Fear now daily grips the hearts of Americans. Why? Almost every day we see video footage of a police shooting that far too often involves a white policeman shooting a fleeing African-American man. Any shooting of ANY person by a member of law enforcement is sad and meets with great regrets. However, just as regrettable are the instances of such shootings quickly being weaponized by those who wish solely to stoke the cries of “Racism” that are ripping us apart as a nation.
“The shootings have to stop! They better stop, or else!” Cries like this from those in communities of color are far too frequent and way too loud. Subsequently, anti-police rhetoric is spreading across the country faster than has the coronavirus because disinformation about racist police shootings fuels its transmission.
The horrific murder of George Floyd ignited protests across the country, and despite the involved officers being charged, and one of them already tried and found guilty, most Americans agree racism and police brutality are wrong, public outrage soon expanded to condemn all police.
The shootings of Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and Rayshard Brooks have become symbols of racist police killings, regardless of the facts. The false narrative surrounding police shootings have caused law enforcement officers to be demonized, assaulted, and murdered.
The data is clear: There is no epidemic of racist police officers shooting and killing black Americans.
While every life is valuable, the number of blacks unjustifiably shot and killed by police is microscopic. Numerous scientific studies have proven that when behavioral, demographic, and other contextual factors are controlled, the racial disparity in police shootings disappears.
Despite these facts, politicians, activists, and the media continue to misrepresent the facts.
Reality: What’s that all about?
It’s rare for police to kill anyone. A black man is more likely to be killed by lightning than by a police officer. In 2019, police shot and killed 1,003 people in the U.S., according to the Washington Post’s Fatal Force database. Of those, 250 were black and 405 white. Police shot and killed 55 unarmed suspects, including 25 whites and 14 blacks.
Shooting an unarmed suspect can be justified if a suspect makes a furtive movement, attacks an officer, or tries to take the officer’s firearm. Of the 14 incidents of unarmed black men shot and killed by police in 2019, several involved high-speed car chases, fights with officers or had weapons recovered at the scene. Every shooting needs to be evaluated on its own merits, and only one of the involved officers has been charged with murder, but for this analysis, assume all involved excessive use of force.
According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR), there were 686,665 sworn police officers in the United States in 2018. That’s one unarmed black male shot and killed for every 49,047 sworn police officers.
In 2018, police made 10,310,960 arrests, according to the FBI, and the race was known for 5.6 million offenders. Of them, 1,548,690 (27.4%) were black. There were 229 black males shot and killed by police that year, according to the Washington Post, for a ratio of one out of every 6,762 black offenders. The ratio of unarmed black men shot and killed (23) in 2018 was one out of 67,334 black men arrested.
In 2015, about 53.5 million people had at least one contact with police, and 95% of those contacts involved traffic stops, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). According to a BJS special report, 91% of whites and 85% of blacks contacted by police during traffic stops said police behaved properly. Of citizens contacted during street stops, 81% said police acted properly. Only 2% of all citizens contacted by police experienced force or the threat of force.
If The Numbers Don’t Show It, Why Do We Continue To Hear It?
It’s true the relative percentage of blacks killed is higher than with whites, but the press does not cover the shooting of whites to the same extent, probably because it contradicts the narrative of racist police. Shootings later determined to be justified are still trumpeted as proof of racism — as with the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO.
It seems there is a weaponized narrative that is played for the American people but seldom played in the context in which tragic police shootings happen. And such shootings happen far too often regardless of the race of the shooter or the person shot. Unfortunately, those who weaponize skin color in police shootings seldom mention police shootings — though each and everyone is horrendous — in which no person of color is who gets shot.
In Burnsville, MN, police got a report that a man, 30-year-old Bradley Olsen, had been involved in a carjacking. They pursued the vehicle Olsen was driving, he fired at them, and they returned fire, hitting and killing him.
In Fort Worth on the same day, police also responded to reports of a man trying to steal cars. The armed man fled on foot, and an officer told him to drop his weapon. As the officer pursued, 31-year-old Ryan Williams pointed his gun at the cop and fired a shot. The officer returned fire and killed him.
The difference between these two incidents was that Bradley Olsen was white, and Ryan Williams was black. Otherwise, the cases are largely indistinguishable — how they started, how they played out, and, emphatically, how they ended.
This is the overall sense that one gets from the Washington Post’s famous database of police-involved shootings. Reading through it, there is no stark racial difference that jumps out, rather a dreary sameness. The fact patterns that get people shot by the cops, whether they are white, black, or Hispanic, are largely the same.
There are the most extreme cases when suspects engage in gun battles with cops. But pointing a gun, including a fake gun, at an officer also is likely to end badly. So is approaching a cop with a knife or even a metal pipe and refusing, despite repeated orders, to put it down. Resisting arrest is a common theme and, quite often, the people killed by the police were obviously mentally disturbed.
The Washington Post database suggests we have a violence problem in America and certainly a mental-health problem, but not — at least not on the face of it — a race problem.
Consider just these police-involved killings detailed below. Almost every type of incident involved people of different races.