Jason L. Riley, Wall Street Journal, September 26, 2017
As a youngster, I didn’t salute the flag or stand for the national anthem. It ran against my religious teachings.
To my mother’s chagrin, the religion didn’t stick and I left the church voluntarily in my teens.
But when I see, as we all did on Sunday, professional athletes catching flak from the president on down for taking a knee during the national anthem, it takes me back to my childhood. I can’t help but feel for them.
The players have said they are protesting the unjust treatment of blacks by law enforcement and cite the spate of police shootings that have come to light in recent years. Team owners and NFL officials will have to decide whether to continue indulging such behavior on company time, but the larger question is whether what is being protested has some basis in reality beyond anecdotes and viral videos on social media.
There is no national database of police shootings — some departments report more-detailed data than others — but the statistics that are available suggest that police today use deadly force significantly less often than in the past. In New York City, home to the nation’s largest police force, officer-involved shootings have fallen by more than 90% since the early 1970s, and national trends have been similarly dramatic.
A Justice Department report published in 2001 noted that between 1976 and 1998, the teen and adult population grew by 47 million people, and the number of police officers increased by more than 200,000, yet the number of people killed by police “did not generally rise” over this period. Moreover, a “growing percentage of felons killed by police are white, and a declining percentage are black.” A separate Justice study released in 2011 also reported a decline in killings by police, between 1980 and 2008. And according to figures from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate at which police kill blacks has fallen by 70% since the late 1960s.
An increase in press coverage of police shootings isn’t the same thing as an increase in police shootings.