Most Americans are convinced there is an “epidemic” of police shooting unarmed black males in America. This widespread misperception is reinforced with misreportage, sensationalized reportage, missing context, and the lack of reporting on analogous cases.
In February, a survey was released that showed how many adults overestimate the number of adult unarmed black males were killed by police officers in 2019 (the last year with full data available). The Skeptic Research Center published the results, which were broken down by political ideology. A chart based on these responses is posted below:
The bars are color-coded to reflect the estimation in each political ideology category. Very Liberal respondents were the furthest from reality: 14.29% said ‘about 10,000’ unarmed black males were killed by police, while 31.43% said ‘about 1,000.’ Liberals were slightly closer at 6.67% saying ‘about 10,000’ and 26.67% saying ‘about 1,000.’ According to the database at Mapping Police Violence, this number was actually 27.
The responses get more egregiously off-base when the survey delves into respondents’ estimates of the racial proportion of those killed by police.
“The available data suggest that 24.9% of people killed by police in 2019 were Black,” the Skeptic Research Center states. “However, across the political spectrum, survey participants overestimated this number.”
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“Those who reported being ‘liberal’ or ‘very liberal’ were particularly inaccurate, estimating the proportion to be 56% and 60%, respectively,” the survey adds.
In terms of the national trends, the number of fatal police shootings each year has remained fairly constant. A chart by Statista shows the fatal police shootings by racial demographic for the past five years up to current date:
There is a much stronger explanation for fatal police shootings than racial bias: Arrest rates. The FBI’s 2019 Crime in the United States report breaks down arrests by racial demographic.
The proportion of arrests for Black or African American suspects compared to the Total of all arrests: 26.6%. This tracks almost perfectly with the odds that a Black or African American suspect is shot by police.
An analysis performed at DataBricks from 2015-2020 further underscores this proportion of fatal police shootings and provides more context:
- 51% White, 26% Black, 19% Hispanic, 2% Asian, and 2% Native American victims
- 23% of victims showed signs of mental illness, indicated by on-scene mental health crises or news reports
- 91% of victims were determined to be armed, with objects ranging from toy weapons to pepper spray to tasers to guns
The Washington Post’s police shooting database further underscores how rare it is that unarmed black males are shot by police officers. Its reported police killings of unarmed black males in 2019 is far below even the 27 reported by Mapping Police Violence. It is a total of 11 — fewer than a dozen cases.
If one sorts the database for the last six years, one finds a total of 129 people shot and killed by police. This is an average of 21 unarmed black males per year out of a population of approximately 20 million. This is virtually ‘one in a million.’
Nonetheless, Americans news media is relentless in its portrayal of unarmed black males as living perpetually under the threat of being randomly shot by a ‘racist’ police officer.
Daunte Wright. Jacob Blake. Adam Toledo. Michael Brown. Laquan McDonald. Tamir Rice. The list goes on and on. Or does it? As the data show, these are statistical anomalies in a nation of hundreds of millions of people that are held up to illustrate purported ‘systemic racism.’
These tragic cases are not only statistical outliers, they are far from ‘black and white’ in terms of what motivated the police shooting. In nearly every case, a suspect was wanted by police and threatening circumstances gave rise to an unfortunate police shooting.
- Daunte Wright had a warrant out for his arrest for aggravated armed robbery of a woman and unlawful possession of a firearm. He resisted arrest and attempted to flee in a vehicle before being shot.
- Contrary to misleading reports that he was ‘unarmed,’ Jacob Blake admitted that he was armed with a knife.
- 13-year-old Adam Toledo was armed and gun residue was found on his hand. He tossed a 9mm Ruger moments before being shot.
- Michael Brown fought with a police officer for his gun. He later advanced despite being told to freeze. ‘Hands up, don’t shoot’ is a lie.
- Laquan McDonald had a knife in his hand. He was suspected of committing robbery. He punctured the tires of a police cruiser following him and smashed its windshield.
- Tamir Rice had a toy gun that was mistaken for a real one. A grand jury decided it was an accident and did not bring charges. The family is now pleading for the DOJ to reopen the closed case.
Even if one concludes that these police shootings were wrong, the cases are a lot grayer than the mainstream media often portrays. The radical activist left has nonetheless weaponized these people’s tragic stories to push a truly dangerous agenda: Defunding the police.
The preliminary violent crime data for 2020 show that it is one the worst years in recent memory. Crime in America reported the FBI statistics: homicides increased by 25 percent, overall violent crime increased by 3.3 percent, and aggravated assaults increased by 10.5 percent. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, violent crime has increased 28 percent since 2015.
Amidst a rising “epidemic” of violent crime, the radical left wants to slash police funding. Many cities are already paying the price. Portland cut police funding and saw a startling 2,000% surge in murders. New York City, under Mayor de Blasio, reduced police funding and experienced a 127% increase in shootings. Minneapolis cut police funding by $8 million, while early 2021 crime data show a 250% spike in gunshot victims. In February, the Minneapolis city council backtracked and unanimously approved a $6.4 million boost in police funding.
“Initial data from the FBI and major cities across the U.S. suggests homicides increased by about 30% in 2020, and murder rates remained high into early 2021,” ABC reported. “Many cities that slashed police resources last year because of the protests, the pandemic, or both have poured money back into law enforcement to cope with a sudden surge of violence.”
There is no “epidemic” of police shooting unarmed black men in the United States. But there is an “epidemic” of ignorance and an unwillingness to check basic facts. This ignorance is leading Americans to adopt disastrous policies, such as ‘defunding the police.’
OPINION: This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion.