Eugene has kindly invited me to present findings from my new book, “The War on Cops.” The book argues that the Black Lives Matter narrative about a racist criminal-justice system is false and dangerous — dangerous to innocent black lives that are being lost to rising crime and, it would increasingly appear, to law and order itself as cops become the target of assassination.
In future posts, I will discuss the most controversial aspect of “The War on Cops”: my claim that the current rise in violent crime in many American cities is the result of officers backing off of proactive policing.
Today, however, I want to address the question of police shootings and race, in light of the recent fatal police shootings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn. Those shootings have amplified the charge that the U.S. is experiencing an epidemic of racially driven police shootings. A New York Times editorial, for example, asked, “When Will the Killing Stop?” The chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), asserted on the House floor that “most” of the people fatally shot by the police this year have been African American.
In fact, as of July 9, whites were 54 percent of the 440 police shooting victims this year whose race was known, blacks were 28 percent and Hispanics were 18 percent, according to The Washington Post’s ongoing database of fatal police shootings. Those ratios are similar to last year’s tally, in which whites made up 50 percent of the 987 fatal police shootings, and blacks, 26 percent. (The vast majority of those police homicide victims were armed or otherwise threatening the officer.) But Butterfield could be forgiven his error, given the virtually exclusive media focus on black victims of police officers.
Does the actual distribution of police victims confirm the Black Lives Matter allegation that policing is lethally biased? That depends on the benchmark chosen for assessing police actions.
Typically, activists and the media measure police actions against population ratios. Given that blacks are 13 percent of the nation’s population, a 26 to 28 percent black share of police gun fatalities looks disproportionate. But policing should be measured against crime rates, not population percentages, because law enforcement today is data-driven. Officers are deployed to where people are most being victimized, and that is primarily in minority neighborhoods.
In America’s 75 largest counties, comprising most of the nation’s population, blacks constituted 62 percent of all robbery defendants in 2009, 57 percent of all murder defendants, and 45 percent of all assault defendants — but roughly 15 percent of the population in those counties. In New York, where blacks make up 23 percent of the city’s population, blacks commit three-quarters of all shootings and 70 percent of all robberies, according to victims and witnesses. (Whites, by contrast, commit less than 2 percent of all shootings in New York City and 4 percent of all robberies, though they are nearly 34 percent of the population.)
New York City’s crime disparities are repeated in virtually all American metropolises. They will determine where officers are most often called to a drive-by shooting or an armed robbery, and where officers are most likely to face violent and resisting criminals — encounters which can lead to officers’ own use of deadly force. Police critics have never answered the question of what they think non-biased policing data should look like, in light of the vast differences in rates of criminal offending. Blacks commit homicide at nearly eight times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined. Black males between the ages of 14 and 17 commit gun homicide at nearly 10 times the rate of white and Hispanic male teens combined. Should police stops, arrests and those rare police shootings nevertheless mirror population ratios, rather than crime ratios? The answer is not forthcoming from Black Lives Matter activists.
In 2015, the police fatally shot…
Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute and contributing editor at City Journal.
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