The na­tional an­them protests : Do facts mat­ter?

Ripon Bulletin - - Opinion - LARRY EL­DER

Where was the an­gry left when Supreme Court Jus­tice Ruth Bader Gins­burg called the na­tional an­them protests “dumb and dis­re­spect­ful”?

Let’s fo­cus on the “dumb” part.

NFL player Colin Kaeper­nick, who started the protests, did so over the sup­posed wide­spread in­stances of po­lice bru­tal­ity against blacks. Kaeper­nick said, “I am not go­ing to stand up to show pride in a flag for a coun­try that op­presses black peo­ple and peo­ple of color . ... There are bod­ies in the street and peo­ple get­ting paid leave and get­ting away with murder.” Ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol, since 1968 po­lice killings of blacks have de­clined nearly 75 per­cent. Ac­cord­ing to The Wash­ing­ton Post, al­most 500 whites were killed by cops in 2015, an av­er­age of more than one a day. Two hun­dred fifty-nine blacks were killed by the po­lice. Most sus­pects killed by po­lice had a weapon. Now for some per­spec­tive. Do you know any­one who has been struck by light­ning? Nei­ther do most peo­ple. Yet each year an av­er­age of about 300 Amer­i­cans are killed or in­jured by light­ning. That’s ap­prox­i­mately 40 more than the num­ber of blacks killed by the po­lice in 2015. Is there an “epi­demic” of Amer­i­cans be­ing struck and in­jured by light­ning? We don’t know the num­ber of black men in­jured by light­ning ev­ery year, but let’s as­sume the num­ber is 7 per­cent of the to­tal peo­ple struck by light­ning, mir­ror­ing the per­cent­age of the black male pop­u­la­tion in Amer­ica. That brings the av­er­age num­ber of black men in­jured by light­ning to about 21.

Out of the 965 peo­ple killed by the po­lice in 2015 (as of Dec. 24), the Post re­ported (on Dec. 26) that “less than 4 per­cent” in­volved an un­armed black man and a white cop, the fact pat­tern most com­monly re­ferred to by anti-po­lice ac­tivists like Black Lives Mat­ter. Last year, The Wash­ing­ton Post put the num­ber of un­armed black men killed by the po­lice at 17, less than the num­ber of blacks likely struck by light­ning. Twenty-two un­armed whites were killed by the po­lice. Any death that re­sults from po­lice mis­con­duct is one death too many, but the point is that po­lice killing of a sus­pect is rare, no mat­ter the race of the sus­pect or the cop. And a po­lice shoot­ing of an un­armed black male is still more rare.

But blacks are rou­tinely and dis­pro­por­tion­ately be­ing stopped, pulled over and/or ar­rested due to po­lice mis­con­duct, right?

No, not ac­cord­ing to nu­mer­ous stud­ies, many by the govern­ment. Take traf­fic stops. In 2013, the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Jus­tice, the re­search and eval­u­a­tion agency of the Depart­ment of Jus­tice, pub­lished a study of whether the po­lice, as a re­sult of racial bias, stop blacks more than other driv­ers. The con­clu­sion? Any racial dis­par­ity in traf­fic stops is due to “dif­fer­ences in of­fend­ing” in ad­di­tion to “dif­fer­ences in ex­po­sure to the po­lice” and “dif­fer­ences in driv­ing pat­terns.”

Ac­cord­ing to Philippe Le­moine, writ­ing in Na­tional Re­view, a white per­son is, on av­er­age, more likely to have in­ter­ac­tions with the po­lice

in any year than a black per­son, 20.7 per­cent vs. 17.5 per­cent. It is true that a black per­son is more likely to have mul­ti­ple con­tacts with the po­lice. But ac­cord­ing to the data, mul­ti­ple con­tacts with the po­lice are rare, as well. Le­moine writes that 1.2 per­cent of white men have more than three con­tacts with the po­lice in a year ver­sus 1.5 per­cent of black men.

But what about the ex­pe­ri­ence of a black per­son with the po­lice ver­sus that of a white per­son? The DOJ’s Bureau of Jus­tice Sta­tis­tics reg­u­larly stud­ies this, too. Ev­ery year, the BJS sur­veys a rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple of 70,000 peo­ple. Among the ques­tions, the sur­vey asks whether re­spon­dents had con­tact with the po­lice in the last 12 months. If the an­swer is “yes,” the sur­vey asks a num­ber of fol­low-up ques­tions, in­clud­ing about use of force.

Let’s con­cen­trate on cases in­volv­ing use of force.

Le­moine writes: “Only 0.6 per­cent of black men ex­pe­ri­ence phys­i­cal force by the po­lice in any given year, while ap­prox­i­mately 0.2 per­cent of white men do . ... More­over, keep in mind that these tal­lies of po­lice vi­o­lence in­clude vi­o­lence that is legally jus­ti­fied.” And keep in mind the much higher lev­els of crime by mostly black males. It is es­ti­mated that half of all homicides are com­mit­ted by, and mostly against, black males.

In 1995, the fed­eral govern­ment looked at 42,500 de­fen­dants in the na­tion’s 75 largest coun­ties. A govern­ment statis­ti­cian, Pa­trick A. Lan­gan, found “no ev­i­dence that, in the places where blacks in the United States have most of their con­tacts with the jus­tice sys­tem, that sys­tem treats them more harshly than whites.” So much for the so-called “in­sti­tu­tional racism” in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem.

Re­cently, in Illi­nois, in a kids’ 8-and-un­der foot­ball league, the en­tire team, which ap­peared to be all black, in­clud­ing the coach, took a knee dur­ing the na­tional an­them. Asked why, one third-grade player par­roted Kaeper­nick, say­ing, ac­cord­ing to the coach, “Be­cause black peo­ple are get­ting killed, and no­body’s go­ing to jail.”

Facts don’t mat­ter. The coach, pre­sented with a teach­able mo­ment, fum­bled it away.

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