How Roland Fryer’s Controversial Harvard Study on Racial Bias by Police Actually Shows Negligible Bias (or Brutality)

I’ll crunch the numbers. You can comment and debunk.

See below for more complete graphic based on New York Times’ chart of Roland Fryer’s data.
Fryer’s results on fatal force indicate anti-white bias in shootings. He’s not alone.

“For instance, 0.26 percent of interactions between police and civilians involve an officer drawing a weapon; 0.02 percent involve using a baton. These are rare events. Yet, the results indicate that they are significantly more rare for whites than blacks. With all controls, blacks are 21 percent more likely than whites to be involved in an interaction with police in which at least a weapon is drawn and the difference is statistically significant.”

Zach Goldberg’s data analyses often indicate how white liberals believe racism is far worse than reality.
Before the homicide spike of 2014–2016, 4% of black homicides were from police. Now it’s closer to 3%.
Just as proper, dispassionate analysis shows police aren’t systematically or overwhelmingly racist — which I show on this post by contextualizing (not spinning) more educated people’s hard work — so does looking closer at “Stand Your Ground” laws. One may remember after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin, these laws were widely condemned as racist and the #blacklivesmatter hashtag was launched. However, Public Radio WJCT in Florida pointed out that a higher percentage of black people are set free from ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws than white people, 66% to 61%. In an analysis by Florida’s Tampa Bay Times, no obvious racial bias has been found in the application of the law in that state. Some studies differ by focusing exclusively on the race of who dies — though when African Americans make up more than 50% of all homicide victims, that argument may be disingenuous and faulty. But many evidence-based testimonies say there’s no bias, some even including the elephant in the room: “It’s relatively uncommon for a black defender to shoot a white attacker, period. There’s a reasonable explanation for this: Black victims get killed by whites only 7% of the time, while white victims are killed by blacks about twice as often (14%). Murders are mostly intraracial (blacks, 91%; whites 83%).” FBI stats support this: In 2013, the FBI Uniform Crime Report shows 409 white people were killed by black perpetrators, but 189 black people were killed by white perpetrators. So from an institutional and systemic standpoint, those key areas academics and activists claim are the most important, it appears obvious: #blacklivesDOmatter.
Eric Garner, 2014, New York City’s Staten Island.
Roland Fryer’s working paper released July 2016:

In 2016, the National Bureau of Economic Research published a working paper by Fryer concluding that although minorities (African Americans and Hispanics) are more likely to experience police use of force than whites, but that they were not more likely to be shot by police than whites.[17] The study generated considerable controversy and criticism.[18][19][20]

Clear evidence police in Chicago shot citizens up to six times more in the 1970s than today. This data was published by Northwestern in 1982, while the Chicago police data was still relatively new. The violent years of 1974 (970 homicides) and 2016 (800 homicides) in Chicago are also in par with each other. While comparisons between eras can be complicated and difficult, it’s important to note that many more people are surviving shootings today due to improved outcomes in trauma centers, much of it due to medical advances from dealing with critically wounded U.S. soldiers in Iraq in Afghanistan. The 4000+ shootings in 2016 was possibly near an all-time record, and many more than 800 may have died if doctors from 1974 were treating victims. Chicago’s population was slightly more than 10% larger, too.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, among the most reliable, shows that the rate of killings of African Americans by police went down 70% since 1968–69. But the rate flat-lined for all other races. Could this make cross-generational conversations of “how the cops treat black people” an anecdotal reinforcement of a problem that WAS indeed 3–4 times worse in the 1960s? Maybe it seems “as bad or worse” today because it’s on our TV, computer, and smartphone screens all the time. I compiled a “Top 5” list of videos of police shooting unarmed white persons that many people likely haven’t seen, many of the images as shocking as the high-profile ones seen worldwide in the media.
The data from the Center for Policing Equity is similar to Roland Fryer’s Harvard data. As stated in The New York Times, “For those who were arrested, the mean rate use of force against blacks was 46 for every 1,000 arrests, compared with 36 per 1,000 for whites.” That is 24% higher. But when you take the “next step” of presenting the data more clearly, it’s also 100% true stating that “use of force” is applied 4.6% of the time for every black person arrested and 3.6% of the time for every white person arrested. Thus, roughly 95% of the time, no matter your race, police in the United States won’t be “rough” with you — at least according to this data widely used (see here, here, or here) to show racial bias by police is somehow at the heart of the problem more than the behavior of citizenry. I first started making that argument in this Medium post in July: “The Debunking of a Misleading NY Times Headline.”

