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Nate Jackson / Jun. 11, 2020

Manipulating Stats on Police Shootings to Create a Narrative

There are big problems with the Washington Post's story about its own data.

“Protests spread over police shootings. Police promised reforms. Every year, they still shoot and kill nearly 1,000 people.” So read a Washington Post headline this week. We all wish we lived in a world where police didn’t kill anyone because they didn’t have to kill anyone. Unfortunately, we live in the real world where some people — sometimes raging under the influence of drugs — are belligerent and violent toward those who volunteer to keep law and order. The Post’s provocative headline doesn’t even come close to conveying that very real nuance.

First, some of the Post’s statistics: “Since 2015, police have shot and killed 5,400 people.” Broken out by year, that’s 994, 962, 986, 991, 1,004, and 463 so far this year, respectively. It is indeed rather remarkable that 2020 is outpacing even 2019 given the COVID shutdown, but that’s another story.

The Post also notes, “The overwhelming majority of people killed are armed. Nearly half of all people fatally shot by police are white.” But then it adds, “Since The Post began tracking the shootings, black people have been shot and killed by police at disproportionate rates — both in terms of overall shootings and the shootings of unarmed Americans. The number of black and unarmed people fatally shot by police has declined since 2015, but whether armed or not, black people are still shot and killed at a disproportionately higher rate than white people.”

Where to begin?

First, as Mark Alexander wrote several years ago, “When 90% of murders in urban centers are ‘people of color’ and 90% of perpetrators are ‘people of color,’ cops of any color are going to be more cautious with ‘people of color.’” Unfortunately, that also includes more deadly confrontations.

Second, researcher Heather Mac Donald has gone to great lengths to prove that “there is no epidemic of racist police shootings.”

Third, as Gary Bauer notes, “Thirty-five paragraphs [into the Post’s story], these hacks finally got to the most relevant information: There has been a 60% decrease in the number of unarmed people shot and killed by police officers since 2015.” In other words, police have made strides in better training and response.

Fourth, to be abundantly clear: Just because someone is unarmed doesn’t mean they’re not incredibly dangerous. Even Barack Obama’s (Social) Justice Department found that the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson — the death that sparked most of this anti-police outrage with the phony “hands up, don’t shoot” slogan — was justified, despite Brown being “unarmed.” And, by the way, according to the FBI, “Hands, fists, feet, etc.” kill far more people each year than rifles of any type. Yet all we hear about is banning so-called “assault weapons,” not the murder spree committed by literally unarmed people.

None of this is to say George Floyd’s death was justified — in fact we’ve gone to great lengths repeatedly to call it unjustified and negligent. And it isn’t to say that every person killed by police deserved it. There are wrongful deaths, and offending police should be held to account. (The officers responsible for Floyd’s death have been charged, though we wonder if Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison isn’t setting that up for failure to spark more riots.)

As with every human institution, reforms to police departments are sometimes needed. However, leftists are either using emotional anecdotes as data or manipulating actual data to produce an emotional response, all in service to a bogus narrative of “systemic racism.” That narrative will make a compromise on useful reforms much harder.

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