the point of view of the arrestee. It makes sense though. One of the more common comments in response to recents incidents is “Why were they resisting arrest in the first place?”. If losing face and being seen as a weak is dangerous in the broader context of your life, however, it’s not really fair to tell people “Just be respectful and polite!”, because that could have consequences for them later on.

I wish people would consider broader context in situations like these and not shut any discussion down with accusations of racism and threats of cancellation, which I feel is what’s happening in the broad, pop culture conversation now. Isn’t this what we used to do in our foreign policy, after all? Liberate everyone from authority, dust off our hands and say “My work here is done. You’re welcome.” and assume great things would ensue? It seems to me that a similar dynamic is at play with calls to defund or abolish the police. I am very much supportive of taking an in depth, evidence based look at how policing can be improved, but I feel like going in and just knocking things down without a deeper understanding of the situation can make things much worse, not better. I understand that this approach is frustratingly slow, but think the alternative is dangerous for the very communities people want to help.

1. Knowing that some people react badly to brazen displays of authority, the police should be trained to not show their authority until they have to. In my experience, this is the exact opposite of what they do. We see them break traffic laws when they have no cause for doing so. When they pull someone over, often the first sentence out of their mouths is meant to intimidate and let you know who’s the boss in the situation. Some police realize this, of course, but many do not.

Even in the ambulance incident I related in another comment here, the officer had concluded that I was guilty before a word was spoken. He’s obviously free to do that but it is not professional to let it color the encounter. It’s not as if he suspected me of robbing a bank.

1. Roo says:

Well, that’s what I’m saying, in a culture where you have to have street cred as being a tough guy, coming off as “Mr. Nice Guy” might be problematic – for both the police and the people they are arresting.

I don’t know that for certain – but I think it would be better if we did know, and came at this with an open attitude focused on learning about what causes problems and how to solve them. If selection bias means a disproportionate number of people with a power complex go into policing and try to show off their power just for the heck of it, that’s one thing. If, on the other hand, what you or I would consider a reasonable approach during an arrest would get you punched in the face in the real world, while a ‘tough guy’ approach could curtail problems all around and increase safety for officers and the people they’re arresting, that’s a totally different scenario, with a different solution. I don’t know and I think it could be very problematic to make assumptions from a place of naivety in any direction.

2. As a guy, I can guarantee that there’s always going to be guys that want to stand their ground even against the police. I am not saying it is right. We certainly should do what we can to keep them in line, whatever that means. At the same time, police training should be based on recognition of that fact of human nature. Sounds like we agree.

3. Roo says:

Paul – I think it comes down to the never ending calibration between Type 1 and 2 errors – the difficulty here being that the stakes are extraordinarily high during that calibration, on either side.

My prediction is still that the logical outcome of this will be increased surveillance and increased police to citizen ratios (which I recently saw is exactly what happened in Camden, where they ‘abolished’ the police). Surveillance will allow for deescalated situations – police will be more likely to let an aggressive suspect walk, because their information will already be flagged, and a warrant will be out for their arrest. I also predict that this will become problematic – for example, more and more people will have warrants out against them, and while they may not be arrested for some time, life will increasingly be structured so that they cannot participate in various activities because their outstanding warrant would be flagged. John Oliver will do a segment about it and people will tut tut and tsk tsk but it will be far less visceral and emotional than seeing scenes of immediate violence, so reforms will be slow in coming. A somewhat dark take, yes, but it’s where I see things trending.

Increased police ratios are also, I think, a logical outcome. When there are people in schools or in hospitals who are aggressive (where our instincts are, thank goodness, much more compassionate,) the staff is protected largely by ratios.

4. Mike Anderson says:

I think justice reform has to coincide with police reform in order for the system to significantly improve. If getting caught with a half ounce of cannabis or a gram of cocaine is going to ruin your life, that ratchets up the tension level of police interaction with a number of people.

Is it really productive to arrest someone like Rayshard Brooks for a 0.108% blood alcohol level?

13. ethologist says:

The following quote by Jerry refers to a recent debate about the right way to analyze the problem:

“That’s why one study, frequently cited as evidence that Black people are killed just as often (or less often) as others in similar situations, has been critiqued by other researchers who noted that “its approach is mathematically incapable of supporting its central claims.”