Can We Trust The Numbers? Answer: Yes.

[2019 NOTE: Center for Policing Equity deleted the report. Find here archived.] This chart on page 19 of a PDF report for the Center for Policing Equity may be helpful in understanding what “20% more or less” looks like between blacks and whites per interaction. It is from the Center for Policing Equity’s 2016 report where I get the specific number (used below) that use of force occurs 3.6 times more often overall for blacks than whites. But what is key is that per interaction, use of force is nearly the same. For example, one can see on the chart that police place hands on the body for 30 out of 1000 white suspects and do the same for 36 out of 1000 black suspects. (It doesn’t point out that in NYC blacks are far more likely to be gang suspects, nor highlight demographic differentials in resisting arrest.) Even more important is the RED circle that points out blacks receive slightly more use of force in all but one category: Lethal force. Even so, when The New York Times reported on this data they said in the headline that, “Police Are More Likely to Use Force on Blacks.” The Times also quoted Aislinn Sol, organizer of the Chicago chapter of Black Lives Matter, who said: “It’s kind of like, ‘Is water wet?’ But what we gain with each study, each new piece of information is that we are able to win people over who are on the fence. The evidence is becoming overwhelming and incontrovertible that it is a systemic problem, rather than an isolated one.” Sorry, if I’m not convinced that when 95% of the time there’s no use of force for blacks — and 96% of the time for whites — that there’s “overwhelming” evidence of a systemic racial problem. That’s why I wrote this Medium post rebuttal that led to this analysis you’re reading here.
Wait, where does it say that whites have more contact with police on average per year than blacks? It’s not police data. It’s survey data, showing what citizens themselves say in the Police-Public Contact Survey (PPCS) conducted by the U.S. government (Bureau of Justice Statistics). A French statistician Philippe Lemoine made detailed charts (see above) on how different races actually have similar rates of contact with police when all contacts are combined together (stops, pull-overs, arrests, calling police, and so forth) and not narrowly focused on criminal contacts — which are far smaller in number, and far more disparate for blacks compared to other populations. Specific breakdowns of the probability of having at least one contact with police the previous year: 20.7% of whites, 17.5% of blacks, and 17.1% of Hispanics. Lemoine’s analysis is here for the PPCS years 2005 and 2008. (To see Lemoine’s conversation with celebrated African American economist Glen Loury on police violence, see here). Other PPCS survey data written about in The Washington Post and “spun” to convey social injustice show more black drivers (12.8%) than white (9.8%) and Hispanic (10.4%) drivers were pulled over in a traffic stop during their most recent contact with police. They then say that this 31% black-white contact difference in this ONE category is evidence of the oft-heard “driving while black,” which is a “measurable phenomenon” of implicit racial bias in policing. But they say so without mentioning research that shows there’s a possible 93% black-white difference in speeding. For example, a 2002 study determined 2.7% of photographed black drivers were speeders, compared with 1.4% of white drivers.
(Picking up from what I’m saying below…) And to critics who say the United States over-polices or say, “Police shootings and use of force like this don’t happen in the rest of the Western World,” let us remind them the U.S. is not like the rest of the Western World when it comes to violence or lethal shootings directed at police.
Blacks are 13% of the population but are 32% of aggravated assault arrests in 2015 and 33% of aggravated assault arrests in 2016, according to the FBI. Basically, blacks are 3.8 times more likely to be arrested for an aggravated assault, even though “multivariate logistic regression results show that the odds of arrest for white offenders is 13% higher for aggravated assault.” (“Race and the Probability of Arrest,” Social Forces, Department of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2003). Thus, when it comes to violent crime, blacks are under-policed not over-policed.

