On Racial Bias in Police Shootings

[Note: This essay was significantly revised and updated on July 16, 2020]

In contemporary political discourse, there’s an awful lot written about black people being unfairly killed by police. Such writings are normally in response to a particular incident of this supposedly occurring. Of course, individual stories are merely anecdotes and in a nation with 300 million people you can come up with a new anecdote every month for something that basically never happens. You can also create a general impression of racial bias if stories about white people being killed by police are less sensationalized than stories featuring black people.

Using Proper Benchmarks

If we turn from anecdotes to data, this narrative very quickly falls apart. To begin with, the frequency with which black people are killed by police is not indicative of any anti-black bias.

People often get this wrong by noting that black people make up around 13% of the population but more than 13% of those who are killed by police. This statement is true (for instance, the CDC says that around 27% of people killed by police are black, a sociologist using data from Killedbypolice.net puts the figure at 30%, and the FBI puts it at 32%) but it is not good evidence of bias because this could, and likely would, be true even if police were shoot people of all races only when they were posing a serious physical threat to others in the presence of police officers. All that would be required for this to be true is for black people to be more likely than white people to engage in such criminal behavior.

Given that Black Americans account for 13% of the total population, 38% violent criminals, and 53% of murders, it would be surprising if this were not the case.

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FBI (2017)

The question of which numbers we should look at when deriving how often we’d expect black people to be killed by police absent any bias is known as the question of which “benchmark” to use.

The most obvious benchmark to use is violent crime rates. Cesario et al. (2018) carried out a thorough analysis of this using multiple sources for crime rates, including using estimates from victimization surveys. The paper also distinguished between everyone killed by police and those who were killed by police while unarmed and not aggressing. For the majority of estimates, white people are over-represented among such killings. In nearly all cases there was no evidence for significant anti-black bias.

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This analysis was done at the national level, but you could conduct a similar analysis at lower levels of aggregation. This was done by Mentch (2020) who conducted a county level analysis and found that black and Hispanic Americans were not over-represented among those killed by police relative to what you would expect given their local arrest rates. Another local analysis was done by Weistburst (2019) who found that black people were not over-represented among those killed by the Dallas police department relative to their arrest rates in Dallas.

Johnson et al. (2020) also conducted a county level analysis showing that minorities are less likely to by shot by police than are whites using a crime benchmark but (in the case of blacks, but not Hispanics) more likely using a population size benchmark.

Jogn

Using arrest data or violent crime rates is better than using population size as a benchmark but it is obviously imperfect as a estimate of what we really want, namely the frequency with which people engage in seriously dangerous violence in the presence of police officers.

The best benchmark we can use is to get at this is the rate at which populations shoot at police officers. Such an analysis was carried out by Shjarback et al. (2020) who found that using such a benchmark rendered the probability of a black American being shot by police roughly 40% lower than the probably of a white American being shot by police. For Hispanics, there was either no difference or evidence of an anti-Hispanic bias depending on whether the benchmark was the rate at which people killed police or the rate at which they assaulted police.

L1

Thus, the rate at which minorities are killed by police does not justify believing that police shootings are racially biased.

Four Other Types of Evidence Against Racial Bias

Aside from crime bench-marking studies, there are at least four other lines of evidence which suggest that there is no anti-black bias in police shootings.

First, there are studies put police officers into as realistic of simulations as possible, give them a fake gun, and then see if police are more likely to shoot an unarmed black than and unarmed white. Each officer goes through a large number of simulations, over a several week period, which differ in many ways and are not told that this experiment is being used to analyze racial bias. The obvious shortcoming of this research is that it doesn’t involve real world shootings. The advantage of it is that it can generate situations in which civilians of differing races are actually acting identically

James et al. (2012) carried out such an experiment and found that police were 25 times more likely to shoot an unarmed person if they were white rather than black.

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Similarly, James (2016) found that police officers took 1.09 seconds to shoot an armed and aggressive white suspect and 1.32 second to shoot a similar black suspect.

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They are found that 14% of non-aggressing white suspects were shot compared to 1% of non-aggressing black suspects.

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This simulation data is consistent with the real world data of Worall et al. (2020) who found that black suspects 33% less likely than white suspects to have a gun drawn on them by the Dallas police force.