The authors of the “one study,” Johnson et al., who happen to be at my university, make claims about the right way to “benchmark” data on racial disparities (i.e., as I understand it, determine the right denominator). The critique by “other researchers” in the quote above represents one attack on the method of Johnson et al. In addition to this, there is another forthcoming critique (in a preprint circulating on twitter). This new critique, which is math-heavy, supports the conclusion that there is no racial disparity (after proper benchmarking) in the case of officer-involved shootings of armed suspects, but that there IS a bias against black people in the shooting of UNARMED people:

1. just josh says:

This is not a serious paper. Ross et al reproduce the straightforward results of Cesario et al. However, they argue that the rate of unarmed shootings ‘should’ be proportional to the respective rates of non-criminality in black and white populations. That is a nonsense proposition. Unarmed people are shot for a variety of reasons and circumstances, but there is no world in which we should expect cops to shoot in proportion to non-criminality.

14. Thanny says:

I don’t recall any names, but there was a study a year or two ago which showed that in an adversarial interaction with the police, you are more likely to be killed if you are white than if you are black.

The entire reason that the percentage of blacks killed (something like 22% of total police fatalities – less than half that of whites) is larger than their population percentage is that they have far more adversarial interactions with the police.

While one can argue that the reason for that is racism, it’s a difficult sell to someone using just a bit of rationality, given the fact that over 50% of violent crimes, including over 50% of murders, are committed by blacks. That fact itself has a number of causes. The actual racists will say it’s because blacks are criminal by nature, but there’s no evidence to support that.

However, while there’s no doubt that the causes of high black crime rates include a healthy dose of past racism, it’s not rational to attribute increased police attention on blacks to racism, even when you can find individual examples where it is (you can also find examples of black cops harassing whites due to racism).

But you can’t say these things, because it shows the entire premise of BLM to be a lie, as if that weren’t already obvious given what set it off (a police officer killing an assailant who was going for his gun). Nobody prominent seems willing to point out the elephant in the room, which is that most of BLM activism is itself startlingly racist.

There are serious problems in densely-populated black communities that lead to high crime rates, which have a number of knock-on effects, including blacks being killed by police more often than their share of the population would seem to dictate. BLM will solve none of those problems, and therefore won’t address the knock-on effects. All it’s succeeding in doing is glorifying vandalism, theft, and the same kind of disrespect of history that lead to the destruction of ancient non-Islamic statues in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But it seems our society has gone collectively mad, and thinks the answer is to remove police-themed Lego kits from stores.

1. ethologist says:

previous post (13) is about this study purporting to show, if anything, that white people are more likely to be killed. This study has been seriously critiqued–there remains a major racial bias (against black people) as concerns police violence against unarmed people

15. Since this post and discussion is about police reform and statistics, I will repeat a link that I posted here a few days ago:

The Center for Policing Equity
https://www.policingequity.org/

Data Science for Justice
How do you measure justice?
Center for Policing Equity can measure bias in policing. That means we can stop it.

1 in 5 Americans interacts with law enforcement yearly. Of those encounters, 1 million result in use of force. And if you’re Black, you are 2-4 times more likely to have force used than if you are White.

Reform can work. Working directly with police to measure behaviors and revise policies results in fewer people killed, and fewer people in jail.

Their leader is Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff (not the panpsychist Goff). He was interviewed on last weekend’s Fareed Zakaria GPS show on CNN and I was impressed.

16. P. Puk says:

Riddle me this:

Why are we using murder as an indicator of racism?

Racism is not about murder. It’s about daily, structural harassment of minorities.

We are very close to saying, “if you didn’t die from the racist stop and search, it isn’t really racism.”

Rather disappointed.

1. I doubt if anyone here would say that. Did some of us flunk some kind of purity test?

1. Michael Snell says:

(asterisks are mine)

From the post>> Of course these are just parallels and don’t answer the question we want to know: are black people more likely to be murdered by cops on a per capita basis, in a given set of encounters, with controls from white suspects in similar situations, with all other things roughly equal? ***If that’s the case, then racism is implicated.*** Anecdotes like those above won’t answer that question.

And from the post>>***The lesson for us:*** while in certain cases racism is clearly involved in the murder of black suspects (police remarks on the scene, differential deaths due to racial profiling in traffic stops, which is a fact, and so on), ***we cannot say, as so many are doing now, that the disproportionate number of deaths of blacks at the hands of police is prima facie evidence of structural racism in the police.***

So it seems that the argument (as P. Puk noted) is: (a) just because more blacks die by police doesn’t necessarily mean racism, we must (b) have an ‘objective’ test of rates of murder of suspects in similar situations to know if there’s racism.

One issue with this attempt to redefine the problem is that it ignores contemporary understanding of racism as a structural problem, not the common (but incorrect and unhelpful) view of racism as individual encounters–this is prejudice. Prejudice institutionalized is racism.