For racial discrimination by police is socially corrosive. Mr Fryer suggests that if blacks take their experience with police as evidence of wider bias, it can lead to a belief that the whole world is also against them. They may invest less in education if they think employers are biased too. It is more than 50 years since Martin Luther King spoke of blacks being “staggered by the winds of police brutality”. Those winds are still blowing.

Screenshot from the NY Times story on Roland Fryer’s groundbreaking data. This graph was the second image profiled far down in the article.
P. 17 of the Center for Policing Equity’s report on use of force says, “Table 5 shows that benchmarking to violent Part I arrests reverses the direction of the Black-White gap.” Yet earlier on P.9 in the section “Organization of the Report” they say, “Finally, within each section, we also reveal the percentage of participating departments that demonstrate racial disparities in use of force when controlling for violent crime arrest rates.” Which is it? And does it really? Because just looking at this data it appears outcomes are worse for whites in violent arrests. Black arrests for violent crime are almost twice the proportion of arrests as they are for whites, but the report neglects to mention that. Also, read between those lines above. The report says “5 of 12 participating departments (42%) still evidence disproportionate targeting of Black residents when violent arrests are controlled.” So does that mean 7 out of 12 departments (58%) show a disproportionate targeting of whites? That’s seriously misleading. The more I look into the Center for Policing Equity, the more I believe they’re blatantly ignoring their own data. And the media blindly falls for it.

“In shootings in these 10 cities involving officers, officers were more likely to fire their weapons without having first been attacked when the suspects were white. Black and white civilians involved in police shootings were equally likely to have been carrying a weapon. Both results undercut the idea of racial bias in police use of lethal force.” —From The New York Times’ “hot-button” write-up on Roland Fryer’s data

Look closer at The Center for Policing Equity’s report. You might see a conclusion they don’t see fit to share with The New York Times.

“The dominant narrative has been that this happens to African-Americans because they are arrested in disproportionate numbers,” said Phillip Atiba Goff, a founder and president of the Center for Policing Equity, based at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “But the data really makes it difficult to say that crime is the primary driver of this. In every single category, the anti-black disparity persists.”

SHOWN ABOVE: The new Investigative Stop Report (ISR) used by the Chicago Police Department after January 1, 2016. This is only 1 side of 2 pages, and reportedly takes a law enforcement officer 45 minutes to fill per stop! There was no evidence Chicago cops were “fixing” their previous “contact cards” to be politically correct and demographically favorable to superiors. These older contact cards also included demographic information which matched case reports of crime, and thus arguably didn’t indicate institutional racism (but ACLU threatened to sue anyway saying the CPD was racially profiling). WORTH NOTING: Stops immediately went down 90% as shootings immediately went up 80% the first month after police started using this ISR. Even the U.S. Attorney under Obama was critical of the decrease in street stops leading to a 40-year crime spike. Read more about it in the section, “Police Stops: Switching from Contact Cards to the ISR” in my Chicago Police Department DOJ analysis here.

But academics have noted that the proportion of black suspects arrested by the police tends to match closely the proportion of offenders identified as black by victims in the National Crime Victimization Survey. This doesn’t support the idea that the police are unfairly discriminating against the black population when they make arrests.

BBC showcased a gun control controversy and thankfully someone posted some “facts” on the above Instagram image linked in the article, countering the completely misleading protest banner that doesn’t take into account whites are 63% of the population (thus, the “biggest”). The click-bait article (“Never Again: Is gun control movement too white?”) featured Tweets focusing on gun violence that are rarely uttered by Black Lives Matter protesters: “Oh, what’s that Never Again? Oh, 30 people were killed in Chicago since the march,” wrote @MrRidiculous4. Basically, when the white Parkland kids protest got national attention, that’s when the more “woke” BLM crowd says, “What about us?” Of note: BLM’s website says nothing about gun violence.

