The fine folks at the Guardian's U.S. edition have a running tally of people killed by cops in America this year. The tally stands at 569 as of this morning. Just sitting here at my desk that sounds like a lot. Is it?
Well on the one hand it is. 569 people dead is a lot of people by any standard. On other hand there are a lot of people in America and a lot of cops and a lot of those people living in America are committing crimes that bring them into conflict with the police, some of which go bad. I wanted to take a look at this in more depth. Someone on Facebook did the same but I did my own research and am running these statistics by myself to make sure I am getting them correctly.
According to wikipedia, and I didn't verify the source, the U.S. has around 1.2 million police officers. That is a huge number, outpaced only by China and India, both of whom have much larger overall populations than the U.S.. A little math tells us something fairly interesting. Although it seems that most police shootings involve one officer doing the shooting (that may not be true, I am not sure if anyone keeps track of that), even if we take that 569 number of total shootings and multiply it by three to take into account multiple officer shootings, and use the number 1707 for the total number of officers involved in police shootings that resulted in a fatality, we find that means that 0.0014% of cops are involved in fatal shootings so far this year. Even if we double that to predict the number for the rest of the year, that is 0.0028% or a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of officers in this country are involved in fatal shootings.
More data. Of those 569 killed, 82 were unarmed. Now being "unarmed" does not mean "not dangerous". Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri was "unarmed" but was an 18 year old, 6'4", almost 300 pound guy that was attacking a police officer. Whether one has a gun or not, being the size of an NFL linesman means that you are potentially very dangerous with or without a separate weapon. Someone that size can very easily seriously hurt, maim or even kill another person with their bare hands. Anyway, just given the benefit of the doubt that the 82 "unarmed" people were not as dangerous as the 276 people killed while in possession of guns or the 84 people killed while carrying a knife, that gives you a percentage so small that a calculator won't render it.
Ah but you might say. The real problem is the disproportionate racial make-up of those killed by cops. OK, let's take a look. Some races, like Asian/Pacific Islander, have had zero unarmed killings by police in 2016. Of the 569, whites accounted for 279 of the killings and 42 of the unarmed killings. That means that 49% of these killings killed white people and a slightly higher percentage, 51%, of unarmed people killed by cops were white. As far as blacks who are allegedly under fire from cops, 137 people killed by cops were black and 24 were unarmed, which means that 24% of all people killed by cops were black and 29% of all "unarmed" people killed were black.
Aha! Blacks are 24% of all people killed by cops in the U.S. but are only 13% of the U.S. population. We have conclusive proof of racial bias in police shootings! That would be pretty persuasive if cops were just picking out black people at random and shooting them. Here is the kicker. By any measure blacks are hugely disproportionately represented in criminal acts compared to their total U.S. population. To restate that most un-PC of statement, blacks commit way more crimes per capita than whites do. There is a direct relationship to committing crime and being engaged by the police. These statistics are widely available although it is getting harder to get up to date data as it seems to be getting suppressed by the media and government. If you are 3,4, 5 or more times likely to be involved in a criminal act, especially a violent criminal act, it follows that you are going to run into the cops more often and increase your likelihood of getting shot in an altercation.
Let me pause. It is often wrong for cops to kill unarmed people, although not always. There are certainly fatal shootings by police that could be avoided. There is absolutely a history, albeit a distant and growing more distant, history of police being overtly racist and in cahoots with racist groups in this country. I am absolutely certain their are racist cops out there (just as their are virulent racists in the "Black Lives Matter" movement). All of that to say that it doesn't seem like there is an especially persuasive case to make that blacks are being intentionally targeted by police. It certainly seems that way when you follow the media coverage but like "mass shootings" the reality is quite different. I think ultimately the reality is that the best way to avoid a fatal encounter with cops is not being white, it is not committing a crime. That is definitely not OK to say, true or not, but it is what the numbers point out to me. I have a lot more to say on this but it will keep until things settle down a bit.