Police and Race

Here I want to look at several sources on police and racism.

John McWhorter wrote a piece in 2016, “Police Kill Too Many People—White and Black.” He begins by pointing out that police killing white people typically doesn’t get the same media attention as police killing black people. He concludes, “We can all agree that the police kill too many innocent people, but at this point, we can disagree—as eminently reasonable minds—that the cops kill out of bigotry.”

Here is the abstract of Roland Fryer’s 2016 paper: “This paper explores racial differences in police use of force. On non-lethal uses of force, blacks and Hispanics are more than fifty percent more likely to experience some form of force in interactions with police. Adding controls that account for important context and civilian behavior reduces, but cannot fully explain, these disparities. On the most extreme use of force—officer-involved shootings—we find no racial differences in either the raw data or when contextual factors are taken into account. We argue that the patterns in the data are consistent with a model in which police officers are utility maximizers, a fraction of which have a preference for discrimination, who incur relatively high expected costs of officer-involved shootings.” A New York Times article reviews this study.

David J. Johnson leads a more recent (2019) study. From the abstract: “We report three main findings: 1) As the proportion of Black or Hispanic officers in a FOIS increases, a person shot is more likely to be Black or Hispanic than White, a disparity explained by county demographics; 2) race-specific county-level violent crime strongly predicts the race of the civilian shot; and 3) although we find no overall evidence of anti-Black or anti-Hispanic disparities in fatal shootings, when focusing on different subtypes of shootings (e.g., unarmed shootings or “suicide by cop”), data are too uncertain to draw firm conclusions.” The authors amend a sentence of the original report as follows: “As the proportion of White officers in a fatal officer-involved shooting increased, a person fatally shot was not more likely to be of a racial minority.”

Update: Lyman Stone, looking at a more-recent study, concludes, “Racial bias in police killings is real.”

July 6 Update: The authors of the 2019 study requested that it be retracted. However, they stand by their original findings, only worry about people’s incorrect inferences from the article.

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