In 2016 more than 52% of murder victims (73% killed by guns) in America were black, even though black people make up 13% of the population.

Protesters are being accused of hypocrisy, as some ask why they didn’t turn out for the Black Lives Matter movement, which was set up in 2013 to end police violence against black people and highlight the impact of gun violence in ethnic minority communities.

Yes, one-quarter of police deaths are black. Helpful graphic imagery like this above wasn’t found in The Washington Post, but instead was made by a numbers-driven retired meteorologist. Few analyses provide surprising context like this Watts Up With That blog entry in July 2016 who stated: “Here are the results of that comparison for 2015. For every 10,000 white people arrested for a violent crime, 38 white people were killed by police (± 2). For every 10,000 Hispanic people arrested for a violent crime, 21 Hispanic people were killed by police (± 3). For every 10,000 black people arrested for a violent crime, 21 black people were killed by police (± 2). Go figure … I was as surprised as you, so I’ve triple checked the numbers, and it’s true—the odds of a given arrest going bad and ending up in a death are much greater for white men than for black or Hispanic men.” This guy is a climate skeptic, so one can possibly dismiss his data based on that. However, I ran the numbers myself based on “violent crime arrests” in 2015, and the numbers are fairly close: I found 27 whites killed per 10,000 and 16 blacks killed per 10,000. (Worth noting, people aren’t shot only for violent arrests. ) I calculated 4.1% of all white arrests and 6.7% of all black arrests are in these four “violent” crime categories: Murder, robbery, aggravated assault, and rape. The black-white percentage difference for these types of arrests is 48%. The Watts Up pie chart is also accurate, which is how I found this site in the first place. Question: Why does it only seem like skeptics are willing to put out this accurate data?
Newark was a focus on PBS’ Frontline in 2016, where they reported a single stop that occurred that didn’t later show up on the “official” books.
This famous photo by Jonathan Bachman of Reuters from the Black Lives Matters protests in Baton Rouge was situated at the top of David Balls’ assessment of Cody Ross’ and Roland Fryer’s use-of-force data.

“There is no relationship between county-level racial bias in police shootings and crime rates (even race-specific crime rates), meaning that the racial bias observed in police shootings in this data set is not explainable as a response to local-level crime rates.”

— PhD Candidate Cody Ross (A Multi-Level Bayesian Analysis of Racial Bias in Police Shootings at the County-Level in the United States, 2011–2014)

“The USPSD does not have information on encounter rates between police and subjects according to ethnicity. As such, the data cannot speak to the relative risk of being shot by a police officer conditional on being encountered by police … Our paper does not attempt to overturn previous analyses; its guiding novelty is the granularity of the micro-data.”

— Harvard Economics Professor Roland Fryer

The above “We Charge Genocide” website and report is a source for one of Cody Ross’ sources: United Nations Committee Against Torture (2014).

The failure of the nation’s police to critically evaluate their own use of force, has led the United Nations Committee Against Torture [6] to sharply criticize the ever growing militarization of police departments in the United States, especially as evidence of significant race-based and sexuality-based brutality and excessive use of force has been uncovered, including bonafide acts of torture (e.g., those committed by Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and others under his command, between 1972 and 1991). The UN Committee Against Torture specifically noted that it: “regrets the lack of statistical data available on allegations of police brutality and the lack of information on the result of the investigations undertaken in respect of those allegations” (pp. 13, [6]). This paper provides a response to the first of these two concerns.

Cody Ross, found here:

“Perhaps police departments with disproportionate rates of racially-biased police homicide can provide justification for these patterns based on local context, or perhaps they are headed by individuals like Police Commander Jon Burge — the public needs to know which.”

Cody Ross (A Multi-Level Bayesian Analysis of Racial Bias in Police Shootings at the County-Level in the United States, 2011–2014)

In 4 years (screenshot taken September 22, 2019) Cody Ross’ paper has received 78 citations and 900,000 views.
Strangely, promotes rifle scopes like it’s some NRA site:
Sources used by Cody Ross.

