Thursday, 4 June 2020

Is this the right time to post some figures about police killings in the US? (a bit nerdy)

When controlled for the number of police interactions,
Whites are somewhat more likely to be killed by police than
Blacks. Spreadsheet here.
Maybe not. People around the world are hurt, wounded, upset, by the killing of George Floyd. We’ve all seen it. Horrible, disgusting, inexcusable, inexplicable -- as people called on him to let up, Floyd was dead, but he kept his knee on the man for a full nine minutes. Shocking and horrid. 
In the US and around the world people are protesting, police brutality, stop killing black people, kill all cops, systemic racism, must stop, we must listen, we ..... we.... we’re angry.
Sure.
But on what basis do we say that the killing of George Floyd was a result of ingrained, systemic racism in the US? The answer is: none. It’s all emotion. And emotion is understandable.
But emotion is not the basis to do something about this. Doing something about this has to be done on the basis of what we know to be the fact.
A number of people have sent me a link to the BBC which has a number of charts that are correct, but misleading. The compare police killings with their population, concluding that there are more Blacks killed per million than Whites. This is correct, but misleading. Because there are many more police interactions with the Black community.
It would make as much sense to complain of misandry because men make up 93% of prisoners but only 50% of the population. Yes, but...  (and the “but” is obvious: men commit more crimes).
For reasons that ought concern us, but elsewhere for the moment*, the police have more interactions with African-Americans, than with Whites. By far the majority of those interactions are initiated by phone calls to the police, not the randomness of police stopping people (though there is some of that too, of course, most infamously “stop and frisk” policies in some jurisidictions).
When you control for the number of interactions, you get the chart above: 
In other words, White people are somewhat more likely to get killed in an interaction with the police, than are African-Americans. 
Note: these are from my calculations on the basis of the latest figures I can find on the internet and my spreadsheet is here. They also include figures from the Washington Post, a liberal left paper that has no love for Trump.
My figures are consistent with a famous Harvard Study in 2016, by Economics professor Roland Fryer (who happens to be African-American) who published a paper on police bias:
... we find, after controlling for suspect demographics, officer demographics, encounter characteristics, suspect weapon and year fixed effects, that blacks are 27.4 percent less likely to be shot at by police relative to non-black, non-Hispanics.
As for the number of African-Americans in jail, the same issue applies. The BBC has simply taken the numbers of incarcerated blacks, divided by their proportion of the population and concluded that there is a major bias. It’s the old problem: assuming that every inequality if due to inequity.
93% of inmates are male. Does that mean the justice system is misandrist? No. It means men commit more crimes.
Again, the numbers must be controlled by the number of crimes committed by each ethnicity. And as my table at the top shows, African-Americans, in particular young males, commit crimes at a greater rate than Whites. Of course this begs the obvious question of why. But it’s not the issue for police. Police deal with what they have in front of them.
Also worth noting that the rise in incarceration began with the passing of the Clinton crime bill of 1992, which was supported at every stage of its passing by then Senator, now presidential candidate, Joe Biden. I’ve no doubt their intentions were good. But the road to hell, and all that.... The result has been a massive increase in incarceration of young black males, in many cases for non-violent drug crimes. 
Does all that mean that the police are systemically racist? Or that the system itself is systemically racist? Meaning that race is baked in to the DNA of America? The short answer is, no, it does not.
Of course they can do better. And a case of George Floyd should never happen.
What do the shouting mobs, what does the punditocracy, what do the talking heads, what do the luminaries of hollywood, what do all these people suggest be done? Other than tweet sympathy? Or calling for police to be “defunded” (!?). Other that say “we must listen”? Other than yell and scream the the system is inherently, systemically, deeply racist? Other than then looking on in tolerance as people help themselves to TV sets, sneakers and fridges, then go on to burn low-income housing for black folks. What?
I can think of a number of things that could be done, practical things, from over here in Hong Kong. 
Things like dong away with “limited immunity”, like reducing the power of the police unions that protect their brethren, like specific training in defusing encounters, like requiring that in an encounter, a different officer is the one to handle the suspect than the one who does the initial collar. 
What about some thinking along some of these lines, rather than simply parroting how “systemically racist” the police are, how they are “exterminating black people”, that they are “committing genocide”, when there is no evidence for that.

I know, I accept, I believe we all accept: Black Lives Matter. Do Facts Matter?
* Wealth and health disparities in the US between White and Black are large as CNN summarises here. That is beyond dispute. No doubt racism is one reason for that. But from all studies on the subject, it is far from the only one. Politicians on both sides, and especially Democrats, have had good will and determination to improve, to reduce the disparities. Sometimes policies meant to help have only made things worse, “the road to hell... ”. Point being: it’s just not right to point out these disparities and say that they are all down to racism, let alone systemic racism, for there are no longer any laws in the system that are racist. 
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ADDED (15 June):Racist Police Violence Reconsidered’. John McWhorter

ADDED (6 June): ‘The Myth of Systemic Police Racism’. Heather MacDonald.