These Numbers Are No Riot

Let me start this post with a very important pretext – the death of George Floyd was tragic and the police officers involved should be jailed for life or, better yet, executed. Period. Full stop. If you’re looking for more emotion in this blog, you’ve come to the wrong place. It’s not my strong suit. Sorry, but I operate on data and facts because that’s how good decisions are made, so let’s look at this entire situation through that rational lens. All of my data comes from government sources, but by necessity will come from different years as the government stopped tracking some crime stats by race, presumably to remain politically correct. Nonetheless, these numbers haven’t changed in either absolute or relative magnitude in many years.

First, let’s talk about the riots, which are just as outrageous as the Floyd situation if not more so, simply due to their magnitude. Unjustified cop killings are horrible and tragic, but also very rare. There were a total of 1,004 people killed by cops in 2019. 370 (37%) of the victims of cop shootings were white and 235 (23.4%) were black. Let’s parenthetically note that none of the 370 white people killed by cops resulted in mass riots across the country. I have no idea if any of them were unjustified, like Floyd’s, but there’s anecdotal evidence that some were and, still, no riots.

Blacks represent about 13.4% of the US population (per the 2018 census) and whites about 76.5%. Thus, some people are outraged that blacks, with only 13.4% of the population represent 23.4% of the cop killings. But, that’s not the right analysis. For the right analysis, let’s turn to the FBI crime database. There we learn that blacks commit about 27.4% of all violent crimes and 45% of all murders. Thus, blacks commit murder at about 5x the rate of whites and all violent crimes at about 3x the rate of whites. It’s a very logical conclusion that committing a murder or violent crime is far more likely to bring one in contact with police, most likely in a highly confrontational manner. Thus, a group that commits those crimes at a 3-5x higher rate would be expected to have more violent encounters with cops. In fact, these data would predict that the number of blacks killed by cops would be somewhere between 27% and 45% and the actual number is below the lower bound at only 23.4%. The conclusion is clear – blacks are killed by cops at a significantly lower rate than the crime data would predict. Indeed, the highly unexpected result here is that whites actually have more to fear from being killed by a cop than blacks as the rate of cop killings per crime committed is actually higher for whites than blacks.

This sign is posted all over cities where the protests are taking place. I agree with it 100% as black people are being killed every day and we should all be very political about it. However, they’re just not being killed by cops every day. In fact, there were 2,870 blacks murdered in 2016. 2,570 (89.6%) of them were killed by other black people and only 243 (8.5%) were killed by white people. Looking at the other side of that equation, 3,499 white people were murdered in the same year, 2,854 (81.6%) of them by other white people and 533 (15.2%) by black people. Even if we were to call every single cop killing of a black person an unjustified murder (we know that’s an absurd assumption), you still end up with 7.6% of black deaths at the hands of cops and 82.7% of them at the hands of other blacks.

I know this is a lot of data and not everybody is facile with math, so let me summarize the conclusions.

1. The number of blacks killed by cops is in line or lower than one would predict based on the frequency of encounters with cops for violent crimes.

2. The number of blacks killed is alarmingly high, but about 90% of them are killed by other black people, not cops and not white people.

We have a major national emergency here, but it just doesn’t happen to be the one anyone is rioting about. I’m up for whatever political discussion anyone wants to have about how to address the tragically high murder rate for particularly young black men at the hands of other young black men. I don’t have any brilliant ideas off the top of my head, but a good start would be for our national leaders of all colors and all political parties to focus on the real problems vs. chasing ghosts.

I’ll end where I started lest anyone forget. The George Floyd situation is beyond terrible. I’m sad and angry about it. The cops involved must be punished swiftly and severely. They are very bad people. Sadly, there are bad people in every profession, but cops have a power well beyond most professions so when they go bad they really go bad. But, there are about 1 million people in various forms of law enforcement in this country and the vast majority are good, hard working people who keep us all safe. Let’s punish the bad ones quickly and let’s focus on the real problems that are resulting in 90% of the murders of black people in this country.

About Bruce Robertson

Bruce Robertson is an amateur writer and professional provocateur
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