Moving Forward

The work of documenting police violence in the United States, has recently begun through several open-contribution, public-access projects in addition to the USPSD. The Stolen Lives Project started by the Anthony Baez Foundation and the National Lawyers Guild [7], the Fatal Encounters Database started by Brian Burghart [8], and the Killed By Police database [9] are examples, as is the Mapping Police Violence project [10], which emphasizes visualization of the raw data from the above-mentioned databases. Additionally, [11], the Washington Post [12], and the Guardian [13] have begun keeping rigorous statistics on police shootings in specific years. Unlike the censored data released by official sources, the data in the USPSD and other grassroots databases allow for fine-scale evaluation of the use of lethal force, including investigation of department-specific and even officer-specific patterns. It is, for instance, possible to identify police departments and officers who kill unarmed black individuals at disproportionate rates. With the previously-used SHR data, lack of reporting and/or selective-biases in reporting of police shootings, could have masked underlying racial biases in police shootings, or masked the rates at which unarmed individuals are shot by police.

5. Gabrielson R, Grochowski Jones R, Sagara E. Deadly Force, in Black and White: A Pro Publica analysis of killings by police shows outsize risk for young black males. Pro Publica. 2014;.

6. United Nations Committee Against Torture. Concluding observations on the third to fifth periodic reports of United States of America. United Nations. 2014;.

7. Stolen Lives Project. Stolen Lives: Killed by law enforcement,; 1999.

8. Brian Burghart. Fatal Encounters: A step toward creating an impartial, comprehensive and searchable national database of people killed during interactions with law enforcement,; 2014.

9.Killed By Police.; 2015.

10.The National Police Violence Map.; 2015.

11.Wikipedia.; 2015.

12.The Washington Post. Fatal police shootings in 2015 approaching 400 nationwide; 2015.

13.The Guardian. The Counted: People killed by police in the US,; 2015.

The study, published in the journal Injury Prevention, provides a nuanced view of the intersection of race and law enforcement in America. In the analysis, researchers from the U.S. and Australia used several national databases and hospital records, spanning a range of years from 2011–2015, to count the number of injuries and deaths inflicted by law enforcement officers during stops, searches and arrests. Approximately one in every 291 police stops or arrests ends in injury or death, the researchers found.

Racial minorities — especially blacks and Native Americans between ages 15–29 — were more likely to be stopped and searched or arrested by the police than whites.

The ratios of death or injury across races, once a person is stopped, are the same, which initially surprised lead study author Ted Miller, principal research scientist at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in Maryland. “Maybe the decision to pull you over was racially biased; maybe the decision to arrest you once you were pulled over was racially biased,” Miller says. “But who a police officer kills or injures is probably more of a function of who resists arrest or who pulls out a knife or gun,” he says. The chance that a firearm injury or a hospital-admitted injury would be fatal was also the same across races.


“Given a national history of racism, the excess per capita death rate of Blacks from US police action rightly concerns policy analysts, advocates, and the press. The excess appears to reflect exposure. Blacks are arrested more often than Whites, and youth more often than the elderly,” they continue.

“However, Blacks are not more likely than non-Hispanic Whites to be killed or injured during a stop/arrest, and youth have the lowest injury ratios. Ratios aside, even one person unnecessarily killed or injured by the police is one too many, and every racial/ethnic group has mourned losses from undue force,” they say.

“As the US struggles to reduce citizen injuries during police contacts, it would seem prudent to train at-risk groups about appropriate behaviour during police stops,” they conclude.

