Black People Do Not Suffer Disproportionately From Police Brutality
By James D. Agresti
July 15, 2020
A recent New York Times article by Jeremy W. Peters claims it is a “fact” “that black people suffer disproportionately from police brutality.” He also asserts that President Trump’s rejection of this accusation is “racially inflammatory” and “racially divisive.” To the contrary, comprehensive facts show that this allegation against police is false. Furthermore, this deception has stoked racial divides and driven people to despise and even murder police officers.
In an interview with CBS News that is slated to air in full tonight, reporter Catherine Herridge asked Trump, “Why are African-Americans still dying at the hands of law enforcement in this country?” He responded that this is a “terrible question” and that “more white people” are killed by police than black people.
CBS News, the New York Times, and many other media outlets are criticizing Trump’s response because blacks are a much smaller portion of the U.S. population than whites. Thus, the odds of being killed by police are higher for each black person than each white person. This frequent argument is highly misleading because it omits facts that are vital to this issue. As detailed in a 2018 paper in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science:
- “The most common means of testing for racial disparity in police use of deadly force is to compare the odds of being fatally shot for blacks to the odds of being fatally shot for whites.”
- That logic is flawed because it relies upon the false assumption that white and black people commit life-threatening crimes at the same rates.
- The rational way to analyze this issue is to compare the odds of being fatally shot to each race’s “involvement in those situations where the police may be more likely to use deadly force.”
- Based on four different national datasets on “murder/nonnegligent manslaughter, violent crime, and weapons violations,” “in nearly every case, whites were either more likely to be fatally shot by police or police showed no significant disparity in either direction.”
The facts about murder and police killings underscore this reality. Black people represent about 13% of the U.S. population, at least 53% of murder offenders, and roughly 33% of people killed by police.
The Supreme Court’s 1985 ruling in Tennessee v. Garner forbids police from using lethal force except in situations where there is a genuine risk of “death or serious physical injury.” In 2015, the Washington Post found that over the prior decade an average of about five police officers per year were indicted for violating this standard, and only one per year was convicted.
Likewise, a study conducted by the left-leaning Center for Policing Equity reveals that police are 42% less likely to use lethal force when arresting black people than when arresting whites. Yet, the authors of this study buried that data on the 20th page of a 29-page report and wrote an overview that gives the opposing impression.
Taken together, the facts above disprove the claim that “black people suffer disproportionately from police brutality.” Yet, media outlets routinely ignore these facts or report them in isolation so that their implications are obscured. Meanwhile, they widely spread the counterfactual message that has inspired racial strife, hatred of the police, and slayings of officers. For example:
- Before Ismaaiyl Brinsley murdered New York City policemen Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu in 2014, he posted on Instagram: “I’m Putting Wings On Pigs Today. They Take 1 Of Ours….. Let’s Take 2 of Theirs #ShootThePolice, #RIPErivGardner and # This may be my final post.”
- During a 2016 Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas, TX in which the crowd chanted “Hands up, don’t shoot,” Micah Johnson killed five police officers. During standoff negotiations, he said he wanted to kill white people, especially white officers. All of the policemen he murdered were white.
- Ten days later, Gavin Eugene Long shot six Baton Rouge, Louisiana police officers, killing three of them. His suicide note stated: “I must bring the same destruction that bad cops continue to inflict upon my people,” meaning people of color.
Beyond this, the Times and other media outlets that propagate those racially provocative falsehoods are accusing people who challenge them of stirring racial hostilities.
There are more than 800,000 sworn law enforcement officers in the U.S., and they commit roughly one murder per year. This amounts to an annual murder rate of 0.13 per 100,000—or about 38 times lower than the general U.S. murder rate of 5.0 per 100,000. Police are vetted for criminality, and thus, they should be much less likely to commit murder than the average person. However, police are also faced with life-threatening situations more often than the general public, and this opens doors for violent tendencies to emerge.
Regardless, it is irrational to accuse police or any other group of people of brutality or systemic racism based on the actions of an infinitesimal portion of them. Yet, the media and activists repeatedly do this, even though it is a hallmark tactic of racists and demagogues.
