Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A Little Perspective

When a police officer shoots a suspect, it's often the case that the wounded suspect is then handcuffed and left to lie bleeding on the ground without first aid until the scene is secured and an ambulance arrives. If other officers are on the scene at the time of the shooting, multiple officers may fire on the suspect at once, increasing the number of wounds he's likely to sustain. When someone shoots a police officer, that police officer is typically wearing body armor and has been trained in how to survive a gunfight. The officer is normally in radio contact with other officers and/or dispatch, may have other officers assisting him, and normally has an emergency vehicle with lights and siren at his disposal for self-rescue. All of these factors combined mean that an officer who is shot in the line of duty is far, far more likely to survive than is a suspect who's shot by police. The odds are stacked against the suspect's survival and in favor of the officer's survival. Please keep this in mind as you read the following.

Out of a population of 318,900,000 residents, the police have killed 776 so far this year. That means the police have killed 0.24 people per 100,000. That's about one per 416,667 people. Imagine a city or a county with a population of 416,667, where the police kill one criminal a year. That probably wouldn't seem excessive. Newsworthy, but not prima facie evidence of excessive force.

Of those 776 killed, 582 were armed. Black people were killed at a higher rate than whites and hispanics, with about 0.5 per 100,000 black residents being killed by police. That's one black person killed per 200,000, with about a 3-in-4 chance that he was armed at the time.

According to the FBI, the murder rate for the whole country was 4.7 per 100,000 in 2013, the most recent year for which they have data. That means that Americans who aren't cops are being killed by each other 9.4 times as often as they're being killed by police. If seeing a cop makes you worry about being killed, you should worry nine times as much when you see anybody who's not a cop.

As of yesterday, 83 police officers have died in the line of duty this year. 83 is a much smaller number than 776; however, that's out of a total of around 900,000 officers versus 318,900,000 residents. Cops are being killed this year at a rate of 9.22 per 100,000. That's nearly double the murder rate. In other words, despite how much the odds are stacked in favor of a cop surviving a gunfight, Americans are killing their police officers at almost twice the rate that they're killing anyone else, and about eighteen-and-a-half times as often as cops kill black people.

We have all these facts in front of us, and yet the public narrative is that cops are the ones who are violently out of control, and that the biggest thing black people have to worry about is being killed by the police, when there's only a one-in-200,000 chance of that happening, and only one-in-800,000 if they're unarmed. That's a smidge more likely than your chances of being struck by lightning (1-in-960,000). If you listen to left-leaning news commentators, though--or worse, the angry echo chambers that exist in the liberal pockets of the Internet--you'll get the idea that black communities are under siege, where parents have "the talk" with their kids to keep them from being murdered by police, and that even well-meaning police officers of color are unwittingly being driven by their inherent biases to kill black people at the first opportunity that presents itself, like Manchurian Candidates in blue, brainwashed by neo-Nazis to commit a genocide against the black a rate of about ten percent of the normal murder rate.

If, then, people would like to preserve what's left of their credibility, they'd do well to put away their race cards and quit crying "wolf!" every time an aspiring cop killer loses a fight and happens to be black. Is there a problem of excessive use of force by the police in this country? Certainly. One innocent life lost is too many. But when we lose all sense of perspective, when we hysterically elevate this problem to the front and center of social discourse at the expense of greater and more pressing problems like poverty, war, climate change, and growing inequality, we do the entire world an injustice. When people respond to chants of "Black Lives Matter" with "Blue Lives Matter" or retorts about how people should focus on black-on-black violence if they really believe that black lives matter, it's not an attempt to advance racism. It's an attempt to cut through the histrionics, and to order priorities by the actual numbers instead of by how successfully a sensationalist media seeking higher ratings has managed to inflame people's emotions.

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