Gun draw

Thus, comparing police shooting rates with simulation experiments and crime benchmarks imply a pro-black or anti-white bias in police shootings.

Secondly, a lack of anti-black bias is implied by research which compares the behavior of black and white police officers. For instance, Meinfeld et al. (2018) finds that black people account for 33% of those killed by non-white police officers compared to only 28% of those killed by white police officers.

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Crotty et al. (2017) find a non-linear relationship between the proportion of an area’s police that are black and the rate at which police kill black people. However, there was no evidence that police forces which were almost entirely black had significantly lower rates of police killing black people than did police forces that were almost entirely white.

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Finally, Johnson et al. (2019) analyzed data on those fatally shot by police in the year 2015. As shown in table 2, the proportion of the local police force that was black was unrelated to the probability that a person being shot by police was black or Hispanic. The chance that a person being shot by police was Hispanic was actually positively related to the proportion of the police force that was Hispanic.

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This paper has proved controversial largely because of fears over people misinterpreting the results. For instance, Knox and Mummolo (2020) worry that Johnson et al.’s analysis will be conflated with one showing that minorities are not more likely than whites to be fatally shot by police. Exactly because of this possible misinterpretation, Johnson et al. (2020) retracted the paper. This retraction should not cast doubt on how I’ve utilized the paper in this post, as I am clearly not committing the misinterpretation the authors felt some were, nor am I relying on this paper to substantiate a claim not also substantiated by several other papers.

Schimmack et al. (2020) also criticized Johnson et al. by attempting to refute the assertion that there is “no evidence of anti-Black or anti-Hispanic disparities across [fatal] shootings by police officers” via an analysis that utilized general population benchmarks to derive the rate at which we should expect different races to be killed by police. As I’ve already explained, this benchmark is obviously invalid and biased such that it shows an anti-black bias where there is none.

Anyway, a third line of evidence comes from Streeter (2019) who found that the race of someone being shot by police could not be predicted by a detailed list of 120 factors concerning the incidents. This implies that black and white civilians are shot by police under the same sorts of circumstances. This is contrary to popular narratives which would suggest that factors like “no witnesses present” or “suspect unarmed” should increase the chance that the person being shot was non-white. Moreover, Steeter’s analysis implies that black people are killed more often than white people by police only because they more often find themselves in circumstances in which police are likely to kill someone regardless of their race.

A fourth line of evidence comes from an analysis of regional variation in the rates at which blacks and whites are killed by police. Contrary to what you’d predict if racism where the cause, Black-white inequality in the rate at which people are killed by police is lowest in the South and highest in the Northeast and Midwest.

rac

Schwartz et al. (2020)

Thus, a straightforward reading of the empirical evidence does not support the idea that racial bias drives the rates at which black people are killed by police.

The Flawed Research of Cody Ross

When confronted with this sort of evidence, people asserting that police shootings are racially biased are likely to refer to the work of the anthropologist Cody Ross. In this section, I’ll review the two papers of his I see most often cited in these discussions.

First, Ross et al. (2020) noted that crime based benchmark approaches will only be perfectly valid if police only ever kill criminals and never kill innocent people. To the degree that this assumption is untrue, benchmark approaches will give misleading results.

For instance, imagine a hypothetical population of 100 people only one of which committed a serious violent crime in front of a police officer. Given this, we might expect this population to be shot by police at a rate of 1 per 100 people. And this is what we’d find even if the one member of this population who was shot wasn’t the one who committed the serious crime but, rather, was an innocent civilian killed by a cop merely for being a member of their population.

This is technically true but unlikely to be relevant. As this example makes clear, for the rate at which blacks are shot by police to correspond with crime based benchmarks, police would have to be more likely to killed innocent blacks than innocent whites but also less likely to kill black criminals than they are to kill white criminals.

Contrary to what I’ve just said, Ross et al. (2020) conducted an analysis concluding that police are not bias with respect to the criminals they kill but exhibit an anti-black bias with respect to the innocent people they kill.

To justify this conclusion they employed a methodology which is patently absurd. They counted anyone killed by police while armed as a criminal and anyone killed while unarmed as innocent.

Because whites are more likely than blacks to own a gun, such a procedure is bound to inflate the white crime rate relative to the black crime rate.

Pew (2017)

The fact that this procedure led them to conclude that there was no bias in which criminals are killed is therefore actually evidence of a pro-black bias.

Of course, the main problem with this method is that having a gun is not a crime and not having a gun does not entail innocence. If we look at the 14 black people the Washington Post Database lists as being fatally shot by police while unarmed, seven of them, or half, were killed for clearly justifiable reasons.

Name Description
Channara Pheap Five witnesses backed up the police’s story that “Pheap choked him, grabbed his Taser and used it on him during a struggle at a local apartment complex”
Ryan Twyman Video evidence shows Twyman attempting to use his car as a weapon against police.
Atatiana Jefferson Despite being coded as an “unarmed shooting”, according to her own niece Atatiana pointed a gun at the window outside of which police were located prior to being shot.
Isiah Lewis Lewis beat a police officer nearly unconscious prior to be shot.
Marcus Mcvae Police say McVae engaged in a physical altercation with officers prior to being shot.
Marzues Scott Scott was shot after assaulting a female officer and pushing her onto the ground.
Kevin Pudlik Police shot Pudlick, who had two guns in his car, after he fleed from police in his vehicle and began to drive onto the side walk narrowly dodging civilians

Anyway, as we’ve seen analyses that measure criminality using statistics on actual crime show that black people are killed by police at rates which are lower than what their crime rates would predict. Sure, it is logically possible that this is because police are 30% less likely to kill black criminals and 20% more likely to kill innocent black people. But this is not what we would predict if the police were acting in a racist fashion, or in a non-racist fashion. There is no evidence that this is true and if it were no one would know how to make sense of it.

Regardless, even if crime benchmarks don’t prove police are not bias they do show that the mere frequency with which black people are killed by police is not sufficient evidence to justify the view that the police are racially biased.

Moving on, in Ross (2015) Ross looks at county level trends in police shooting unarmed suspects. He finds that, in the median county, black people are 3.49 times more likely than white people to be killed by police while unarmed. Moreover, this result is unchanged by controlling for crime rates.

This paper has even more problems than Ross’s 2020 paper. Let’s start with his measures. First, it’s worth noting that Ross chose to count everyone who was shot by police, regardless of whether they died. So this is a study on police shootings, not police caused deaths.

To count those shot by police, Ross utilized a crowd sourced website. That is, his databases included police shootings that users of this website happened to log. There is no good reason to assume that this data will be accurate, especially at a small level of aggregation such as counties. Ross could have used government data to do this, but he didn’t because he thinks such data would be biased, a proposition for which he provided no evidence.

To measure violent crime, Ross used assault and weapon related arrest rates. This is a seemingly poor proxy since people can be arrested for weapon related incidents that don’t involve violence (e.g. having a stolen gun), and because black people are more over-represented among violent crimes like murder than they are assault. Most importantly, police are not supposed to shoot people merely for possessing a gun or, in many cases, for merely having committed an assault. This is obviously a poor benchmark relative to other data that is widely available.

Then there’s the way in which the analysis was done. Ross calculated the probability of black people, white people, and Hispanic people, getting shot by police while unarmed in each US county. He then compared these to calculate black people’s relative odds of being shot, and then looked at the median result.

This initially didn’t work because in most US counties unarmed people of any race are never shot by police and so the median relative probabilities were zero divided by zero. So, Ross threw out all the counties in which no one was killed and took the median of the remaining results.

Of course, this still did not solve the problem. Ross is dividing the probability of unarmed blacks being shot by police by the probability of unarmed whites being shot by police. Even in many counties where an unarmed black was shot, no unarmed white was, and so the denominator of the fraction will still be zero. To avoid this, Ross changes the zeros to be closer to the average figure. This process, to some extent, divorces the analysis from reality, and could have any number of unintended effects.

Taking the median also seems like a problematic procedure since this figure is not weighted by the actual number of people killed in each county. It is possible that a few counties exist in which many people were killed by police and in which there is little racial differences in the probability of being shot. Such counties could mean that, if we looked at all the data at once, the actual odds of being shot for blacks relative to whites would be very different than the median result.

