Monday, October 20, 2014

the quickest way to predict the number of police shootings in a city is to see how many blacks live there

chicagotribune |  What mattered for police shootings wasn't the makeup of the police department, it was the makeup of the city. In all measured cities, an increase in black residents brought an increase in police shootings. In smaller cities, a substantial change in the proportion of black residents resulted in a slight increase in the predicted number of police-caused homicides. And in the larger cities, the same change increased the chance for police-caused homicides by a factor of 10 compared to smaller cities. Put another way, the quickest way to predict the number of police shootings in a city is to see how many blacks live there.

And, in turn, the most likely victims of fatal police shootings are young black males. According to a ProPublica analysis of federal data on police shootings, young black males ages 15 to 19 are 21 times more likely to be shot and killed by police than their white counterparts. "One way of appreciating that stark disparity," notes ProPublica, "is to calculate how many more whites over those three years would have had to have been killed for them to have been at equal risk. The number is jarring — 185, more than one per week." What's most relevant for the diversity of police departments is this fact: While black officers are involved in just 10 percent of police shootings, 78 percent of those they kill are black.

The glib response to stats on blacks and police is to cite so-called "black crime" or "black criminality." But this depends on a major analytical error. Yes, blacks are overrepresented in arrest and conviction rates. At the same time, "criminal blacks" are a tiny, unrepresentative fraction of all black Americans. If you walked into a group of 1,000 randomly selected blacks, the vast majority — upward of 998 — would never have had anything to do with violent crime. To generalize from the two is to confuse the specific (how blacks are represented among criminals) with the general (how criminals are represented among blacks). Statisticians call this a "base rate error," and you should try to avoid it.

In fairness, you could apply this to police as well. The number of cops who shoot — much less shoot black Americans — is a small percentage of all cops. Why judge the whole by the actions of a few?
But there are problems here. Policing is a profession backed by the state and imbued with the right — and reasonable latitude — to use lethal force. Even if we're looking at a small number of cops, it's still a serious problem when those who shoot are most likely to kill people from a specific group. Moreover, the problem of blacks and police goes beyond shootings to general interactions between black communities and law enforcement. We know, for instance, that officers are more likely to use force against black protesters than white ones. The stats on shooting are just one part of a larger dynamic that applies to police departments across the country, not just individual cops.

The history of American policing is tied tightly to its relationship with black Americans and other minorities. The earliest police antecedents were slave patrols and anti-native militias, built to suppress rebellion and combat Native Americans. After the Civil War, Southern whites used police as a new tool for control, terrorizing blacks under the guise of law enforcement, from lynchings — often organized or supported by local sheriffs — to convict leasing. Elsewhere, in the industrial cities of the Northeast and Midwest, policing became a pathway for immigrant mobility. At the same time, police attention turned to black migrants, who were condemned as lazy and criminal. As historian Khalil Gibran Muhammad describes, police during the New York race riots of 1900 and 1905 "abdicated their responsibility to dispense color-blind service and protection, resulting in ... indiscriminate mass arrests of blacks attacked by white mobs."

The antagonism between blacks and police would continue through the 20th century. As BuzzFeed's Adam Serwer notes in an essay on Ferguson, the urban riots of the 1960s — and beyond — were fueled by police abuse, "The recipe for urban riots since 1935 is remarkably consistent and the ingredients are almost always the same: An impoverished and politically disempowered black population refused full American citizenship, a heavy-handed and overwhelmingly white police force, a generous amount of neglect, and frequently, the loss of black life at the hands of the police." For a more vivid picture, there's James Baldwin's 1960 essay on Harlem — "Fifth Avenue, Uptown" — where he describes the meaning of the white policeman in the black ghetto:

They represent the force of the white world, and that world's real intentions are, simply, for that world's criminal profit and ease, to keep the black man corralled up here, in his place. The badge, the gun in the holster, and the swinging club make vivid what will happen should his rebellion become overt.

This isn't ancillary to the present question of diversity and policing, it's vital. The culture of policing evolved in a context of racial discrimination and racial control, where departments were charged with containing blacks, not protecting them. The demographics of policing have changed since the middle of the 20th century, but the culture has moved more slowly. And while we have minority officers, they — like their white counterparts — operate in an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust between communities and law enforcement.


BigDonOne said...

Stated more accurately---> The number of people police are required to justifiably shoot or inadvertently choke to death, is directly proportional to how many black people live there. People genetically endowed with proper FTO tendencies, behave themselves and don't tend to have these problems. BTW, the 20th anniversaary of The Bell Curve just occurred this month, but, of course, has been totally ignored by the politically-correct media--->

Dale Asberry said...

What you mean is "stated more precisely" because your statement is hardly accurate.