More whites killed by cops, but less out­rage Anal­y­sis con­tra­dicts wide­spread views about racial tar­get­ing, ex­ces­sive force

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

No­bel Prize-win­ning nov­el­ist Toni Mor­ri­son says she wants to see an of­fi­cer shoot an un­armed white teenager in the back be­fore agree­ing that the “con­ver­sa­tion about race” is over, but she al­most cer­tainly al­ready has re­ceived her wish.

An anal­y­sis re­leased ear­lier this month shows that more white peo­ple died at the hands of law en­force­ment than those of any other race in the past two years, even as the Jus­tice Depart­ment, so­cial jus­tice groups and me­dia cov­er­age fo­cus on black vic­tims of po­lice forces.

“Peo­ple keep say­ing, ‘We need to have a con­ver­sa­tion about race,’” Ms. Mor­ri­son told The (Lon­don) Tele­graph in an April 19 in­ter­view.

“This is the con­ver­sa­tion: I want to see a cop shoot a white un­armed teenager in the back,” said Ms. Mor­ri­son, who also has won the Pulitzer Prize for her work, which in­cludes the best-sell­ers “Beloved” and “Song of Solomon.” “And I want to see a white man con­victed for rap­ing a black woman. Then when you ask me, ‘Is it over?’ I will say yes.”

Her com­ments re­flect a wide­spread view that blacks are rou­tinely tar­geted by law en­force­ment while whites shot by po­lice are a rar­ity. Out­rage has surged in re­cent weeks over the high-pro­file deaths of black men at the hands of po­lice, no­tably 50-year-old Wal­ter Scott of South Carolina, who was shot in the back and killed April 4 as he tried to run away from an of­fi­cer af­ter a traf­fic stop.

The of­fi­cer who shot him, Michael Slager, has been charged with mur­der, and the Jus­tice Depart­ment is in­ves­ti­gat­ing the case for civil rights vi­o­la­tions.

Depart­ment of­fi­cials an­nounced Tues­day that they have opened a fed­eral probe into the death of Fred­die Gray, 25, who died Sun­day from in­juries sus­tained while in Bal­ti­more po­lice cus­tody.

Mean­while, the deaths of whites at the hands of law en­force­ment typ­i­cally re­ceive less at­ten­tion, even when the case is shrouded in con­tro­versy. For ex­am­ple, Gil­bert Col­lar, an 18-year-old white stu­dent at the Uni­ver­sity of South Alabama, was shot and killed — while naked, un­armed and un­der the in­flu­ence of drugs — by a black po­lice of­fi­cer.

The of­fi­cer, Tre­vis Austin, was cleared of wrong­do­ing in 2013 by a Mo­bile County grand jury in a case that re­ceived lit­tle me­dia cov­er­age out­side Alabama. Mr. Col­lar’s par­ents filed a fed­eral law­suit last year against the of­fi­cer.

As re­searchers are quick to point out, FBI data on po­lice shoot­ings by race is no­to­ri­ously in­com­plete, which may ex­plain why Peter Moskos, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at the John Jay Col­lege of Crim­i­nal Jus­tice at the City Uni­ver­sity of New York, de­cided to use fig­ures from the web­site Killed by Po­lice.

Based on that data, Mr. Moskos re­ported that roughly 49 per­cent of those killed by of­fi­cers from May 2013 to April 2015 were white, while 30 per­cent were black. He also found that 19 per­cent were His­panic and 2 per­cent were Asian and other races.

His re­sults, posted last week on his blog Cop in the Hood, ar­rived with sev­eral caveats, no­tably that 25 per­cent of the web­site’s data, which is drawn largely from news re­ports, failed to show the race of the per­son killed.

Killed by Po­lice lists ev­ery death, jus­ti­fied or not, in­clud­ing those in which the of­fi­cer had been wounded or acted in self-de­fense.

“The data doesn’t in­di­cate which shoot­ings are jus­ti­fied (the vast ma­jor­ity) and which are cold-blooded mur­der (not many, but some). And maybe that would vary by race. I don’t know, but I doubt it,” Mr. Moskos said on his blog.

