The Corner

Politics & Policy

Flames from False Narratives

Protesters react after setting fire to the entrance of a police station in Minneapolis, Minn., May 28, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

The indefensible killing — captured on video — of George Floyd, following closely after the release of video showing the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, triggered the riots, looting, and conflagrations that have engulfed scores of cities across the country. As horrific as these killings were, it’s questionable whether, in isolation, they would’ve prompted riots on the scale and in the numbers that have occurred in the last week. Demonstrations, sure. On a visceral level, the videos almost compel them. But nationwide riots would be unlikely.

Rather, the riots are a result of the narrative that the Floyd and Arbery killings are but the latest of increasing examples of innocent blacks being disproportionately shot by white cops and targeted by racist white civilians. The narrative is played hourly on cable news shows. It’s embellished by major newspapers across the country. Cynical and opportunistic politicians advance it every election cycle. Hollywood perpetuates the narrative in television and theaters. It’s a mantra of high-school teachers and college professors, regardless of academic discipline. Major corporations apologize for their nebulous complicity. The narrative is a staple of diversity and inclusion offices. It’s ubiquitous on social media.

The narrative has been repeated so frequently, so universally, that it’s an unassailable given, a fact not to be challenged. Indeed, it’s an article of faith which, if questioned, exposes the heretic to rage, venom, and ostracization. Some fear losing their jobs. Best therefore, not to even consider questioning the narrative.

The narrative is false. In fact, it’s not just false, it’s upside down. And it’s been false for quite some time. There are racist cops in a nation of 330 million. But 2020 America isn’t 1965 Selma.

In short, the data make clear that blacks are, indeed, overrepresented among victims of police shootings, but underrepresented relative to black overrepresentation in crime, particularly violent crime.

Some media recently ran the story that blacks are twice as likely as whites to be shot by cops. On its face, that’s true. But the statement doesn’t consider the comparable encounters with police, especially in high-risk situations, that are likely to prompt exchanges of gunfire or other forms of violence. Consider the following, from the 2018 National Crime Victimization Survey, Census data, FBI Uniform Crime Reports, and other sources: (For extended discussion, see my dissenting statement to the 2018 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Report: Police Use of Force: Examination of Modern Police Practices, p. 197. Unless otherwise noted, most of the data is from 2018.)

  • In 2016, 466 whites were killed by police; 233 blacks were killed by police.
  • Whites are 76.5 percent of the U.S. population (including Hispanics); blacks are 13.4 percent of the U.S. population.
  • Whites commit 59 percent of violent crimes (defined as murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery, aggravated assault); blacks commit 37.5 percent of violent crimes.
  • One out of 8,511 blacks is arrested for murder; one in 58,582 whites is arrested for murder.
  • Blacks are approximately 6.8 times more likely than whites to be arrested for murder.
  • One out of 2,800,438 blacks is arrested for killing a cop; one of 7,674,278 whites is arrested for killing a cop.
  • Blacks are 2.74 times more likely than whites to be arrested for killing a cop.
  • In 2016, 66 cops were killed in the line of duty; 32 whites and 15 blacks were identified as the killers.
  • More than twice as many blacks (533) murdered whites in 2016 than whites (243) murdered blacks.
  • Black males are 6 percent of the U.S. population. Black males are responsible for 42 percent of cop killings in the last decade.
  • In 2015, a cop was 18.5 times more likely to be killed by a black male than an unarmed black male was likely to be killed by a cop.
  • In 2016, 222 black males were killed by police. 16 were unarmed. 445 white males were killed by police. 20 were unarmed.

Contrary to the tweets and posts of some celebrities, blacks aren’t being “hunted” by whites. As Heather Mac Donald notes:

Between 2012 and 2015, blacks committed 85.5 percent of all black-white interracial violent victimizations (excluding interracial homicide, which is also disproportionately black-on-white). That works out to 540,360 felonious assaults on whites. Whites committed 14.4 percent of all interracial violent victimizations, or 91,470 felonious assaults on blacks.

The false narrative has devastating consequences to society. Death, destruction, and division are but a few. The aftermath to the false Michael Brown narrative is just one example. The devastation in Baltimore is another.

Riots are inevitable the next time a black person dies in police custody. People will be killed, property and livelihoods will be destroyed. The false narrative ensures that.

Peter Kirsanow — Peter N. Kirsanow is an attorney and a member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

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