The images of Minnesota policeman Derek Chauvin kneeling on a dying African-American man’s neck have ricocheted around the world. From Auckland to London, Christchurch to cities across the US, tens of thousands have marched in opposition to what is perceived as systemic police violence against one race.
Chauvin’s charges have now been ramped up to 2nd degree murder and the others in his squad have now been charged, too.
On the left of US politics, from former President Barack Obama to 2020 candidate Joe Biden, there’s a claim that for millions of black Americans being treated differently by the criminal justice system is “tragically, painfully, maddeningly normal” (to quote the former president).
But is this really the case? Are police forces across the US riddled with officers whose primary targets are African-Americans and Hispanics?
The statistics aren’t convincing. The Wall Street Journal has published research which paints a different picture. It was prepared by Heather Mac Donald, a fellow of the Manhattan Institute, a think-tank.
Those on the left will claim the WSJ, one of Rupert Murdoch’s stable of newspapers, is hardly a beacon for the liberal cause. It does, however, have a reputation for careful research.
The WSJ says the charge of systemic police bias was wrong during the Obama years and remains so today.
The videos of violent arrests isn’t representative of the 375 million annual contacts police officers have with civilians. A solid body of evidence finds no structural bias in the criminal-justice system with regard to arrests, prosecution or sentencing.
Crime and suspect behaviour, not race, determine most police actions.
Research indicates that in 2019 police officers fatally shot 1,004 people, most of whom were armed or otherwise dangerous. Of this total, 235 were African-Americans, about a quarter of those killed, a ratio that has remained stable since 2015.
That share of black victims is less than what the black crime rate would predict, since police shootings are a function of how often officers encounter armed and violent suspects.
In 2018, the latest year for which such data have been published, African-Americans made up 53% of known homicide offenders in the US and commit about 60% of robberies, though they represent only 13% of the population.
The police fatally shot nine unarmed blacks and 19 unarmed whites in 2019, according to a Washington Post database, down from 38 and 32, respectively, in 2015.
The Post defined “unarmed” broadly to include such cases as a suspect in Newark, New Jersey who had a loaded handgun in his car during a police chase.
In 2018 there were 7407 black homicide victims. Assuming a comparable number of victims last year, those nine unarmed black victims of police shootings represent 0.1% of all African-Americans killed in 2019
On the recent Memorial Day weekend in Chicago, 10 African-Americans were killed in drive-by shootings. The routine violence has continued—a 72-year-old Chicago man shot in the face on May 29 by a gunman who fired about a dozen shots into a residence; two 19-year-old women on the South Side shot to death as they sat in a parked car a few hours earlier; a 16-year-old boy fatally stabbed with his own knife that same day.
Last weekend, 80 people in Chicago were shot in drive-by shootings, 21 fatally, the victims overwhelmingly black. Police shootings are not the reason that blacks die of homicide at eight times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined; criminal violence is.
The WSJ says the latest in a series of studies undercutting the claim of systemic police bias was published in August 2019 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Researchers found that the more frequently officers encounter violent suspects from any given racial group, the greater is the chance that a member of that group will be fatally shot by a police officer. There is “no significant evidence of anti-black disparity in the likelihood of being fatally shot by police,” they concluded.
A 2015 Justice Department analysis of the Philadelphia Police Department found that white police officers were less likely than black or Hispanic officers to shoot unarmed black suspects. Research by Harvard economist Roland G. Fryer Jr. also found no evidence of racial discrimination in shootings. Any evidence to the contrary fails to take into account crime rates and civilian behaviour before and during interactions with police.
The pattern may be repeating itself. Officers are being assaulted and shot at while they try to arrest gun suspects or respond to the growing riots.
Police precincts and courthouses have been destroyed with impunity, which will encourage more civilization-destroying violence. If officers back off law enforcement in minority neighbourhoods, the thousands of law-abiding African-Americans who depend on the police for basic safety will once again be the victims.