Both Black and Blue Lives Matter.

This is ill-timed, so it is probably ill-considered.  Probably mealy-mouthed as well.

Generally, crime rates in America are down markedly from two decades ago.  (This is not true if you live in Chicago.)  The drop has not entirely been explained.  One explanation, advanced by the police is that aggressive street policing (e.g. “stop-and-frisk”) has taken criminals off the street, deterred many others, and stopped a downward spiral of civic demoralization.[1]

Effective or not, the policy had unhappy consequences that were not, but could have been, anticipated.   First, African-Americans are victims of crime at much higher rates than are whites.  Since we live in a still-segregated society, this means that most crime is intra-racial, rather than inter-racial.  African-Americans are disproportionately both victims and victimizers.  Concentrating policing on high-crime areas inevitably assumed a character that could easily be construed as “racist.”

Second, the vast majority of people living in high-crime areas are not criminals.  As a result, “stop-and-frisk” involves stopping and frisking lots of innocent people in order to catch a few guilty ones.  All those innocent people have every right to feel that they are being harassed merely because they fit some demographic profile.  Not much effort seems to have been committed to trying to ease this feeling, if it even would be possible.

Third, policing appears to be a “coarse art,” instead of a “fine art.”  Ordinary fallible and flawed human beings have to figure out how to carry out the strategies defined by their superiors.  Often they have to carry out these policies while in contact with difficult, non-compliant people.  Moreover, America is awash in firearms.  Far too often, these interactions end in violent death.   Often, but not always, the circumstances are gray rather than black and white.  Afterwards, prosecutors, judges, and juries are more inclined than not to reject condemning the police.  Politicians pile-on, affirming that the laws are applied in a discriminatory way, or voicing platitudes, or asserting an unquestioning integral defense of police conduct.

If you stay at this policy long enough, you’re going to anger an awful lot of people.  It’s like building up the “fuel” for a forest fire.  All that is required for a conflagration is a lightning strike or a series of them.

Trayvon Martin.  Michael Brown.  Eric Garner.  Laquan McDonald.  Walter Scott.  Freddy Gray.  All were lightning strikes that set off a conflagration.  On the one hand, the “Black Lives Matter” protest movement sprang up.  On the other hand, American views on the state of race relations shifted from optimistic to pessimistic.  Recently, Baltimore prosecutors have suffered a series of stinging defeats in the effort to prosecute police officers in the arresting-to-death of Freddy Gray.  Then, police in Minnesota and Louisiana shot to death two black men in what should have been minor incidents.  More lightning strikes.

Protests erupted in many cities.  In Dallas, a black sniper used the occasion of one such peaceful protest to kill five police officers.

It has been difficult to hold an intelligent conversation about these matters.  For one thing, the subject is both complex and painful.  For another, it coincides with other complex and painful controversies.  The white populist revolts in both major parties.  The mass shootings and terrorist attacks.  Are these issues inter-related, with a common solution, or is it just our bad luck that they arose at the same time?

[1] See Barry Friedman, “Thin Blue Lines,” NYT Book Review, 3 July 2016.  Friedman reviews Heather Mac Donald, The War on Cops:, and Malcolm Sparrow, Handcuffed.

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It ain’t necessarily so 4.

“There are more than 1,000 fatal shootings by police in the US each year, and those killed are disproportionately African-American.”  http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-36339286

 

What does “disproportionately” mean?

In 2015, police officers shot to death 662 whites and Hispanics and 258 blacks.[1]  Thus, with 14 percent of the American population, blacks accounted for 28 percent of deaths at the hands of police.  Leaving aside the small number of Asian-American deaths at the hands of the police, whites and Hispanics accounted for about 85 percent of the population and 72 percent of the deaths at the hands of the police.  So, yes, obviously blacks are over-represented among those killed by police.

However, the police are not the only danger faced by blacks.  In 2014, there were 6,095 black homicide deaths.  There were 5,397 white and Hispanic homicide deaths.  That is a total of 11,492 homicide deaths.  Black homicide deaths amounted to 53 percent of the total, while blacks amount to 14 percent of the population.

The 662 whites and Hispanic shot to death by police in 2015 amounted to approximately 12 percent of all white and Hispanic homicides.  The 258 blacks shot to death by police in 2015 amounted to approximately 4 percent of all black homicides.  In comparison to the over-all danger of a violent death, black homicide victims were: a) less likely to die at the hands of the police than were white or Hispanic homicide victims; and b) less likely to die from a police shooting than from a non-police shooting.  According to one study of New York City by a University of Pennsylvania criminologist, black officers at a shooting were 3.3 times more likely than were other officers to fire their weapon.  Perhaps they’re less worried about being called racists for smoking somebody who gestured at them with a weapon?

According to the EffaBeeEye, between 2005 and 2015, 40 percent of cop-killers were black, while about 14 percent of the population is black.  Blacks kill cops at 2.5 times the rate at which cops kill blacks.

The homicide rate in the United States is 3.8 per 100,000 people.  The homicide rate in Venezuela is 53.7 per 100,000.  The homicide rate in Honduras is 90.4 per 100,000.[2]  The homicide rate in the West Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago is 116.7 per 100,000.  By late April 2016 more than 1,000 people had been killed in Chicago.  If this death toll stays on that track there will be at least 3,000 homicides in the city by Christmas 2016.  Most of the deaths are attributed to gang-related shootings.[3]  There were 2,996 dead in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The reality—and the glaring tragedy utterly ignored by white America—is that many blacks live in a cauldron of violence.  According to the US Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2009, in 75 counties, blacks were charged with 62 percent of robberies, 57 percent of murders, and 45 percent of assaults.  Blacks made up 15 percent of the population in those counties.  America remains a deeply segregated society, so these are a pretty good measure of the victimization rates among blacks.

What caused this disaster?  The war on drugs?  The unintended consequences of anti-poverty programs?  White flight from big cities to escape turmoil and violence—and integration?  How many of our problems run back to the Sixties and Seventies?  When America was “great.”

[1] Heather MacDonald, “The Myths of Black Lives Matter,” WSJ, 12 February 2016.

[2] “Noted,” The Week, 23 October 2015, p. 16.

[3] “Noted,” The Week, 6 May 2016, p. 16.