Posted on October 22, 2021

When Cops Kill

Barry Latzer, City Journal, October 13, 2021


The New York Times recently reported on a study published in the medical journal Lancet showing that the federal government’s database of lethal confrontations with police woefully undercounts fatalities. {snip} What is different here is the study’s claim that there are more black homicides missed than white. {snip}

But even with the data uncovered by the Lancet researchers, the results are not as racially skewed as claimed. From 1980 to 2018, the researchers found that 49 percent of the fatalities were of non-Hispanic whites, whereas 31 percent involved non-Hispanic blacks, and 17 percent were Hispanic. The federal government’s National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS), covering a shorter period (2003–2018) and an admittedly small sample of states, found roughly the same percentage of whites killed by police (48 percent), but a higher proportion of blacks (40 percent)—suggesting that the official data are not undercounting black deaths, and that whites are significantly more likely to be killed by police than blacks.

Still, the Lancet study claims “stark” racial inequities amounting to “systemic racism within the US police force.” {snip}

This statistic may be valid, but it does not demonstrate systematic racism. In the overwhelming majority of cases, police were pursuing the eventual victim because of a crime—usually murder or assault (69 percent)—or the suspect was actually using a weapon (71 percent). In other words, the typical decedent was a violent-crime suspect fleeing from the police or threatening officers or private citizens with a gun. The decedent was often using drugs or alcohol (27 percent), and one in five had recently been diagnosed with mental illness. {snip}

The key question, then, is not how many whites, blacks, or Hispanics per 100,000 of each group were killed by police, but what percentage of each population group is likely to be involved in the circumstances leading to such a death.

{snip} The last full FBI crime report, for 2019, shows that the racial/ethnic proportions of people arrested for violent crimes, such as murder, rape, and aggravated assault, is nearly identical to the Lancet data on those who died in confrontations with police.