I would like to send you some studies that appear to provide evidence that appears to substantiate significant disparities in the use of force against African Americans. If you would kindly provide me an email I can use I would happy to send these to you for your comment. I would send you the actual studies, not the citations or mere references (with 1 exception.).
1. A Multi-Level Bayesian Analysis of Racial Bias
in Police Shootings at the County-Level in
the United States, 2011–2014
2. An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force,
Roland G. Fryer, Jr.†
3. Is There Evidence of Racial Disparity in Police Use of Deadly Force? Analyses of
Officer-Involved Fatal Shootings in 2015–2016
Joseph Cesario, David J. Johnson, William Terrill (abstract only)
4. Officer characteristics and racial disparities in fatal
David J. Johnsona,b,1, Trevor Tressb, Nicole Burkelb, Carley Taylorb, and Joseph Cesariob (Heather MacDonald used this study as (among others?) for her editorial in the WSJ.
5. Correction for “Officer characteristics and racial disparities in
fatal officer-involved shootings,” by David J. Johnson, Trevor
Tress, Nicole Burkel, Carley Taylor, and Joseph Cesario, which
was first published July 22, 2019; 10.1073/pnas.1903856116 (Proc.
Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 116, 15877–15882).
6. Police, Race, and the Production of Capital Homicides
Thank you for your considerations. I am very appreciative of the very fine work JustFacts does to bring a balanced and factual presentation of the evidences and arguments to the issues of our day.
Thank you for your kind words. Below are the key facts on these six studies. As you’ll see, they are either fatally flawed, inconclusive, or actually find that police are not more likely to use lethal force against minorities:
1) A Multi-Level Bayesian Analysis of Racial Bias in Police Shootings at the County-Level in the United States, 2011–2014
This study uses an incomplete, crowd-sourced dataset that records 16 cases of civilians being shot by police in Houston, TX and surrounding areas from 2011 to 2014. During this period, at least 177 such shootings occurred in Houston alone. In other words, the study’s data is so fragmentary that it is useless.
2) An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force
This study found that “on the most extreme use of force – officer-involved shootings – we are unable to detect any racial differences in either the raw data or when accounting for controls.” The author, Harvard professor Roland G. Fryer Jr., called this “the most surprising result of my career.”
On the other hand, the study did find that “blacks and Hispanics are more than 50 percent more likely to experience some form of force in interactions with police,” but this drops to 21.3% when controlling for factors like resisting arrest. Fryer theorizes there is a racial reason for this, but the remaining difference could be due to factors that the study did not control for, or it may be because police are more likely to forcibly restrain people in high-crime neighborhoods to prevent situations that require lethal force, regardless of race.
The paper is also marred and its credibility is undermined by this misleading claim: “The raw memories of these [racial] injustices have been resurrected by several high-profile incidents of questionable uses of force. Michael Brown, unarmed, was shot 12 times by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, after Brown fit the description of a robbery suspect of a nearby store.” Before the working draft of this paper was published in 2016, the Obama Justice Department proved in 2015 that the officer shot Brown in self-defense. On 9/12/16, I personally wrote to Fryer with documentation of that fact, and yet, he still submitted this paper for final publication with this falsehood in it.
3) Is There Evidence of Racial Disparity in Police Use of Deadly Force? Analyses of Officer-Involved Fatal Shootings in 2015–2016
This is the exact same study that I quote in the article above. Again, it found that “in nearly every case, whites were either more likely to be fatally shot by police or police showed no significant disparity in either direction.”
4) Officer Characteristics and Racial Disparities in Fatal Officer-Involved Shootings
In the words of the study’s authors, this study found that “once crime rates were taken into account, civilians fatally shot by the police were not more likely to be black or Hispanic than white.” Furthermore, it showed that “white officers are not more likely to fatally shoot minority civilians compared to black or Hispanic officers.”
5) Correction for “Officer Characteristics and Racial Disparities in Fatal Officer-Involved Shootings”
This is merely a technical clarification of the study just above that changes none of its results.
