The Washington Post Totals on Police Killings Again Eliminate the Laws of Probability in a Land of Guns, Poverty, and Crime
Nationwide, police shot and killed nearly 1,000 people in 2017
For the third year in a row, police nationwide shot and killed nearly 1,000 people, a grim annual tally that has…
Again, the new 2017 totals for the year for fatal police shootings are nearly the EXACT same as the two previous years, just under 1000. This is despite a three-year national conversation, NFL players taking a knee, and cops generally feeling they’re being thrown under the bus and pulling back (though, clearly not entirely). Maybe cops are doing their jobs and aren’t overwhelmingly racist? The issue, as always, is the law of probability in a land full of dangerous people and guns exacerbated by poverty. What’s not mentioned, as always, is the chance of being shot and killed by police per arrest for blacks, whites and Hispanics is approximately the exact same: 1 in 10,000. The pervasive reason for a shooting that occurs in around .002% of encounters — from arrests, chases, and stops — with police: Citizen behavior.
Can we talk about these source factors rather than blaming the police on the back end? It’s just like when we’re angry at our dentist for giving us a root canal. It was our sugar-eating and floss-denying ways that got us under the drill first.
The Washington Post does a disservice to this country when they overtly decide to not include the criminal context in regard to demographics but imply racism. Especially when the the murder rate spiked more than 25% in big cities from 2014 to 2016. Why is that? It’s not difficult to imagine the reasons. The established norms dictate that highlighting anything other than discrimination as the cause of bad outcomes with police — or any institution — is racist or “blaming the victim.” Thus, The Washington Post writes today as they did in 2015 about police shootings:
“Black males accounted for 22 percent of all people shot and killed in 2017, yet they are 6 percent of the total population.”
Black males are also the 6% of the population responsible for around 50% of robberies and murders, as well as at least 22% of almost all crime, according to FBI statistics and nearly any criminologist textbook that included crime demographics. Police are arresting African Americans at least 26% of the time, interacting with them nearly the same through stops, so how is it a surprise when use of force is approximately the same percentage? Perhaps the underlying issue is “probability” rather than racism.
- FBI crime data 2015. https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2015/crime-in-the-u.s.-2015/tables/table-43
- PhD criminologists say, “Relative to violation frequency as reported by crime victims, the likelihood of arrest for white and black offenders is roughly equal.” https://academic.oup.com/sf/article-abstract/81/4/1381/2234598?redirectedFrom=fulltext
- A U.S. Department of Justice 2004 NCJRS report says, “Interestingly, none of the characteristics of the suspect was important. In other words, officers were equally likely to stop individuals whether they were male or female, African-American or white, low or high socioeconomic status … A recent area of research, that of racial profiling, has begun to examine whether or not police officers use race to discriminate against minorities. Research on racial profiling is attempting to capture officers’ pre-conceived notions and practices of discrimination by race. To date, the research that has been conducted cannot confirm or refute whether officers discriminate against members of racial minority groups.” https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/213004.pdf
Maybe The Washington Post can also use their own data and give relevant context:
- 93% of victims were armed
(9% unarmed in 2015, 5% unarmed in 2016, 7% unarmed in 2017)
- Black males are under 1/3 of unarmed people killed (19 of 68 in 2017)
- From 2004–2013, 43% of police were killed by someone black, according to The Washington Post’s research in 2015. Thus, the 25% killed by police that are black (approximately 3% black female) might actually be construed as lower than expected.
HOT TIP FOR FUTURE REPORTING: Fatal police shootings today are down 70% for blacks since 1968 (more than three times) but is the EXACT same for every other racial group. In reviewing hundreds of stories related to police killings, I’ve seen no mainstream media touch this newsworthy information. I recommend they do.