Ad­justed to take into ac­count the racial break­down of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion, he said black men are 3.5 times more likely to be killed by po­lice than white men. But fur­ther ad­justed to take into ac­count the racial break­down in vi­o­lent crime, the data ac­tu­ally show that po­lice are less likely to kill black sus­pects than white ones.

“If one ad­justs for the racial dis­par­ity in the homi­cide rate or the rate at which po­lice are felo­niously killed, whites are ac­tu­ally more likely to be killed by po­lice than blacks,” said Mr. Moskos, a for­mer Bal­ti­more cop and au­thor of the book “Cop in the Hood.”

“Ad­justed for the homi­cide rate, whites are 1.7 times more likely than blacks to die at the hands of po­lice,” he said. “Ad­justed for the racial dis­par­ity at which po­lice are felo­niously killed, whites are 1.3 times more likely than blacks to die at the hands of po­lice.”

Mr. Moskos listed two pos­si­ble rea­sons for the racial dis­par­ity. The first is that po­lice as­signed to largely black neigh­bor­hoods face “more po­lit­i­cal fall­out when they shoot, and thus re­ceive bet­ter train­ing and are less in­clined to shoot.”

The sec­ond is that po­lice as­signed to black com­mu­ni­ties with high crime rates are more ac­cus­tomed to danger­ous sit­u­a­tions and thus are more likely to be able to re­solve them with­out re­sort­ing to lethal force.

Fig­ures on po­lice shoot­ings by race are thin on the ground, but Mr. Moskos’ re­sults have some sup­port: The in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism web­site ProPublica came up with a sim­i­lar per­cent­age in an Oct. 10 ar­ti­cle, re­port­ing that 44 per­cent of all those killed by po­lice were white, us­ing FBI data from 1980 to 2012.

The fact-check­ing web­site Poli­tiFact con­cluded in Au­gust 2014 that po­lice kill more whites than blacks af­ter the claim was made by con­ser­va­tive com­men­ta­tor Michael Medved. Poli­tiFact cited data from the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol on fa­tal in­juries by “legal in­ter­ven­tion” from 1999 to 2011.

“Over the span of more than a decade, 2,151 whites died by be­ing shot by po­lice com­pared to 1,130 blacks. In that re­spect, Medved is cor­rect,” said Poli­tiFact.

But Poli­tiFact gave his as­ser­tion a “half true” rat­ing be­cause whites make up 63 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion, while blacks make up just 12 per­cent.

“Yes, more whites than blacks die as a re­sult of an en­counter with po­lice, but whites also rep­re­sent a much big­ger chunk of the to­tal pop­u­la­tion,” Poli­tiFact said in its Aug. 21 post.

But Poli­tiFact did not take into ac­count the per­cent­age of those by race in­volved in vi­o­lent crime or shoot­ings of po­lice, as Mr. Moskos did.

De­spite the re­cent flood of me­dia cov­er­age in­volv­ing po­lice shoot­ings, Mr. Moskos ad­vised his read­ers to “keep all this mor­bid­ity in per­spec­tive,” re­mind­ing them that very few peo­ple, white or black, will ever be shot or killed by po­lice.

“The odds that any given black man will shoot and kill a po­lice of­fi­cer in any given year is slim to none — about one in a mil­lion. The odds for any given white man? One in 4 mil­lion,” he said. “The odds that a black man will be shot and killed by a po­lice of­fi­cer is about 1 in 60,000. For a white man those odds are 1 in 200,000.”


Pro­test­ers gather out­side the Tulsa County Sher­iff’s of­fice in Tulsa, Ok­la­homa, call­ing for the fir­ing of a sher­iff’s deputy who can be heard in a video curs­ing at sus­pect Eric Har­ris as he was dy­ing in a re­cent Tulsa po­lice shoot­ing. Re­cent data show that white sus­pects are more likely to be shot by po­lice than blacks.

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