6) Police, Race, and the Production of Capital Homicides
This study mentions earlier research about racial disparities in the death penalty, but the facts are that relative to the rates at which people of different races commit murder in the U.S., black people are less likely to be sentenced to death and executed than white people.
The study correctly points out that murders are less likely to be solved in minority neighborhoods and posits racial causes for this, but it also recognizes that this may be due to factors such as these:
• Minorities are more likely to be involved in murdering strangers than whites, and such murders are more difficult to solve.
• Police resources are stretched in minority neighborhoods due to high crime rates.
• Minorities are less likely to cooperate with murder investigations due to fear of reprisal and hostility towards police.
Thank you very much Mr. Agresti for taking the time to thoughtfully and specifically address some of the factors which were either inaccurate or misleading in the studies I submitted. I am not trained professionally to evaluate the technical challenges which such studies present. Nonetheless, studies like these (and much more) are being used as evidence to substantiate allegations of “systemic racism.” What case might be made for the notion of systemic racism, for and against? Has JustFacts done a comprehensive review of this particular aspect of racial prejudice? Would the work of Shelby Steele be credible in this regard? Again, I wish to sincerely thank you and your team for being such an important and reasoned resource for folks like myself, who try to resist being superficial about vital but complex issues.
Thank you both for having a polite and measured discussion. It is nice (and sadly, exceedingly rare) to see civil discourse and a legitimate back and forth discussion in the Comments section anymore. There may be hope for us yet!
I agree. The news has become the newspaper of today. The only problem with that is there is no comic strips or crossword puzzles to fall back on! cancelled a 25 year newspaper subscription 2 years ago & do not watch any TV news except for the weather. You cannot rely on a unbiased point of view from any network anymore, some are just closer to the bottom of the barrel in the thicker sludge!
I’m still waiting for one piece of factual evidence showing the Minneapolis Police Officers involved in the George Floyd homicide were racially motivated. Were their actions out of line? From what I’ve seen so far, absolutely! Racially motivated? Show me… The mainstream media is responsible for this racial dumpster fire.
Indeed, it is a National Forest fire!
i want to know why isnt the body cam being made available to public just by appointment. why did george floyd family have so much money for being oppressed. last thing why isnt blm made a terrorist group knowing that they are marxist and anarchist destroying the country i love as much as i love my kids maybe its time americans start coming together to combat whats happening in our country and to our history. thanks
It was 100% union fault. With the main officer having more than a dozen infractions already on his record, there is no way he should ever have been allowed to keep his job, but the union made/makes it so he can’t be fired without major repercussions for the city. And this opinion is from a union leader for over 20 years.
The first indicator that a Democrat is lying is when one speaks. The second indicator is when one uses the word “fact.”
Such a necessary read. I wish Just Facts was everyone’s main news source.
I’m still reading everything Just Facts; thank you for all of your thoughtful attention to these issues.
White people suffer disproportionally from black brutality. It’s a fact borne out by crime statistics.
I’ve always found brutish cops to be equal opportunity.
Unfortunately, we are in a post fact world. So while it is nice to see the actual facts. The major media and about 1/3 of America to include most of that 13% population don’t care. I’ve even been told that the FBI UCR is fake data.
As a 12 year old boy laying semi-comatose & partially paralyzed in a hospital bed after being hit by a car, unable to speak or move, I experienced for the first time in my life the trauma of true racial bitterness & hatred. Admitted in the bed next to me for several days during my 2 month stay was a young black boy, probably about my age; who I could not see but whose voice I could hear. Every day, Every night. For Several days. When no one else was in the room. That boy would verbally torture me. Mock me, Ridicule me. Tease me. Make fun of me. And all I could do was — cry. When people came in the room, of course, he wouldn’t say a word… And he knew, I couldn’t. He terrified me. He tortured me. And he took great pleasure in it. It was horrible.
Then, one day — just as suddenly & unexpectedly as he’d come — he was discharged, But the trauma of my injuries had been multiplied 10 fold, by the time he’d spent in that adjacent bed. And I never spoke to anyone about that experience; indeed it was several months before I could talk at all. I’d never done anything that black child; or to any other black person. I didn’t hate black people. I didn’t discriminate. But I certainly experienced first hand, the bitter pain of racism directed toward & against me.
