A widely bruited statistic: Have police been shooting young black men more frequently in recent years, or does it just seem that way?
Do police “target” young black men? If so, to what extent?
According to the New York Times’ Matt Apuzzo, the Justice Department found that Philadelphia police have not been “targeting” blacks when they engage in shootings. This is said to be true in spite of some striking statistics:
Philadelphia was roughly 44 percent black during the period in question. But 80 percent of police shootings during that period involved blacks.
Readers of Apuzzo’s news report weren’t struck by that disparity. He failed to include that first statistic in his front-page report. At the very end of his report, he did include this:
APUZZO (3/24/15): Both Commissioner Ramsey and [Mayor] Nutter, who are black, said they welcomed the Justice Department’s conclusions and would quickly begin acting on the recommendations. But they reminded people of the violence plaguing the city.According to that passage, 85 percent of people involved in killings in Philadelphia are black. This may put that earlier statistic about police shootings into some sort of perspective.
“Folks need to quit killing each other,” Commissioner Ramsey said, noting that about 85 percent of victims and perpetrators in Philadelphia are black. He said he was not proud of that figure. “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m black myself.”
Mr. Nutter added: “People want good police officers. Police officers need good citizens.”
Apuzzo didn’t say that the Justice Department formed its judgment on this basis. But he did report that the Justice Department found that Philly police have not been “targeting” blacks.
We don’t know if that assessment is accurate, in part for an obvious reason—we read major American papers and watch cable “news” channels. A person is unlikely to get much information from such sources, even about an important topic like this.
Are police shootings on the rise? To what extent are young black men inappropriately “targeted?” In one of his most astute observations, Apuzzo offered this:
APUZZO: The statistics [about police shootings in Philadelphia] were laid out in a Justice Department report on Monday, which does not allege racial discrimination but offers an unusually deep look at the use of lethal force inside a major city police department, including information on the race of officers and suspects. It is the kind of data that has been nearly absent from the debate over police tactics that began last summer with a deadly shooting in Ferguson, Mo.So true! As has been widely noted, there aren’t a lot of sound data about police shootings in the United States. Instead, we tend to “discuss” the topic through the use of anecdotal incidents, concerning which we the liberals tend to invent bogus facts.
The data are extremely limited, and some of the data may not be real good. Consider the pleasing claim in which it was widely said that young black men were 21 times more likely to be killed by police than their white counterparts.
The statistic came from ProPublica, which is generally considered to be a reliable source.
That statistic was widely bruited in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death. The statistic seemed a bit hard to reconcile with the other slivers of data which seem to exist. But it got a lot of play from us on the pseudo-left.
Uh-oh! We didn’t know this until last week, but serious questions seem to exist concerning that pleasing statistic. At St. Louis Public Radio, William Freivogel wrote this back in December:
FREIVOGEL (12/10/14): An article of faith among those protesting Brown’s death and among much of the media writing about the protests is that young African-American men are far more likely to be shot by police than young white men.For ourselves, we can’t settle this question; there’s more information in that report.
Much of the national media—The New York Times, USA Today, Christian Science Monitor, Daily Kos, Daily Beast and Vox among others—have quoted an October ProPublica study of FBI data showing that between 2010 and 2012, black males 15 to 19 years old were 21 times more likely than white males that age to be killed by police.
What hasn’t gotten attention is that leading criminologists criticize the ProPublica findings as exaggerated. It’s true that black youths are killed more often than white youths, the critics agree, but the disparity over the past 15 years is much lower than the three-year period featured by ProPublica. The longer period is more statistically accurate, they say.
[David] Klinger doesn’t mince words: “The ProPublica thing needs to be shut down. They cherry picked the three years that had the worst disparity instead of being honest about the whole picture.
"The ProPublica analysis is absolute garbage because it is based on the FBI’s supplemental homicide reports. I told them, don't do it because the stats are horseshit.”
When ProPublica went ahead with the report and then quoted Klinger, the criminologist demanded that the news organization remove his name from the story, but it refused.
Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore police officer and now criminology professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice called the ProPublica study “substantially wrong.” In his “Cop in the Hood” blog, Moskos wrote that the 21:1 ratio is the result of the way ProPublica parsed the data...
Warning! At one point, Moskos offers a peculiar thought, saying this: “it's important to base opinions and public policy on fact.”
ProPublica stands by its work. Back in December, it appended this “update” to its original report:
PROPUBLICA (12/23/14): ProPublica shared its findings and methodology with Prof. David Klinger before this story appeared. In two interviews with reporters, he noted that the FBI data has serious shortcomings. But he also said the disparity ProPublica had found between black and white victims was so large, it was unlikely to have resulted solely from omissions in the FBI statistics. After the story appeared, Klinger said flaws in the FBI data made it unusable. ProPublica contacted Klinger and asked him to elaborate, but he declined to comment further. We stand by the analysis. A full response to the arguments Klinger and another critic have raised is here.The disparity “was unlikely to have resulted solely from omissions in the FBI statistics?” On its face, that’s a weak defense. To read ProPublica’s fuller response, you can just click this.
What are the actual facts about police shootings? We can’t tell you that. But we can assure you of this:
Over the past thirty years, our public debates have rarely turned on actual facts. Our debates tend to turn on phony statistics and pleasing anecdotes—anecdotes which have often been embellished by one of our tribes to drive a preapproved narrative.
We liberals now play this game with great joy, just as Rush and Sean have traditionally done. That said, the question of police shootings is important. We’d like to know what is true.
According to Apuzzo, the Justice Department found that Philly’s police force hasn’t been “targeting” blacks in its police shootings. That finding seems to fly in the face of widely held current assumptions.
We don’t know if that finding is accurate. But neither do the creepy professors and cable stars who now propagandize us the liberal rubes in much the same way Rush and Sean have always done with their suggestible brood.
Despite their skills as moral showboats, we’ve come to dislike these lower life-forms. Until your lizard brain tells you to stop, you might consider it too.