I have recently heard it said that the reason the police shoot blacks, especially young black men, at such a disproportionate rate is because they have an irrational fear of them because they are black. Presumably the proponents of this view believe that shootings, “justifiable” or otherwise, should happen in roughly equal proportion to their share of population. Although I do not believe the police are incapable of excessive force, racial discrimination, negligence, or what have you, the presumption that such disparities must be explained by presumed irrational fear of blacks strikes me as terribly naive on several levels.
Robert VerBruggen of RealClearPolicy did an interesting post on “Race, Age, and Police Killings” a few weeks back that compared nation-wide homicide rates by age group and race to the police shooting statistics.
I thought this was a good and fair way to better illuminate the “fairness” issues here, since groups (e.g., sex, age, race, ethnicity, education, etc) that commit more murder (and other violent crimes) nationally can be reasonably assumed to be more likely to have confrontations with police and more violent confrontations when they do.
I found some data to take this point further by looking more granularly at the demographics of offenders that have actually killed law enforcement and offenders that have assaulted and seriously injured the police (as in with guns, knives, etc). This data gives us a much better sense for the risks posed by each groups to the police and which groups are relatively more likely to be be confrontational, disobey, or even resort to violence, i.e., it speaks much more directly to the dynamics of police encounters with particular demographics (to the extent that one can argue that, say, national homicide rates are only black-on-black, gang-on-gang, or some such). Most police encounters do not result in death of either party or even an exchange of gun fire, but groups that kill, injure, or assault the police at (much) higher rates can be reasonably presumed to be at (much) higher risk of getting killed by the police, “justifiable” or otherwise.
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