Maybe I’ll sue for reparations!
Is it possible or does any of these studies above show the number of police shootings of whites by black police that was determine to be racially motivated. Resulting in black officer losing his/her job and or was legally held accountable. We know one thing for surely it’s not being reported. Hoping for fair and balance reporting from someone.
I am concern that some much racial attention will result in surge of white supremacy membership, not a good !thing!!!
Racism is not a simple “black and white” matter. See http://www.insectman.us/misc/racial-reality.htm
Kudos to you all: I thought this was an interesting site. Just Facts. Never thinking I’d hear myself say this or write this, but never the less, “I believe truth and facts even in the light of so called empirical evidence are hard to capture”. As a person with a pre-law and sociology degrees I have chased and researched peer reviewed data and studies. I have caught more than a few being misleading and inaccurate and not even focused on the very data it used as a reference. Looking @ the studies you referenced I see that some flaws have been noted in earlier post. I would like to say that county data and city data in especially large metropolitan areas within the same county differ greatly. In other words taking county data may not capture an accurate picture because of the change of demographics in the county suburbs or outlying rural areas. There are many cases in which reports by police were not even filed in other words,it was not publicly known there was a police shooting until a suit was filed or an internal investigation or audit turns up a hospital bill charged to the police department. Police offices do not keep the best records. If you are a law student or English major or information management person, or statistician I challenge you to look into what I’m writing. Most police officers in my experience do not write well or truthfully and many jurisdictions keep poor inaccurate records. Policing is difficult and powered by flawed ideologies. This never comes to light until there is scrutiny from media, outside agencies, or federal investigations. There is no way in my opinion that a large majority of them can present their records to have empirical data extracted from them for accurate clinical observations. Also there is no way that modern media is creating the historical documents about the US checkered past. However media is polarizing, politicizing, and promoting conflict instead of solutions and needlessly hyping differences in skin tones. To those of us with personal experience of being black in the American experience; especially those 60 plus years of age know America has sown some bitter seeds. Those seeds, will produce backlash and social unrest not only here, but abroad. That time is here now. Many of us can truly say that truth, real history and facts are omitted in many of our textbooks. Many people of many different skin tones don’t really know the biased history of the US not only against ( Blacks, but Native Americans these 2 the worse in my opinion: took their lands gave them casinos, alcohol, gambling and vice) also , Irish, Catholics, Jews, Middle Easterners, Eastern Europeans Asians, Women, etc…. all have felt the brunt of bias and racism in varying degrees in “The Land of the Free and Home of the Brave”. Mankind is in conflict with himself over skin color, gender, national origin and every other difference we say we don’t discriminate against. There are too many variables out there for any man or group of men to capture ” just the facts” Humans in general are myopic, hateful narrow minded and biased”. Anytime color or race is introduced into a situation or dynamic: more friction is created and the situation morphs . Human nature is horribly flawed and usually does not deal with just facts. We just can’t humanly capture all the extenuating circumstances and data. Many will misconstrue also data if it does it align with their goals, preconceptions or politics. The problem is in the heart of mankind. IT TOOK ME YEARS TO LEARN THIS. 200 plus year old nation (US) racial problem generation after generation- root cause ? Do the research, then follow the money and see who has control. If things are going great no need for a protest or argument right ?
” Most police officers in my experience do not write well or truthfully and many jurisdictions keep poor inaccurate records.”
And exactly what is your “experience” based on to make this claim?
In my 50+ years of experience in law enforcement, I have found the opposite to be true. Most police reports are clean and factual with little opinion or bias. Officers are trained to write this way.
Over the past decades, most agencies have selected or required officers to have higher education. As far as accuracy goes…. for any one incident, there are usually multiple reports. These multiple reports provide credibility and nuance to any incident and form the basis of any successful prosecution after being rigorously challenged. Few other public “records” made face this level of scrutiny. If only the media had a standard this good.