This info was provided by the Chicago Police Department for Chicago Public Radio when the ACLU was cracking down hard on CPD in the Spring of 2015. One can tell it was “rushed” out to the public or done by cops, because they misspelled “Latino” as “Lation.” I have yet to see CPD or the Fraternal Order of Police defend disparities of arrest or use of force with specific statistics like these. They should. Anyway, similar data-driven evidence has been featured by Chicago’s WBEZ in 2013, where you can see case reports match the contact rates, a key linchpin to any argument that no racial bias is taking place systematically by Chicago police.
Table 43 of the FBI Uniform Crime Report for 2015 says it straight. RED = African American drug violations and drinking violations. Note how the alcohol-related violations are only arrests that are proportional to the population, thus an indication that police are policing based on behavior (most drug arrests are for selling and use on the street, along with persons with gang affiliations). GREEN = African American arrests involving violence. Note how the percentages are much higher than for use of force (approximately 31% for non-lethal, 25% for lethal). PINK = African American arrests for rape. Note how these are more than twice their percentage of the population and nearly four times higher than whites. This may also be an indicator of behavior more than police bias. Arrests are made after a victim identifies the perpetrator, and the police and prosecutors decide there’s just cause for a sexual assault arrest. Most crimes are intraracial, so if racial bias was manifesting in police, would this mean they aren’t arresting suspects that white women report as rape? (i.e. Believing the black women and throwing black men into jail, but NOT believing the white women and protecting white males more often? That’s the conundrum and the question, which may not be easily answered by arguing there’s “implicit” or “explicit” bias by police.) NOTE: 90% of Hispanic total is integrated into the “white” total. I wrote about this blending “white” and “Hispanic” in government data extensively in a Medium post.
FBI data that has nothing to do with “The War on Drugs” shows vast disparities between black Americans and other groups. SOURCE:
Look closely at The Guardian’s “The Counted” — which is higher than The Washington Post’s exclusive focus on law enforcement shooting death totals — and you can see their “wide net” of police-involved homicides include the kitchen sink: A cop killing his young child and wife, a vehicular accident randomly killing two young women, off-duty police actions, and so forth. But it also includes the death of 19-year-old Zachary Hammond, who is white, and almost no one knows about. See Hammond’s fatal shooting dash-cam video, and ask why it’s not on national news . Or why virtually no uproar ensued after “deadly force was deemed justified” according to a local solicitor, with no criminal charges filed against the police officer.

The majority of people are shot by a person of their own race, so Black men are typically shot by Black men. We can focus on the 10 percent who are shot by the police or the 90 percent shot by another Black man. I want to focus on the 90 percent. If we miss the mark by focusing on the 10 percent we ignore the larger problem. The vast majority of people that come in shot are shot in their own community, it is not police related, so we have not been forced to confront this issue. I agree that people designated to protect you shouldn’t be killing you, but that is not the biggest problem in the Black community.

Police Brutality, Race, and Gender: Police Brutality, Race, and Gender

Police shootings also disproportionately impact specific demographic groups, particularly young Black males. The police-involved shooting deaths of unarmed young Black men over the past two decades have highlighted the disturbing pattern of police brutality among this population. The high-profile police-involved shooting deaths of Amadou Diallo (Bronx, NY), Sean Bell (Queens, NY), Oscar Grant (Oakland, CA), Michael Brown (Ferguson, MO), Tamir Rice (Cleveland, OH), and Walter Scott (North Charleston, SC) represent some of the fatal police-involved shootings that have garnered national attention. Young Black men are at far greater risk of being shot by the police than their white counterparts. Data collected by the FBI on police shootings from 2010 to 2012 indicates that young Black males were 21 times more likely to be shot and killed by the police than young White males. Qualitative studies on recurrent trauma among young Black men found that harassment and racial profiling by the police were significant sources of trauma and stress. Researchers found that young Black men expressed a lack of faith in the police and that they could not depend on the police to protect them from danger.

Dr. Joseph Richard’s paper, I argue, exaggerates a problem that isn’t largely relevant.
Hey, New York Times, an extra column would help explain what “25% more likely” means. Also, you misspelled “Baton.”
Police: Not necessarily trained to shoot-to-kill but to “stop dangerous, life-threatening behavior.” But that’s at the end of the “use of force continuum.”
“The Wire” filmed in Baltimore highlights police violence.



Writer. Researcher. Designer. Human seeking better outcomes for all. Empiricism, relevant facts, and logical arguments > simple narratives.

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David Shuey

Writer. Researcher. Designer. Human seeking better outcomes for all. Empiricism, relevant facts, and logical arguments > simple narratives.