There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.
-Attributed to Benjamin Disraeli, by way of Mark Twain.
There is a recent trend of what I can only call Race Inequality Apologists: that is, people who take it upon themselves to explain away differences, especially with regards to the conditions in the Black community. It’s become quite a cottage industry, one unfortunately marked by a pronounced lack of regard for accuracy and a tendency towards the mendacious use of statistics to obscure or outright deny reality.
Consider the example of an article entitled 5 Facts That Shatter the Myth of ‘Black-on-Black’ Crime. Put out by U.S. Uncut, it purports to provide a handy list of facts, with the admonition that “The next time you hear someone say “black-on-black crime”, show them this”. Presumably, the intention is to debunk the idea of elevated black on black crime, unfortunately each of the 5 “Facts” shows an ever increasing disconnect from reality. Consider the 5 ‘facts’ as they are presented in bullet point;
1. 84 percent of white murder victims were white
2. Whites kill more whites than black people kill each other
3. White people commit more crimes than any other race
4. White people kill more members of vulnerable populations than any other race
5. Gang murders are most common among white gangs
There is a single point that makes all 5 of these points laughably misleading and that is demographics: just going to Wikipedia we can find the following estimate of the US population distribution;
White Americans are the racial majority. African Americans are the largest racial minority, amounting to 13.2% of the population. Hispanic and Latino Americans amount to 17.1% of the population, making up the largest ethnic minority. The White, non-Hispanic or Latino population make up 62.6% of the nation’s total, with the total White population (including White Hispanics and Latinos) being 77.1%.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the table used to justify points 4 & 5;
In an article devoted to debunking the idea of the significance of Black crime, the author uses a table that unambiguously shows the ~13% of the country that is Black is responsible for over 50% of all homicides. Bravo. Of course, the author could have simply read the sources they cite: Homicide Trends in the United States, 1980-2008, cited directly under point 8 is not just the source for Table 7 (above), but contains the following damning points;
-In 2008, the homicide victimization rate for blacks (19.6
homicides per 100,000) was 6 times higher than the rate for
whites (3.3 homicides per 100,000).
-In 2008, the offending rate for blacks (24.7 offenders per
100,000) was 7 times higher than the rate for whites (3.4
offenders per 100,000)
Truly, it is an article that should come to mind “The next time you hear someone say “black-on-black crime”…”.
A similar example comes from a recent article by the British Guardian newspaper. Discussing the issue of black deaths at the hand of police, the article opens with the following statements;
Young black men were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by police officers in 2015, according to the findings of a Guardian study that recorded a final tally of 1,134 deaths at the hands of law enforcement officers this year.
Despite making up only 2% of the total US population, African American males between the ages of 15 and 34 comprised more than 15% of all deaths logged this year by an ongoing investigation into the use of deadly force by police. Their rate of police-involved deaths was five times higher than for white men of the same age.
Clearly these are disturbing statistics on their face… but when you actually look past the first impression, this article is less a penetrating investigation of a national problem and more a textbook example of How to Lie With Statistics.
Let’s take the very first part of the premise of the article, that: Deaths due to police shootings should follow the population distribution. To be clear, in a purely randomly selected population this would be conceivable… but this isn’t a randomly selected population. The article makes note that despite “making up only 2% of the total US population, African American males between the ages of 15 and 34 comprised more than 15% of all deaths”.
But so what? According to Wiki, people over 65 years of age make up 13.4% of the total US population. Going by the logic of the Guardian piece, this group should make up 13.4% of the police killings… except, of course, that’s ridiculous logic that imagines that interacting with police is a random event that your behavior plays no part in.
Instead of looking at the overall population demographics, let’s instead take a loot at the FBI Crime in the United States charts. What do we see when we take a quick look? That violent offenders are not evenly distributed through the population.
There is a clear trend in violent criminality and that trend is males between the ages of 17-34 (incidentally, this is one reason why you should never trust any gun control pitch that starts by talking about ‘children’ and includes 17 and 18 year old males). Women, older people and children under 13 or so are responsible for an almost negligible rate of homicides.
Shockingly, this article contains no information about the distribution of offenders! This omission by itself should relegate this article to nothing more then propaganda.
Again, we are simply left to wonder: ‘well, if young black men are 2% of the population, they surely must commit 2% of the crime…’
Of course, anyone with any passing familiarity with crime statistics in the USA knows that young black men, while 2% of the population commit about half of the violent crimes in the USA. Take another gander at the FBI crime chart: for homicides in which the offender’s race was known, blacks commit more homicides then whites, despite Black males being “only 2% of the total US population”.
The statistical manipulations by The Guardian also serve to obscure that Whites, not Blacks, comprise the majority of fatal police encounters.
The Guardian presents a chart titled “Black people were killed by police at more than twice the rate of white people in 2015”, which presents data normalized (by default) “per million”. Those numbers are certainly damning (again, numbers per million Americans);
- 2.91 Whites
- 7.13 Blacks
- 3.48 “Hispanic/Latinos”
- 1.34 Asian/Pacific Islander
- 3.4 Native Americans
These numbers seem, prima facia, to establish a clear disparity according to race and something to be further looked into. Certainly I agree we should look into things further, because a curios thing happens when one looks at “Total” police related deaths;
- 577 Whites
- 300 Blacks
- 193 “Hispanic/Latinos”
- 27 “Other/Unknown
- 24 Asian/Pacific Islander
- 13 Native Americans
Given that he title of the article is “Young black men killed by US police at highest rate in year of 1,134 deaths”, it’s rather remarkable that more Whites were killed by the police then Blacks and “Hispanic/Latinos” combined. Yet again, the Guardian gives primary place to a ‘normalized’ number, and we have the number of deaths caused by police ‘normalized’ to something other then crime rates.
Finally it’s worth pointing out that the Guardian’s database, and thus the Guardian’s story, makes no effort to distinguish between justified and criminal police shootings: thus while scrolling through the list of the December 2015 dead, one will find two names that may be familiar to news watchers… Tashfeen Malik, 27 and Syed Farook, 28. Cause of death? Gunshot. Why were they shot by the police? Who can know. (The oddest thing: both are listed as “Asian/Pacific Islanders”. Huh.)
Nor, incidentally, do they distinguish between people shot by police in the course of their duty and simple shot by police personnel: February 2016, for example, lists Emily Thibodeaux, shot by an off-duty police officer… who just happened to be her husband.
None of this is to dismiss all police misconduct, nor is it to say ‘they are bringing this upon themselves’: this is to make the simple point that any group that has an elevated rate of violent crime is going to have an elevated rate of adverse interactions with law enforcement personnel. The manner that the Guardian has chosen to present, or chosen not to present, information, is a shameful derogation of journalism in favor of advocacy.
Whatever problems there are with policing in the USA (and there are plenty of problems) it does no one any good to spread a false and simplistic narrative that blacks are at greatest risk from the police. Or as Ben Shapiro put it when discussing the BLM movement, sometimes it seems that the advocates for blacks would rather more blacks be killed by criminals, so long as the campaign of marginalizing the police can proceed.
The reality of disproportionate Black crime is not new. Jason Riley recounts a particular anecdote from half a century ago;
“Do you know that Negroes are 10 percent of the population of St. Louis and are responsible for 58% of its crimes? We’ve got to face that. And we’ve got to do something about our moral standards,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told a congregation in 1961. “We know that there are many things wrong in the white world, but there are many things wrong in the black world, too. We can’t keep on blaming the white man. There are things we must do for ourselves.”
Whatever else, these “many things wrong” can never be corrected if they cannot be honestly evaluated. Lying, even if only with statistics, will save no lives.