Then there are the results of the study. The head line result is that black people are more likely to be shot than white people even after controlling for differences in crime rates. The most interesting aspect of this result is this: “there is no consistent relationship between the race-specific crime proxies (neither assault-related nor weapons-related arrest rates) and racial bias in police shootings”. This result is so absurd that I feel we can safely discard this analysis as being totally invalid, probably due to one or more of the problems I have already specified.

To see why this result is ridiculous, consider that shootings by police can be divided into two categories: just shootings and unjust shootings. Even if you think that police engage in the latter an awful lot of the time, and even if you think that Blacks are disproportionately the victims of it, shooting as a response to violent crime obviously occurs as well. Given this, places with more violent crime on the part of Blacks should obviously have more police killings. The only way for this to not be true is if police officers only shoot Blacks for unjust reasons and don’t shoot Blacks when they are actually engaged in dangerous violent crime. This is roughly as implausible a result as is imaginable and seriously undermines the entire analysis.

The finding that police shootings are unrelated to crime rates has also been contradicted by later research. Johnson et al. (2019) showed that the proportion of local crime committed by blacks or Hispanics strongly impacted the probability that a person shot by police in that region would be black or Hispanic. This analysis is clearly superior to Ross’s because it used a more conventional measure of violent crime, and because it counted police shootings by combining several existing databases and then directly contacting hundreds of police departments when data was missing.

The strange choices made here with respect to the way crime was measured, the way police shootings were measured, and the statistics used, all lack justification. It’s hard not to come away thinking that Ross made all these inexplicably poor choices in order to produce the results he wanted to see. Regardless, these flaws and the results of other, properly conducted, research mean that Ross’s analysis is not compelling evidence for racial bias in police shootings.

Correlating Racism and Police Shootings

Another empirical strategy employed by those attempting to show racial bias in police shootings is to try to show that local levels of racism predict local rates at which black people are shot by police. Hehman et al. (2017)  is the best example of this literature.

Herman et al. analyzed data on a massive sample of 2,156,053 Americans divided into 196 regional areas. They measured local rates of crime, income, population density, and education, as well as implicit and explicit racial bias by race. Of these variables, the only one significantly related to the degree to which black people are disproportionate killed by police was how white people scored on the implicit bias test. Even this association was barely significant (p=.031), implying that it is not very reliable.

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The scatter plot of the relationship inspires even less confidence, as it appears that the regression line is not mapping onto any real linear relationship. 12

The same paper carried out another analysis this time adding a measure of the degree to which whites in the area associated black people with guns. This subset of the implicit association test was more significant than the entire test (p=.001) and once it was controlled for the rest of the test no longer predicted the rate at which black people were shot by police.

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However, the scatter plot once again makes it hard to believe that there is any real linear association here.

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And unfortunately, the paper analyzed income, education, and bias, by race, but did not analyze crime rates by race. Because of this, we cannot rule out the possibility that areas in which there are larger racial gaps in criminal behavior cause white people to form locally accurate stereotypes and so more strongly associate black people with crime, thus producing more biased scores on tests of implicit association.

Another problem with this analysis is the very use of implicit association tests, which have questionable validity for predicting behavior. We can test whether implicit biases manifest in behavior by examining the correlation between IAT score and how people act in formal experimental tests of discrimination that measure the degree to which they treat black people differently than white people when other differences between people are equalized. Carlsson and Agerstrom (2016) have meta-analyzed this data, producing a statistically insignificant correlation of .03. In other words, IAT scores have no relation with racist behavior.

3For these reasons, studies linking local levels of racism to police violence are not convincing.

On Propaganda

Since black people are under-represented among those killed by police relative to their relevant crime rates, and they are less likely to be shot by police in simulation experiments, and police of all races are just as likely to shoot a black person, the empirical evidence really does suggest that there is no anti-black bias in police shootings. Given this, it is noteworthy that so many people believe in the left’s narrative. This fact is explained by a propaganda campaign carried out by the media. The tactics involved in this propaganda are worth spelling out.

First, the media makes it seem like unarmed black men are shot by police so frequently that it is rational for black people to live in fear of this happening to them. In fact the weather, accidentally falling down, accidentally drowning, cocaine, intraracial homicide, and HIV, are more common causes of death for African Americans than is being killed by a cop while unarmed.

