While we continue to make things more just, we need to make sure we are working with all the same facts and data and are not allowing people with false narratives to spin us into emotionally dangerous wars between people.
I received a lot of emails, questions and comments questioning the police shooting statistics from a previous editorial. People also sent me websites presenting the same statistics I used, but the way the statistics were presented was definitely pushing a different narrative. I believe it is a false narrative, which is being presented as if Black people are being indiscriminately killed by police.
Let’s explore one example from https://mappingpoliceviolence.org/. The statistics are the same as what I presented from the National Institutes of Health, The Washington Post and Statista. But the statistics are presented differently or incompletely.
The website showed that the police have killed 598 people in 2020.
It doesn’t tell you why 598 people were killed in 2020, that almost 100% were armed or that these shootings came as the result of police responding to a crime. It also doesn’t explain that twice as many White people as Black people each year have been shot by police over the last five years or that a police officer is 18 1/2 times more likely to be killed by a Black male than an unarmed Black male is to be killed by a police officer.
Here is another bold point on the page between graphs, which is absolutely correct but doesn’t present the whole picture.
Black people have been 28% of those killed by police since 2013, despite being only 13% of the population. It is followed by a graph that shows Blacks are three times more likely to be killed as Whites. Then in small print it states, “Police killings per 1 million population.” The graph is comparing percentages of their respective populations, instead of comparing the overall percentage of Blacks killed, 25%, to Whites, 50%.
What is not explained is that the share of Black shooting victims by police is statistically 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 2019, police officers fatally shot 1,004 people, most of whom were armed or otherwise dangerous. African Americans were about a quarter of those killed by police last year at 235 people. This ratio has remained stable since 2015.
In 2018, African Americans made up 53% of known homicide offenders in the U.S. and committed about 60% of robberies, though they are 13% of the population. It explains why there are more confrontations that end up with deadly results between armed suspects and police officers.
What about unarmed shootings? The police fatally shot nine unarmed Black suspects – five were fighting with police and trying to grab their gun – and 19 unarmed Whites in 2019, according to The Washington Post database, down from 38 and 32, respectively, in 2015 – and closer to 100 in the 70s. The Post defines “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.
Remember there were 235 Black suspects killed in 2018 by police during the course of a police call, and there were 7,407 Black homicide victims, mostly killed by other Blacks. Whites are also mostly killed by other Whites. Assuming a comparable number of victims 2019, those nine unarmed Black victims of police shootings represent 0.1% of all African Americans killed in 2019.
So, do you see how misleading it is to create a graph that states “Black people are more likely to be killed by police than White people?”
Then there’s a graph stating that 99% of police aren’t held accountable for the killings and characterizing them as murders, rather than police killings of armed suspects in response to a call. Again, one could assume if they weren’t reading other sources that these are random killings. The graphs also do not take into account that statistically Black officers are more likely to shoot Black suspects than White officers are. They also do not take into account that the police are being called into high crime areas where 7,400 Black people are murdered per year.
It is all in how the statistics are presented and spun. Again, I admit that things can always be better. Let’s just be sure we are actually making things better, not worse by misinterpreting data and ripping the fabric of our country apart with false information.