Numbers from FBI and another source are revealing
In his July 11 Voices letter (“Anarchists, thugs get green light”), John Hammered states that in 2015, a police officer was 18.5 times more likely to be killed by a black man than an unarmed black man was to be killed by a police officer. This is an astounding claim. Unfortunately, no source was given for this information, so I decided to look into the matter.
Information on police officer deaths was easy to find. The FBI keeps a Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) database (https://www.fbi.gov/services/cjis/ucr). One part of this database is LEOKA, which contains information on law enforcement officers who have been killed or assaulted from 1996-2019.
The UCR database also includes a National Use-of-Force Data Collection (NUFDC). Unfortunately for comparison purposes, the NUFDC was only launched in January of 2019, law enforcement offices are only encouraged rather than required to participate, and the data is not available to the public.
Fortunately, I was able to find a database at www.mappingpoliceviolence.org that anyone can download as an Excel file. The database contains information gathered from news sources about people killed by police officers from January 2013 up to the present time.
Each line in the database includes detailed information about an incident including the victim’s name, demographic data, a link to a news story about the incident, and information about any weapons involved. (Note: Vehicles, scissors and screwdrivers count as weapons, and if the victim did not show his hands and seemed to be reaching for something, the incident was coded as “unclear” rather than “unarmed” even if no weapon was found.)
From the FBI database (https://ucr.fbi.gov/leoka/2019/topic-pages/tables/table-42.xls), we learn that between 2013 and 2019, a total of 303 officers were killed. Of the perpetrators, 195 were white and 115 were black.
From the second database, we find that over the same period, 336 unarmed blacks were killed by police officers (93 of whom were killed by something other than a gunshot). So rather than police officers being 18.5 times more likely to be killed by a black man than an unarmed black man is to be killed by an officer, an unarmed African-American is twice as likely to be killed by a police officer as a police officer is to be killed by any black man.
One might conjecture that police officers were more likely to kill an unarmed black person believing that person to be armed. This belief is unfounded as the data shows that a black person killed by an officer was 1.3 times more likely to have been unarmed than a white person who was killed by an officer.
In the same 2013-2019 time period, the number of blacks killed by physical restraint was almost three times the number of whites. When adjusted for the relative sizes of the populations, a black man is over 15 times as likely to be killed by a police officer using physical restraint than is a white man. Clearly, African-Americans are treated differently by police as death by physical restraint is less likely to happen by accident than is death by gunshot.
While we are discussing statistics, can we please dispense with the distraction that 93% of black murders are committed by blacks? A similar statistic holds for white-on-white murder, but I can’t imagine anyone citing that fact to justify ignoring a death rate at the hands of law enforcement if the rate for whites were triple that for blacks.
While it is true that the crime rate is higher among the black community, this difference is readily explained by poverty levels. Crime rates are much higher among poor whites than among the more affluent.
To our shame, that increased poverty level for African-Americans is mostly caused by policies and practices imposed by the white community: redlining, denial of benefits of the GI bill, denial of loans, unequal access to quality schools, bias in hiring and promotion, the destruction of Black Wall Street, and differential arrest, conviction and incarceration rates.
We as a nation have much to atone for. Let’s begin by working to eradicate current attitudes and practices that disadvantage our black brothers and sisters. Then maybe we can try to find ways to redress the effects of past injustices.