Cause of Death Deaths Per Year
Police (while unarmed) 48
The Weather 187
Homicide (white offender) 243
Police 278
Accidental drowning 591
Falling 1,525
Homicide (Black offender) 2,570
HIV 2,965
Alcohol 3,022
Cocaine 3,077
Car accident 4,511
Opiods 4,943
Diabetes 14,798

Yet no one thinks African Americans should fear these things to the degree that they are encouraged to fear police. These shootings are very rare and even if they were due to bias it would be absurd for them to receive the amount of attention that they do.

Ignoring White Victims

Of course, these things don’t only happen to black people, and another consistent pattern in media propaganda is the ignoring of whites who are the victims of crime or shot by police.

The fact is that more whites than blacks are shot by police each year. It’s true that black people are over-represented among such shootings relative to their population size, but if media coverage reflected this over-representation accurately the majority of big profile stories still would not be about blacks.

And this lack of coverage isn’t for lack of stories. For instance, the media coverage of the Mike Brown shooting might have been matched by the police shooting of Daniel Shaver, an unarmed white man killed, on video, by police because he moved his hands towards his waistband after begging the police not to kill him.

Similarly, the case of Philando Castile could have been matched with that of Justice Diamond. In 2016, Diamond, a white woman, called the police to report that she heard a female nearby screaming and thought she might be in trouble. When Diamond came outside to talk to the officers she had called, she “startled” police officer Mohamed Noor, a black male, and so he fatally shot her as she approached the vehicle.

But in reality nearly all big profile stories about police shootings are about black men being shot by police. Whites shot by police are relatively ignored. So are the whites who are killed by black citizens.

In total, police kill around 215 black people per year. This includes black people who were attacking police officers. By contrast, between 1976 and 2005, on average each year there were 981 black-on-white murders and 375 white-on-black murders.

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BJS (P. 68)

These numbers imply that for every ten black people that are killed by police, there are 45 white people killed by black people. These murders almost never turn into national stories.

It’s worth noting that this same pattern in evidence in how we are taught history. Roughly 3,500 blacks were lynched in the United States between 1882 and 1968. That’s a rate of 40 per year. Obviously, 40 lynchings per year is 40 too many. But a rate of 40 lynchings per year suggests that for each black person lynched something like 10 – 25 whites were murdered by black citizens, and it is not at all obvious why a black person being lynched is worse than 10 – 25 white people being murdered. Yet that is the value judgement implicit in how we are taught to think about American history.

The systematic ignoring of white victims has given people a false impression about who is and who is not killed both by police and by their fellow citizens both in the present and in the past.

Assuming Racial Motives

Another tendency of this propaganda is to assume racial motives when there is literally no evidence that such a motive exists. When stories of police officers mistreating blacks go viral it is often assumed that the police are mistreating these people because they are black. There is almost never any evidence at all that this is true.

Since police mistreat people of all races, the more parsimonious explanation for police mistreating black people is that there is a general motivation which can account for police mistreating both blacks and whites, and we should not assume otherwise unless we have good reason to do so. This is all obvious, but never adhered to.

Deceptive Editing

False impressions are also instilled in viewers when the media alters evidence to make it fit the establishment narrative.

For instance, in 1992, the public were repeatedly shown the last few minutes of the video of the Rodney King beating. King had been driving while intoxicated and attempted to outrun the police when they tried to pull him over. Once pulled over, King repeatedly resisted arrest, physically removing from himself the officers that were trying to subdue him. It was only after a prolonged period of several attempts to subdue him that the police beat him so that he would stop getting back up and it is only this action that is shown in the viral clip that spawned the LA riots.

Even more deception occurred involving the killing of Trayvon Martin. This famous shooting occurred in 2012. George Zimmerman was on the lookout for people who had been committing crimes in his neighborhood and so followed Trayvon Martin, a 17 year old black male, as he traveled through the area. Zimmerman called the police and shortly after the phone call ended a fight broke out between Zimmerman and Martin. The fight ended when Zimmerman shot Martin, ending Martin’s life. Zimmerman claims that Trayvon assaulted him and that he shot him because he feared for his life once he was forced onto the ground and Martin was bashing his head in.

Following this incident, the media engaged in a smear campaign against Zimmerman which was so dishonest it’s almost comical. When Zimmerman’s phone call to police was released, CNN falsely accused Zimmerman of calling Martin a “coon”, something which CNN later admitted he did not do. Even more ridiculously, NBC released an edited version of the call in which Zimmerman appears to start talking about Trayvon’s race unprompted when in reality the police had asked for his race and NBC simply removed this portion of the audio. And ABC News initially lied about the video of Zimmerman after the incident, claiming that there were no visible injuries on his head, an assertion they later retracted.

These are two examples of a more general pattern: the news systematically lies to people about these incidents in an effort to make black people appear as victims and white people appear as evil wrong doers.

Bearing False Witness

Yet another common feature of this propaganda concerns the tendency of people to lie about police shootings they witness.

Much of the controversy surrounding Taryvon Martin’s death stemmed from people who lived near by, and a friend who Trayvon was on the phone with, initially claiming that Trayvon did not start the fight. All these people later admitted that they didn’t actually witness the incident and so could not possibly know who started the altercation.

We saw the same thing with the Mike Brown case, where several witnesses later admitting to simply making things up.

Assuming Black People Can’t Fight

Another consistent feature of this propaganda is to pretend that black men don’t know how to fight. This is the implicit assumption when leftists argue that shooting a black male cannot be justified unless that black male also has a weapon. This is obviously stupid, but it comes up enough to be worth mentioning.

Pretending That Crime is Unrelated to Character (and Past Crime)

The left also has a tendency to pretend that facts about the people involved in an altercation with police have no bearing on the probability that the relevant person started the altercation. This is obviously wrong because different sorts of people differ in the probability that they would commit different sorts of crime. Generally violent and criminal people are more likely to attack police officers than are peaceful law abiding people and so such information is relevant to determining how probable it is that someone attacked a police officer given any set of evidence. The left pretends to not understand this but, at the same time, they often seek to make every black male who is shot by police appear to be an upstanding citizen who was about to get their life together and who is best represented by a picture of them when they were small children.

The Consequences of Propaganda

This propaganda matters for many reasons, one of which is that it inspires anti-white violence and racism among blacks. Since the civil rights era, there have been over 20 violent race riots in the United States inspired by establishment narratives of black victim hood. In these riots, hundreds have died and thousands have been injured.

Incident Year Deaths Injured
Rochester Race Riot 1964 4 350
Phildelphia Race Riot 1964 0 341
Harlem Race Riot 1964 1 118
Watts Race Riot 1965 34 1032
Hough Riots 1966 4 50
Division Street Riots 1966 0 16
Hunter Point Social Uprising 1966 1 51
67 Summer Riots (159 cities) 1967 85 2100
MLK Riots (100+ cities) 1968 40 2500
Miami Riot 1968 3 29
York Race Riot 1969 2 80
Augusta Race Riot 1970 6 80
Miami Riot 1980 18 350
Crown Heights Riot 1991 2 190
LA Riots 1992 63 2383
St. Petersburg Riot 1996 0 11
Ferguson Riots (Mike Brown) 2014 1 16
St. Paul (Philando Castile) 2016 0 21
Milwaukee riots 2016 1 10
The George Floyd Riots 2020 28
Total 293 9,728

Setting group action like riots aside, narratives of black victim-hood have also inspired lone murders. Considering just the years 2016 – 2017,  In 2016 Micah Xavier murdered 5 Dallas police officers and injured 11 others in protest of police shootings of black men. He was explicit about his racial motive, stating that he was looking to kill white people. That same year, Gavin Long murdered three Baton Rouge police officers and injured three others, also in protest of the supposed racism of police. The next year, Emanuel Samson opened fire on a white church in Antioch, TN, killing one person and injuring 7 others. This was done in retaliation for the 2015 Charleston church shooting. Also in 2017, Kori Muhammad killed four whites in Fresno, CA, after being inspired by the shooting of Dallas police officers, and his general black supremacist ideology.

The names of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, and Rodney King, are all well known. Yet nearly no one knows the names of any of the hundreds of people killed in the name of the establishment’s racial narrative. One set of victims is made famous while another is not, and that tells us something about the biases of our society.

