TUESDAY, JANUARY 31, 2023
Police shootings by age and by race: It's a depressing topic, for several quite different reasons.
That said, Kevin Drum has assembled a graphic, and we're directing you to it. It shows the rate at which people are shot and killed by police, grouped into three different age ranges.
You can look at the data yourselves. We're going to point your attention to the highly novelized stories we insist on telling ourselves.
Kevin says this as he starts:
DRUM (1/31/23): We all know that Black people are killed at much higher rates relative to population than white people, but it turns out that the difference depends a lot on age.
Indeed, we do all know that first fact. Meanwhile, just a guess:
Given news coverage of the past decade, we wonder how many people might believe that no one except black people are ever shot and killed by police? We'll guess that the number is larger than zero, and that the number is likely non-negligible.
We do all know that first fact! That said, at an early point in his brief post, Kevin offers a perfectly sensible suggestion about why some people—some people. not all—may get shot and killed by police:
DRUM: It's not surprising that the rate of fatal police shootings is highest for young age groups, since ages 18-29 are the prime years for criminal activity.
The suggestion is clear. In some cases, people get shot and killed by police because the people were involved in some sort of criminal activity.
Presumably, that explain why some people—we have no idea how many—get shot and killed by police. Later, though, Kevin also writes this:
DRUM: For some reason—maybe real, maybe not—police are way more afraid of young Black suspects than young white suspects.
That suggests that some young black people get shot and killed by police because police are "way more afraid of young Black suspects" than they are of young white suspects. (For the record, Kevin even goes so far as to suggest that, at least in some cases, the reason for this may be "real.")
This raises an obvious question:
As Kevin's numbers show, young black men are shot and killed by police at much higher rates than young white men. The question:
Does this happen because police are "way more scared" of young black men? Or does it also happen, in some unknown percentage of cases, because young black men are more often involved in criminal conduct?
We would assume that each of those factors may contribute to the disproportionate rate of shooting deaths displayed in Kevin's figures. But within our failing blue tribe, we tend to be wed to a certain picture of the world, a picture that possibly seems to be expressed in this early comment:
COMMENTER: The racist stereotype is clearly about young Black males. When people see a young Black male, they are scared. Even Jesse Jackson once admitted it—he said it made him sad that he felt this way, but he couldn't deny that he was thankful when he realized the young man walking towards him at night was white.
But Black females and older Black males aren't coded as threatening on the streets in the same way. It's very specifically young Black males that trigger the racist assumption that they must be criminals.
Almost surely, stereotypes and sweeping assumptions about young black males do, in fact, play a role in the disproportionate rate of fatal police shootings.
That said, the commenter seems content with that picture of the situation, full stop. A second commenter offered this response:
RESPONSE TO COMMENTER: Yes, I was going to point out the same thing.
There's a stereotype about "rampaging" young black men that goes back to the days of slavery. One of the justifications for slavery was the "need" to keep young black men under control since they're so terribly "dangerous." This was lampshaded mercilessly in Blazing Saddles ("Where the white women at?").
But it's still operative; it was used in the defense arguments for Derek Chauvin's trial.
Here too, it almost seems like we're assuming that the stereotype about young black men may wholly explain the disparity. No other possible factor need apply!
Inevitably, we're also told that the stereotype "goes back to the days of slavery."
On the one hand, that statement is almost certainly true, to some extent which can't easily be measured. On the other hand, it's astounding—and depressing—to see how often this pleasing narrative element is introduced into the stories our tribe is currently inclined to tell about various racial disparities.
Is it possible that poverty, societal mistreatment and personal despair lead a higher percentage of young black men to engage in the "criminal activity" to which Kevin referred? Is it possible that these tragic factors explain some percentage of the disparity under review in Kevin's post?
Sadly, we would assume that it is. That said, you have to go very deep into the comments to Kevin's post to find someone suggesting that this factor might account for some unknowable part of the disproportion under review.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but we simply love our stories. We love our stories, and we love to repeat them. No other thoughts, however tragic, ever need apply.