Opinion: “Racist Police” and Crime Statistics

Statistics combined with context will tell a different story than your college professor might have you believe.

It is no secret that the Black Lives Matter movement has a deep resentment against the police and the American justice system in general. But is this resentment justified? Here are the reasons why police shootings should not be at the top of the average black American’s list of concerns.

By pointing out the overrepresentation of black deaths in confrontations with the police relative to the general population, one may believe that America’s justice system systematically targets black people above everyone else. However, there are factors other than simply racism that play a role in said disparities.

It is true that despite making up only 13% of the population, 26% of all victims from violent police confrontations are black. But this is a twofold representation. Whites, on the other hand, make up around 50% of all victims of violent police encounters despite making up more than 70% of the population, which means whites are slightly underrepresented.

However, this statistic can be misleading when not explored in context: it is nonsensical to compare the number of victims of police brutality to the general population without taking into account the disparities in crime rate between each group.

Given that violent crime rates are correlated with more violent encounters with the police, a more sensible comparison would be between the number of victims of police brutality and the rate of violent crime, such as homicide, for different racial groups.

As the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting reveals, 38.7% of all violent crimes, including 52% of all murders, are committed by a person who is black. This would mean that the black population is overrepresented not only in the number of victims of police shootings, but in the total number of violent crimes committed. White people, in comparison, commit 45% of all murders and 58.4% of all violent crimes, meaning that whites are underrepresented in this aspect. The black population is overrepresented nearly four times in homicides, which is a larger overrepresentation compared to the number of black individuals killed in police confrontations (which is, as mentioned before, twofold).

In other words, the proportionality between the police brutality rate and violent crime rate for the black population is actually favorable for the black population (38% of violent crimes are committed by blacks, 26% of the victims of police brutality are black). For some, it may be surprising that the proportionality between police brutality rate and crime rate for the whites is roughly equal to the proportionality for blacks (58% of violent crimes are committed by whites, 50% of the victims of police brutality are white).

This idea that all police officers across America are going out of their way just to shoot black folks simply because of the color of their skin is simply a lie. When taking violent crime rate into account, it is clear that the black population is certainly not overrepresented in the number of victims in police shootings.

Despite the lack of evidence proving the existence of systematic hostility toward the black community in law enforcement, groups like Black Lives Matter continue to promulgate the idea that black lives are specifically under assault across the United States. However, a study by Roland G. Fryer, a black Harvard professor who conducted this study in his anger over the deaths of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray, revealed that although the police may be slightly biased against blacks when it comes to mistreatment, there was no evidence that racism was a driving factor behind police shootings.

In fact, the study states that “officers were more likely to fire their weapons without having been first attacked when the suspects were white [emphasis added].

Fryer had studied 10 major American police departments in California, Texas, and Florida, and he discovered that despite the fact that officers were more likely to shoot whites, “black and white civilians involved in police shootings were equally likely to have been carrying a weapon.”

It is true that there certainly are racist cops in America. But it is also true that the vast majority of police officers are not racist, nor do they show a statistical, racial bias in police shootings. Still, every American is right to call out incidents where a police shooting was obviously unjustified, such as the Walter Scott case.

However, to label the police force as a modern, institutionalized Ku Klux Klan is simply disingenuous. As a civilized society, it is our job to point out specific instances of racism and weed out all racist officers from all police departments. But it is also important to acknowledge that the problem of police brutality is far more complex than “systemic racism.” For those interested in uncovering the truth, it would worthwhile to use not only skin color, but violent crime rates and arrest rates as barometers when judging the likelihood of violent confrontations with police.

Of course, it would be preferable that there were zero victims of police violence, racially motivated and otherwise. Sadly, given that we live in a flawed society with racist and biased human beings, we know there are bound to be more victims in the times ahead. 

But to label the majority of police officers as simply “racist” is fundamentally dishonest and a disservice to progress rooted in facts, not mythology.

Jay Sung Park is an undergraduate student at the University of Southern California studying political science and journalism

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