Today, most black people support Black Lives Matter, a movement associated with several deadly race riots and several anti-white mass murders.

Pew (2016)

To state the obvious, whites who support movements centered on white interests, and addressing perceived injustices committed against white people, are considered racists even when those movements are not associated with as large of a death count as is Black Lives Matter.

Back in 1992, 92% of black people thought that the police in the Rodney King case should have been found guilty, and 1 in 4 blacks said yes when asked if the violence of the LA riots was justified. Perhaps surprisingly, 73% of whites also favored a guilty verdict, and one in five whites also thought the LA riots were justified (Gallup, 2016). Recall that the LA riots involved dozens of people being murdered. It is disturbing to think that as many as one in four blacks, and one in five whites, thought that this was justified.

Black Americans also have an astounding propensity to deny the obvious guilt of black criminals. It wasn’t until the 2010s that most Black Americans came to admit that OJ Simpson was guilty of murdering his wife, a conclusion as obvious as any could be.

bialik-oj-1

Bialik (2016)

Most Blacks also wanted George Zimmerman to be found guilty in the Tayvon Martin case despite there being literally no evidence suggesting that he was guilty.

7-22-2013 1

Pew (2013)

The same was true in the case of Mike Brown, an incident even more obvious than Martin’s. Eric Gardner’s case was less clear, and this is reflected by the fact that most white Americans did not think that it was right that the policeman who killed Garner was found not-guilty.

Huge Racial Disparity in Views of Ferguson Ruling, More Agreement in Views of Garner Decision; Blacks More Likely to Say Race was Factor in Both Cases

Pew (2014)

More generally,  meta-analyses of the degree to which people exhibit an in-group bias when deciding if a suspect is guilty find that whites have nearly no bias in such decisions while the black people exhibit an in-group bias that is 15 times larger than the minuscule bias seen among whites.

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Mitchell et al. (2005)

Conclusion

In conclusion, the relevant empirical evidence does not justify the view that there is an anti-black bias in police shootings.

Concerning the consequences of the narrative the left has spread, it is unlikely that in-group bias among blacks is entirely explained by the narratives pushed by the left, but it also seems unlikely that such narratives don’t inflate black people’s pre-existing biases. This narrative has also inflamed anti-white biases among white liberals. Ultimately, all of this serves to make peaceful coexistence between white and black people more difficult.

41 thoughts on “On Racial Bias in Police Shootings

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  7. Nice analysis, thanks ! Having these data are a good starting point for a discussion and I wanted to react on a few things:

    – It is very good that you point out the difference in media coverage between black/white ppl being shot by the police. Also you remind that skin color of the police officer is at the very least not a factor in shooting black ppl, and that there is also a huge amount of white ppl being killed by the police.

    – However : you seems to make it a matter of “ppl being killed because they were black” (which is indeed a bullshit narrative in some media). It seems to me that there are in fact two potential subjects : “police officers pulling the trigger too easily” and “being more suspicious/less forgiving about black ppl – hence pulling the trigger even more often”. Ofc we can’t exclude that some lunatic cops just enjoy killing ppl/black men but as you point it out it would be really hard to demonstrate if true.

    – If the discussion is not about free racial crimes anymore, some (including me) would argue that being a black/white officer doesn’t matter. As you point it out, being suspicious of black people in an area where they over-represent criminals would be a human thing to do. But it would apply to both black/white officers, and would technically still count as a bias (Detrimental to the public order and reinforcing a feeling of oppression, because often you are suspicious about ppl minding their own buisness ? On the other hand maybe you arrest more criminals ?).

    – It is obviously inaccurate to say “23% of ppl shot by the police, hence there is a bias”. But in this regard, dividing into the 3 kind of events :

    1) shot while holding an object
    2) shot while reaching for an object
    3) shot while unarmed

    As a rough estimate, and I guess that it is hard to do better with any official data at hand, it seems logical to link 1) with data on racial homicide and violent crime rates. I have a harder time for 2) and 3). As you said, ppl reaching for an object can also get shot for no reason. I have in mind this video where a guy in a car won’t show his paper to a police officer holding a gun because he is too afraid to give him an excuse. So I wouldn’t take 2) in any analysis, maybe it would give a better insight to cops who know the subject better than me.

