Is there a war on the police? According to the statistics, this is not the case. However, there is a real war on Black people. The statistics pointing to systemic discrimination against Black people do not lie, and yet the Black community is told not to criticize or hurt the feelings of law enforcement who protect and serve some, but far too often brutalize and occupy Blacks.
NPR’s All Things Considered sets the scene for us, in a report from Martin Kaste. Specifically, the August 29 ambush-style killing of Sheriff Deputy Darren Goforth, allegedly by an African-American suspect, has led to dire warnings about a war on police.
“It is time for the silent majority in this country to support law enforcement,” said the Harris County DA, Devon Anderson. “There are a few bad apples in every profession. That does not mean there should be open warfare declared on law enforcement.”
The increase in officers killed in 2014 are causing some police to conclude a war has been declared on them. Last year, 51 police were killed across the country, an increase from 27 in 2013. However, such statistics do not constitute a war, as Seth Stoughton, a professor at the University of South Carolina and himself a former police officer, calls such claims “nonsense.” Stoughton notes that while 2014 looked particularly bad in comparison to 2013, “2013 was the safest year for police officers, ever,” he says. “The safest year in recorded history.” Moreover, he indicates that attacks on police are down considerably and about half as many cops are murdered today than in the 1970s. Some of this is likely due to improved training, equipment and medical care for officers who are shot.
There may be a few more ambush-style murders of officers these days. But at the same time, no one said law enforcement work is not an inherently risky profession.
“When we’re talking about 780,000 state and local police officers who are interacting with people on 67 million occasions every year, the increase from five to eight, or five to 10 — statistically, it doesn’t look significant,” Stoughton said.
In contrast, there is proof of a war on Black people, with the statistics bolstering the claims made by the Black community for years. According to a database of people killed by the police maintained by The Guardian, Blacks are killed by police at a rate of 2.5 times greater than whites. While whites are killed by police at a rate of 2.02 per million, and Latinos at 2.2 per million, Blacks are killed at 5.05 per million. Further, African-Americans killed by police are twice as likely to be unarmed as their white counterparts. A five-month study of police fatalities found that 15 percent of whites killed by police were unarmed, as opposed to 25.4 percent of Latinos and 31.9 percent of Blacks.
The Guardian also says that law enforcement are killing people at double the rate calculated by the federal government.
Further, The New Republic went a step further in 2014 by referencing studies where people are more likely to shoot Black suspects in video simulations, in which they press “shoot” if they think the white or Black suspect is holding a gun. According to psychologists, such participants are more likely to shoot the unarmed Black person over an unarmed white person. A 2002 study of white and Black undergraduate students at the University of Colorado at Boulder found that white undergraduates had higher error rates with unarmed Black suspects (1.45 per 20 trials compared to 1.23 for unarmed white suspects).
However, the results are similar when actual officers are involved in these simulations. For example, a 2005 Florida State University study showed that a group of mostly white, male police officers in Florida were more likely to let armed white suspects go, in favor of shooting unarmed Black suspects.
These statistics pointing to a white proclivity to shoot unarmed Black people–along with heated rhetoric in which police and their supporters label #BlackLivesMatter a terrorist group and criminalize those who would protest against the defiling of Black bodies–should give us pause. The war is against Black people, and as NYPD union boss Patrick Lynch said last December, his police force would become a “wartime” police department.
The police need to stop behaving like a street gang or an organized crime syndicate, and begin to treat the Black community with respect.