So, simply accepting the fact (mentioned) that policing strategies lead to more encounters with blacks is an acceptance that systemic racism in policing exists. Deal with that first and immediately rather than setting some diversionary goal and pretending that it is the only way you’ll ever know if there’s structural racism. If it walks like a duck…

1. “One issue with this attempt to redefine the problem is that it ignores contemporary understanding of racism as a structural problem, not the common (but incorrect and unhelpful) view of racism as individual encounters–this is prejudice. Prejudice institutionalized is racism.”

While racism is prevalent in many aspects of American life, I don’t find it helpful to adopt the “structural racism” stance that seems to say, “It’s all broken so we can only fix it by throwing it all out and starting over. Furthermore, if you don’t agree with that then you are racist too.” At the risk of you calling me a racist, this is a completely nonconstructive attitude. No one is going to throw everything out and start over. That could only happen if society was willing to go to zero in between. That’s not at all desirable.

Your mention of “contemporary understanding” is meant to imply that you and your friends know better. You are perfectly within your right to be confident in your beliefs but this is a classic argument from authority and, quite frankly, it’s just not the case. If it really was contemporary understanding held by most people, you wouldn’t feel the need to browbeat people into believing it.

You and your kind seem to want to take a shortcut to racial equality. Just declare it all broken and shame everyone into agreeing with you. It’s lazy and will not get the results you desire. It turns a blind eye to those that share the same high level goals of eliminating racism.

Finally, you have no right to accuse me of supporting “diversionary” goals. Please have some respect.

17. Robert Van Orden says:

So the data isn’t conclusive. Indeed, that would match up with my personal anecdotal evidence. Most cops I’ve dealt with are professionals and act accordingly. However, I remember at least one cop (at a funeral, he was off duty) who had, shall we say, a questionable attitude. Not overtly racist, but hardly anyone acts that way anymore. He was more jaded then malicious

I’ll grant that in NJ police training may be ahead of the curve. I just doubt it’s the problem that it’s being made out to be.

I’m very concerned because I know that Putin and his troll army looks to undermine confidence in our institutions. I do believe that is a factor in some of the more extreme anti-cop rhetoric that is being taken seriously in some circles in this country.

If racism in police forces is a problem, and it certainly exists to some extent, it’s not the primary problem in black communities. I believe that until I see better evidence to the contrary.

We need solutions to address economic opportunities for the poor, black or otherwise. We need better education. We need to ditch ‘Critical Theory’ and move towards a science based approach. And yes, we need to address policing.

1. I have not found it the case that “most cops are professional and act accordingly”. I have lived in Southern California for decades and have had no really serious encounters with the police but several involved unprofessional behavior. I’m a white male, BTW. I can imagine it is much, much worse for a black person.

Around 1974, me and a couple of friends were driving home after seeing a movie. We were pulled over and told that there had been a robbery in the area involving three guys that were seen leaving in a blue Oldsmobile, like ours. We were handcuffed and taken back to the scene of the crime, where a flashlight was shone in our faces and the homeowner was asked, “Are these the guys?” At first the homeowner said “yes” which scared us but then decided we were not the guys and, besides, the Oldsmobile was gray. Our handcuffs were removed and we were taken back to our car. The driver had had his license taken by one of the officers so he asked for it back. They looked for 15 secs and then said, “If we find it we will mail it back to you.” We complained and they looked harder. One of the officers found it in his holster underneath his gun. It was handed back completely crumpled. No apologies were ever given to any of us.

I can’t imagine how incidents like these go if one is black. To summarize, sometimes they’re professional but often not.

1. Tom B says:

Two anecdotes over my entire life span (born 01/74) does not seem to be sufficient data from which to draw any conclusions.
During a lesser time frame (obviously) in South Carolina I was involved in 3 separate incidents where a black male, talked to a white policeman who then unhandcuffed a black male (2 times) and a white male (3 times) and told us to go home. Granted, my friend has always been a smooth talker (for which I am grateful) but at a minimum my anecdotes counter yours (unless you think South Carolina is more progressive and less racist than California?).
Being respectful and polite to policemen is the best advice. If they act like A-holes, that is best dealt with afterwards when you have an advocate on your side. Multitudes of lawyers will be happy to help.

1. Perhaps I wasn’t clear. I don’t think police should be measured only by those incidents that “go right” or even that they mostly do so. It is more the attitude one gets from all interactions, good and bad. And the fact that there are bad ones. Most people don’t have many interactions with the police, white people anyway, so the fact that virtually everyone has at least one story like this is significant. Each bad incident could go really bad if circumstances were a little different.

It’s not like every incident has a 50/50 chance of turning violent. It’s just that if police have a bad attitude, some fraction of their interactions will have a violent outcome. It’s a small fraction but we shouldn’t tolerate it, IMHO.

In my own case, I’m sure there were other incidents that just didn’t come to mind or that I’ve forgotten. Humans are good at developing stereotypical attitudes toward an identifiable group. We call it bias when we want to draw attention to its unfairness when applied to an individual. I’m just saying that, after a lifetime of experience, I have learned to not trust the police because many bring a dangerous attitude to their job.

18. Dark skinned people are stopped by police more often for questionable reasons than white skinned people are. And dark skinned people in a predominantly white skinned neighborhood causes fear and negative reactions and overreactions. I have learned that from my own experiences and those of dark skinned friends over many years.

Years ago, my husband tutored Hispanic boys and we often had them at our house. That caused us to be kicked out of one rental in a predominantly white neighborhood in Southern California because of the neighbors fears.

Recently, it was reported that a black man was stopped for having an air freshener hanging from the front mirror in his car in a state with a law about maintaining visibility. If I, a white woman, lived in such a state and had such an air freshener, do you think I would have been stopped? I don’t.

If I were gotten out of my car and I had something (anything) perceived by the police as a weapon, especially if it wasn’t, do you think I’d be shot with anything and or killed? I don’t.

More careful vetting of police. More and better training. Less militarization. More social justice. Less inequitable distribution of wealth. Etc.

19. Max Blancke says:

I think proportionality is an important thing to remember here.
We are still talking about one of the least likely ways for unarmed people of any race to die.
If you remove the few cases where the victim was unarmed but was in the process of committing a violent felony, Then we are speaking of a likelihood of death higher than “eaten by bears”, but lower than “falling off of a horse”
Since it is a cause of harm for people, it should certainly be addressed, but in a manner proportional to the associated risk.

A complicating factor is that we seem to be in a position there Marxists and Trotskyites are setting the priorities and agenda.

The only positive thing I see about our current environment is that those folks setting that agenda seem to be terribly impatient, and it is pretty easy to see them moving from one objective to the next with a speed that makes ridiculing “slippery slope” arguments moot. In the space of a couple of weeks we went from discussing whether Confederate Memorials should stand to watching Grant, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and everyone else get the same treatment.

Miguel de Cervantes? This is not about being offended or feeling “unsafe”, this is Isis in Palmyra.

The statues and the police might not be closely related subjects, but many of the same people are demanding the abolition of both, as part of their ever lengthening list of absurd demands.

20. Tom B says:

The Critical Social Justice crowd seems exceptionally pernicious but I do not think impatient is an accurate description (agenda and time table seems to have been set in the late 90’s per James Lindsay and friends).

The group over at “New Discourses” (Lindsay, etc.) is producing a fair number of critiques and discussions which are highly applicable to current affairs that I think everyone should look at (they are on the longer side, just FYI).

Does anyone know of a study using propensity score analysis to police shootings? The closest I have found was Washington Post data that did not include information on resisting arrest which seems likely to be informative.

1. The New Discourses articles do seem to be consistently well-written but I doubt many convince the Woke. They have a built-in shield as anything that doesn’t fit their worldview is not just wrong but intentionally racist. And if the critic is white, forget about it.

I believe the most important place to wage this battle is where their power comes to bear, the workplace which include educational institutions and corporations. This is where people lose their jobs because HR departments (and whatever they are called in academia) kowtow to their leverage. Here’s an article from New Discourses detailing a successful battle:

They Can’t Cancel All of Us: How We Fought the Woke Thought Police and Won
https://newdiscourses.com/2020/06/how-we-fought-woke-thought-police-won/

21. rvoss says:

I’m not sure why this issue is generating so much ink. If African Americans are killed by police at a higher than whites, then we need police reform. If whites are killed at an equal or higher rate, then we need police reform. In either case, we need police reform. Is this something we can agree on?

1. Ok, but the statistics can help show us which reforms are likely to help the situation. So what’s your point? I feel that the next thing you are going to tell us is that arguing over statistics will delay the reform. Perhaps but reforming ineffectively is a much larger risk IMHO.

1. rvoss says:

My point is that deadly force use by police is in serious need of reform in all instances. Why would you think that I would like to argue over statistics? We are well beyond that point of the discussion in this country.

Some cities are banning the use of certain forms of deadly force such as choke holds and knees upon necks. That is a good start. Do we really need statistical data to tell us that these sorts of reforms are prudent?

1. rvoss says:

We are in dire need of short term fixes. We can argue statistics for long term after that.

Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.-Voltaire

2. I agree on reducing deadly force but that’s hardly the end of it, right? The way these reform things often work is that we only get one bite at the apple per decade, say. Many cities are thinking about reforming their police force, perhaps even starting over like they did in Camden, NJ. It is best to go into such a process with a whole list of reforms. I have no problem putting reduction of deadly force at the top of the list. I think it is already in most people’s minds.