Black lives matter. It’s a subset of all lives matter, but it’s worthy of being separated from the greater statement because of two things.
- Police shoot and kill black men in significant disproportion to their percentage of the population.
- Police shoot and kill innocent/unarmed black men in significant disproportion to their percentage of the population.
These are separate things, and separate problems. But as too often happens, most people fail to appreciate the nature of the problems and conflate them with a simplistic myth that’s not at all accurate. This has been made clear in the belief that prisons are full of only black and Hispanic men, while white guys walk free. Again, the problem is disproportion, not that white men aren’t arrested, convicted and imprisoned. They are, just not nearly as disproportionately as black men.
As David Bernstein at VC explains, shooting and killing too.
First, note that over a five year period, 1,262 Blacks, 887 Hispanics, and 2412 Whites were shot to death by police. In aggregate, that’s a lot of people, and we should hope (and perhaps demand) that cops can be trained to use non-lethal force more often in many situations in which they feel threatened. Police in other countries seem to manage it.
On raw numbers, white men are killed by police in greater numbers than black and Hispanic men combined. But then, the percentage of the population that’s white is greater too, and the separation of Hispanic is a perpetual curiosity since it’s not a race and could be white or black.
But there’s another point to be made here which the mob invariably fails to process. While everyone is watching police engaged in horrible abuses at the moment dealing with protesters, the likelihood of being killed by a police officer under normal circumstances is miniscule.
On the other hand, I’ve heard a great deal of rhetoric over the past week to the effect that police officers are basically just looking for black men to hunt down, and that there is a decent chance that any encounter between the police and a black man will result in the black man’s death. That is simply not borne out by the data (even if we note that some smaller number of deaths from police violence are not from shootings).
Looking just at deadly shootings, black men get arrested two million times or so each year. Many millions more times, police have other adversarial encounters with black men, such as traffic stops, or confrontations that don’t lead to arrest. A tiny percentage of those encounters lead to deadly shootings, and in some fraction of those, the police use of force was justified by the threat faced by the officer. So the odds of an unjustified deadly shooting of a black man in a confrontation with police in any given instance is tiny.
None of this is offered to suggest any wrongful death is acceptable, regardless of race or how bad the cops are when behaving like a mob to thwart protests, riots and/or looting. They chose their job and there is no reason not to demand that every cop in every interaction conduct himself properly, lawfully and with respect toward the people he serves. That’s not negotiable.
But before you raise your voices to cry “defund police,”* at least it behooves you to know the facts and recognize that there is no epidemic of police killing people, and that they aren’t only killing black people. On the other hand, they shouldn’t be killing anyone needlessly, white or black and there is no comparison between police killing wrongfully and anything crime committed by anyone who isn’t a law enforcement officer.
*Like “Abolish Prisons” before it, the latest radical plan has a nifty name that will assure it never gains traction, even though the smarter reform voices make some sound arguments for reducing reliance on police in areas where they don’t belong, like mental health.