White Crime, Black Deaths, and Lying with Statistics

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;

Note that “Other” includes “american Indians, Alaska natives, Asians, Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders.

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.

Carly Fiorino and the Factless Fact-Checkers

Carly Fiorina had a good night on Wednesday. One way we can tell this is that the honest evaluations in the media of her good performance are being accompanied by (rather snide) ‘take down’ pieces in mainstream and liberal (but I repeat myself) ‘news’ outlets. Like mushrooms after the rain, these pieces seem to spring up in the wake of any significant movement in the GOP field. The tact they seem to have agreed on is that, yes, Fiorina did a fine job, but her rhetoric is a trick, designed to persuade the rubes of the GOP.

The reality is that many of the pieces follow the tact of this article on the Rachel Maddow blog (written by Steve Bennen), which is not so much a refutation as a disagreement. That is, as seems to be the habit on the left these days, Mr. Bennen labels opinions and interpretations of the facts that she does not share as ‘wrong’ and ‘false’, rather then simply differences of opinion. Consider the paragraph that is the meat of the article’s condemnation;

Her rhetoric about Planned Parenthood was plainly at odds with reality. She said it takes “two-thirds of the states” to ratify a constitutional amendment, but it actually takes three-fourths. Her comments about the criminal justice system were simply untrue. She insisted that Democrats, who’ve been pleading with Republicans for years to pass immigration reform, “don’t want” to pass immigration reform. Her defense of her failed tenure at HP was hard to take seriously. Her rhetoric about foreign policy was “bizarre.”

The only one of these things that Mr. Bennen cites that seems genuinely wrong is also the one thing that is almost certainly a slip of the tongue; that Constitutional ratification is 3/4 instead of 2/3.

Other then that, everything Mr. Bennen cites as “false” is either actually a difference of opinion, or actually true but something the left cannot acknowledge. Consider the statement that “Her rhetoric about Planned Parenthood was plainly at odds with reality”. To support this Mr. Bennen references… an opinion piece by Amanda Marcott in Slate. Ms. Marcott in turn relies and links to other leftist opinion sources. The problem, of course, is that other sources of differing politics claim exactly the opposite: “Watch the full video for yourself. It does, in fact, show a fully formed fetus, heart beating and legs kicking.” writes Mollie Hemmingway at the Federalists. Given that Hemingway provides what she claims to be the video where the scene in question occurs, I am inclined to credit her accounting.

The other points are all variations of debatable, and often bad faith debates: for example, Mr. Benen baldly states “[Fiorina’s] comments about the criminal justice system were simply untrue”, but then links to a Slate piece by Leon Neyfalk that points out (emphasis mine);

She is far from alone in perpetuating this idea—President Obama has done it too, along with just about every other mainstream politician who has expressed support for criminal justice reform in recent years.

Have Mr. Benen or his headliner Ms. Maddow similarly dismissed President Obama’s stance on Criminal Justice Reform as “simply untrue”? Moreover, given that her position is apparently shared by “just about every other mainstream politician”, is it not more likely, perhaps, that what Mr. Benen claims as “simply untrue” are

Mr. Benen seems to regard his denunciation on immigration as so self-evident as to require no source at all. I treat his dismissal in the same fashion, save to point out that if we take as gospel fact “pleading” from Washington, then Obama is Israel’s best friend, Iran is ready to join the community of nations and Global Warming is responsible for the refugee crisis in Europe.

Mr. Benen’s dismissal of Fiorina’s business leadership links to an analysis by Neil Irwin at the New York Times (hosted at the Boston Globe), which is scarcely the complete dismissal Benen presents it as. Rather it is a piece that points out that “Fiorina emphasized metrics of success that captured less of her success at leading Hewlett-Packard and more of the fact that she acquired a much larger competitor”, and that “many analysts view the merger, her defining action as chief executive, as ill-advised”. That many analysts disagree with her actions and the Fiorina chooses to emphasize what she sees as her strengths (and presumably gives greater credence to those analysis that do not disagree with her actions) is scarcely an open and shut case of dissimulation.

Mr. Benen’s dismissal of Fiorina’s “bizarre” foreign policy prescriptions links to (again) an opinion piece at Vox, where Ezra Klein pronounces himself puzzled that Fiorina thinks conventional strength would persuade Putin when “America has enough nuclear weapons pointed at Russia to level the country thousands of times over”.

Not to needlessly belittle Mr. Klein but his befuddlement seems rather more an indictment of his own tactical depth (or lack thereof) then an rebuttal of Fiorina’s ideas. After all, if we are to credit his statement as his actual beliefs, he would seem to be almost hopelessly naive in matters of the military. By contrast, serious military thinkers, such as Professor Victor Davis Hanson, have a rather less sanguine view of America’s tactical doctrines under Obama.

As I mentioned, this is all of a style: the left disagrees with a policy proposal and labels it ‘wrong’ for being a position other then their own. What makes this particular article such a case of bad faith is that in the instance of criminal justice reform, the position isn’t even one that the left disagrees with. Mr. Benen simply found a piece that labeled Fiorina wrong on the issue and linked to it, without pointing out that Fiorina’s position is shared by Barack Obama and a broad coalition of criminal justice reformers on both the left and right.