In response to a column I wrote, a police officer left a comment that criticized an assumption I made. Here is his comment (edited) and my response. The police officer starts by quoting my assumption, and then critiquing it.
Q. “There is no reliable data for race and gender, but 58 percent of prisoners are Black or Latino. I don’t see why 58 percent of the people killed by police wouldn’t be.”
That’s a very dangerous assumption. You are correct that finding reliable statistics regarding police shootings is difficult but by all indications of the CDC data, there have been anywhere from 1.5-3x as many whites killed as blacks over the past 15 years. Compare that with the overwhelmingly high arrest rates of minorities and the probability of being killed during an arrest is still significantly higher if you are white than black.
We are entering a dangerous time where the perception is that every incident involving a white cop and black man HAS to be racial much like any black killing a white cop also has to be motivated by race. How is this supposed to improve police relations with blacks or any citizens for that matter All the police officers I work with are growing increasingly disgusted by the lack of personal responsibility for those committing crimes. Police brutality is a problem, but so is blatant lack of respect for the law among today’s young adults, especially in urban areas.
A. I don’t think it’s very dangerous at all—in fact, I’d say I’m being generous. The FBI, despite a court order 20 years ago, does not track police shootings. You don’t think there’s some bias there The FBI’s racial history is not a good one: J. Edgar Hoover, the most famous and longest-tenured FBI director, notoriously went after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in many underhanded, illegal and immoral ways. Even today, if you go to the FBI’s website and look at the leadership page, the top 17 people are white—14 white men and three white women. Zero percent Black. Zero in 2015. Zero.
The CDC data have huge holes in them. For one, they only count shootings the police say were justified and they do not include nearly all states. Even so, the data show that there is clear bias against Black people.
See this interview with a USA Today reporter.
The ratio you cite seems to come from Bill O’Reilly. Citing Bill O’Reilly on racial issues is kind of like citing Ruth’s Chris on vegetarianism. Here’s an article debunking his use of the numbers.
Here’s a good article on the subject in The New York Times. The quote below refers to a study of the St. Louis Police Department:
“Their conclusions, presented last November at the American Society of Criminology’s annual meeting, were striking. Officers hit their targets in about half of the 230 incidents; in about one-sixth, suspects died. Of the 360 suspects whose race could be identified—some fled before being seen clearly—more than 90 percent were African-American.”
I’m not saying, nor does the report say, that the enormous disparity of law enforcement and imprisonment is overtly racist by every participant. I’d assume that most police officers are not racist. They are immersed, however, in a racist system.
This is why you are seeing less and less respect for the law. It’s the culmination of this preposterous “War on Drugs,” started by President Richard Nixon (a racist) 40 years ago. It has resulted in the destruction of families and of the lives of millions of Black men in particular. Drugs are more plentiful and less expensive than they were 40 years ago, yet the “war” rages on. Nobody fights a war for 40 years unless somebody’s winning. People running for-profit prisons, arms manufacturers, even police officers and prison workers are all the winners. It’s a multibillion dollar per year win. Everyone else in the country loses, a hundreds of billions of dollars per year loss. Lost productivity, lost GDP, wasted money, wasted time and effort. Destruction of our society.
Combine that with the ubiquitous nature of video that shows the bad apples in action, and I’m afraid police credibility in general is gone forever because there is no national will amongst the police leadership to change direction. You’re going down with the ship.
You’re not alone. As an entrepreneur, I pay over 50 percent of my income in taxes. “Mittens” Romney pays 17 percent. Apple (which claims it’s an Irish company) pays 2 percent. If I tried the same thing, I’d be in prison. The subprime-crisis thieves stole billions of dollars, yet nobody went to prison. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, abetted by Condoleezza Rice, concocted a rationale to invade Iraq and then went on to mismanage it so badly that we lost the war and spawned ISIS—after killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqi noncombatants. Nobody went to prison. I served over eight years on active duty and another almost two in the reserves, and I’d do it again tomorrow. But it disturbs me that I feel our government has almost no credibility either.