    – For 3), I would argue (same as your leftist friends) that there are very very few cases where it is justified to shot an urnamed person (black man or not). Knife vs gun odds depends on the distance between the 2 persons so any object is ok for me. One of these reasons would be against multiple opponents, and data on this kind of situations would be interesting.

    – Given these remarks, at a first approximation I would keep the raw data of unarmed black ppl vs unarmed subtotal to check for a bias. The racial homicide/violent crime rates wouldn’t matter too much for me. Ofc, in this case every unarmed ppl being killed is an awfully unjust situation. But to me, if it is superior to the average black population that could indicate a bias against black ppl for some reason. Ofc, this is still a gross estimate and you would have to analyze each case one by one.

    – What about white ppl being killed more often in simulations or while holding an object despite being less represented in criminal activities ? It may indicate that officers are less forgiving of white ppl holding an object. But I consider 1) and 2) as more complicated cases than 3) (type of crime ? Suspect resist ? Etc…) and I would presume we need more details.

    – All in all as you said officers rarely pull the trigger, but if complete inoccents get killed it is still too much. It is also understandable to “shoot first” when every citizen is a potential gun owner, and I presume there are also a loooot of stories of officers getting killed for being to cold on that trigger. I would see this as being the main problem, however police violence being potentially oriented to a specific minority is a subject in many countries. Rarely in a such tragic way though.

    – Also, 40 explicitely racist black ppl execution/y is not at all the same as 20 “casual” white ppl murder/y.

    Otherwise good data, thank you

    Cheers

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    • In 2019, 9 unarmed black people were killed by guns by the police and 19 unarmed white people were killed by guns by the police:
      https://web.archive.org/web/20200602081315/https://twitter.com/ElliotKaufman6/status/1267486427723567104?s=19
      These figures contradict the idea that there is an epidemic of unarmed blacks killed by the police.
      Please note, these figures do not take into account people killed by means other than firearms (except that the vast majority of people killed by the police are killed by firearms. So even if we add people killed by other means, the numbers will not increase much).
      The second thing to remember is not because the person was unarmed that the shooting is unjustified.
      The Ferguson case is a good example: it was proven that the shooting was justified even if the black was unarmed (the black tried to seize the cop’s weapon, we found these fingerprints on the gun) .
      Conversely, there could be cases where killing an armed person would not be justified (although it must be admitted that in general, this is justified).

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  13. On the greater tendency of black police officers to shoot black suspect:

    1. Wouldn’t this imply less ingroup bias?
    2. Could it be a consequence of black officers being more likely to patrol in higher crime black areas than white officers?

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  21. I think you need to go back and learn what “in-group bias” is, because that means that Black people have more negative views of their own racial group and White people have less negative views of their own racial group. That’s literally the result of internalized racism and shows that there’s more bias against Black people than White people.

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    • If that’s true how come white studies is basically about bashing white 24/7 is beliefs in self-hating thier so believed inborn white privilege or in teaching whites to assume responsibility for suffering they have nothing to do with in reality? }
      Blacks haven’t anywhere close to the amount of imposed internalized self-hate that whites have. You’re literally saying blacks who’re taught through incentives like “BlackPride” to adore themselves internally. Tell me, what happens if a white tries to ask for the same right to self-love? Go on. Which one of these two groups now seems like it hase more internalized hate?

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  27. Have seen the clip where a policeman telling a white motorist that THEY ONLY KILL BLACKS?

    All these stats are cooked up. Go and be real.

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    • “They Kill Only Blacks”
      “All these stats are cooked up”

      Child, go back to school.
      It’s clear you skipped out on History an English classes.

      Like

  28. Why does much of the experimental research on “police decisions to shoot” sample undergraduate students, not police, and use space-bar tasks, not shooting simulators? How did any of that work get published as legitimate examination of police decisions?
    why as soon as we make a study in a realistic way using real police officers and a shooting simulator, the anti black bias disappears ??
    This is something we find quite a bit in the scientific literature on racism. Poor studies done under unrealistic conditions find an anti-black bias. But as soon as we make realistic studies of better quality, the anti black bias disappears

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