The conviction of Derek Chauvin presents an opportune time to take a fresh look at the police killing of Black people.
Many Americans — including Philonise Floyd, Rev. Al Sharpton, Geraldo Rivera, LeBron James, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, Sixers coach Doc Waters — have said in different words — and appear to believe it is true — that there is a rising tide of Black men shot to death by police for no reason.
After the Chauvin verdict, former President Barack Obama joined in: “Millions of our friends, family and fellow citizens live in fear that their next encounter with law enforcement could be their last.”
The operative word is fear. They make it out to be an epidemic. It is not.
It gets said so often it gets to be accepted as truth. It is not the truth that most cop/Black civilian interactions result in death.
It is not a deliberate lie, but it is as damaging as a lie, because it perpetuates the myth that Black people, especially men, are being hunted down and killed.
I don’t say it is untrue without proof, and my proof lies in the data base created by the Washington Post to track police shootings, starting in 2015, of civilians. It is the most accurate accounting that I know of.
You may sense that police shootings are up, and they did tick up slightly between 2019 and 2020 — from 999 to 1,021. That is all police shooting deaths. The gain was entirely among white people killed — moving up from 424 in 2019 to 457 in 2020.
The numbers of Blacks killed actually went down — from 252 in 2019 to 243 in 2020.
That’s right— killing of Blacks actually went down.
Twice as many whites were killed by cops. That is true in absolute numbers. It is also true Black deaths are disproportionately high. There is no denying that.
African-Americans account for 13% of the population but about 25% of those killed by police. Whites account for about 76% of the population, but 46% of those killed by police. (The numbers don’t add up to 100% because I have eliminated Hispanics, others and race unknown.)
The number of unarmed Blacks killed by police in 2020 was 18, a few more than the 12 who died that way in 2019. This is out of a population of 40 million African-Americans. This is not to minimize it. It is to illustrate how rare it is.
The number of unarmed whites killed by cops were 24 in 2020 and 26 in 2019. Again, rare.
The numbers don’t lie.
It is fair, and perhaps necessary, to talk about why Blacks are killed out of proportion to their numbers. It could be fear by police of Blacks, which would be a form of racism. It is a problem that can be eased through better training.
Meanwhile, if there are so few deaths by cop, why do so many African-Americans believe — like Obama — that their lives are at risk during a traffic stop? That they are isolated and hunted.
There are a couple of reasons I can think of.
First, police shootings of Black people get far more media attention than whites.
As one recent example, I bet you can’t name the unarmed white woman, the Air Force veteran who was killed inside the Capitol Building. She was Ashli Babbitt. We know her name. The name of the officer who killed her has never been released as far as I know, and after a brief investigation, the Department of Justice announced it would not bring charges against the officer who killed her.
It is hard for me to cite other examples of whites being killed by cops, because they are so rarely reported. But every Black taken down gets national attention. Not complaining, just saying. That is the way it is.
Why? Maybe the lack of justice in the past. Maybe TV executives being woke. Maybe the ratings. In any event, each killing gets wall to wall coverage.
That monster coverage of cop-on-Black killings creates a misperception that it is open season on Blacks, that it is routine.
It is not. There is no open season. It is just as false as the fear that often sweeps America when shark attacks are reported. Especially when attack video is endlessly played on cable TV, fears mount that any excursion into the sea will end in death. In reality, there are about 75 annual attacks world-wide, not all resulting in death.
There’s a second reason for the sense of being hunted, and is related to the first, and I have reported on it before.
It’s about how political beliefs color people’s perceptions.
The Skeptic Research Center did a study of Americans’ beliefs about race and policing.
The center asked people about their political beliefs, and then asked them to guess how many unarmed Blacks had been killed by police in 2019. The actual number, as I reported above, was 12.
That is among the millions of police/civilian contacts each year.
More than 30% of those calling themselves very liberal guessed 1,000 — about 90 times the reality of 12. Another 30% of the very liberal guessed 100 — wrong by about 10 fold.
Those calling themselves liberal did better, with a plurality of 39% selecting 100. Another 27% choose 1,000.
A plurality of moderates, 41% guessed 100. The second greatest cohort, 34% selected 10, which was closest to the actual number.
Among those who called themselves conservative, 46% selected 10, with another 40% guessing 100. The very conservative was close, with 46% selecting 10, and 34% picking 100.
This was studied by political event. You can imagine the results if it had been done by race.
The study gives the what, but not the why. It does not speculate about why the Left’s view is so much more distorted than the Right.
Another chart shows that in one metric, everyone is off, everyone exaggerates the damage.
Looking at 2015-2020, the study found that 26% of police shooting fatalities were Black.
Everyone thought the percentage were much higher.
Very Liberals fared the worst, estimating 61% of the victims were Black. Liberals were 56%, moderates chose 46%, conservatives were closest with 38%, and very conservatives took 45%.
The Skeptic Research Center speculates that an explanation might be the Left’s greater concern with racism (even when it doesn’t exist, in my opinion), or may reflect what kind of media is used by different political cohorts.
I spent a lot of time talking about police killing others.
I close by mentioning that 1,627 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty during the past 10 years — 135 in 2019, in addition to more than 50,000 annual assaults against law enforcement officers, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report.
But whether blue or Black, a life is a life, and it matters.