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Image by Milad Fakurian
  • Writer's pictureSteven Chapman

Behind the Numbers

crime scene

The shouts can become deafening. Black America shouting, “Stop killing us’, and many in conservative white America are shouting back, “The cry of injustice is hype, a hoax.”

Who is right? Is it true that blacks are not killed more often than whites? Well, the answer is “Yes and no.” It depends how you look at the data.

There is a couple of popular memes circulated among conservative media outlets that compares the number of people from different ethnic groups that have been shot and killed by police in 2014 and 2015. In both years twice as many white people were shot and killed by the police as blacks.

The cumulative date from January 1, 2015 to today validates those findings. Since January 1, 2015 the police have shot and killed 1502 people; of those 732 were white, 381 were black. These conservative meme are accurate — or are they?

Just looking at the raw data it certainly appears that whites are more frequently victims of police shootings than blacks. However, there is problem with the raw data. It doesn’t give us the real picture.

The raw data does not account for population difference between the two populations. Whites account for 62% of the US population, blacks account for 13%. In other words there are roughly 5 white people for every black person.

When you account for this difference in population, what we see is the 2/1 higher ratio of whites/blacks killed flip to where blacks are the victim at a rate 2.5 times higher than whites.

When black people are the victim of police shootings at a rate 2.5 times (note: times, not percent) higher than whites, it needs to give us reason to pause. Our hearts should be broken for what is happening in the African-American community.

Does it imply universal racism among those in law enforcement? No, that is where I believe Black Lives Matter Movement (contrast that the the little “m” movement) oversteps their diagnosis. But it does demonstrate an issue of social justice that we need to be concerned about. While the problem may not be universal, it is undoubtedly indicative that something is broken in the system.

However, to deny there is a problem is at least just as egregious as any overstatement that may come from the Black Lives Matters Movement. I hear others whites rationalize that white people don’t protest when a white person is killed. Yet, I wonder if even that claim we have declared in honor of our restraint would be tested if year after year over the coming decade we saw white deaths triple … when it is not longer enough to tell our children when pulled over by the police be respectful, and that instruction has to be replaced with “Keep you hands on the steering wheel. Don’t make any sudden moves. Don’t reach for your wallet. Have the police get your wallet.”

Solving this issue is not just a matter of fixing racial prejudice in policing. The problem goes much deeper than that. However, we will never move toward resolution as long as we continue to deny that there is a problem.

(For more information read this Washington Post story.)


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