The Corner

Law & the Courts

Understating Black-on-Black Murders

Chicago police at the scene of a fatal shooting in 2015. (Jim Young/Reuters)

About three weeks ago, we published my column, “The ‘Institutional Racism’ Canard.” In it, I made a point about black-on-black murders, drawing on FBI statistics from 2016. Though the data I drew from the published stats was accurate, there are caveats that I did not explain. When additional information is factored in, the problem is even worse than I suggested.

Specifically, I noted that Powerline’s Paul Mirengoff had drawn on FBI crime statistics for 2016 in support of the proposition that “of 776 black-white homicides, blacks committed 533 and whites 243.” I ended the paragraph with my own observation: “Neither of these numbers, by the way, nor their combined total, comes anywhere close to the number of blacks killed by blacks: a staggering 2,570 — the overwhelming majority male.”

We are going to remove that sentence, with a reference to this Corner post. As noted above, it accurately reflects what is set forth in the relevant table of the FBI’s 2016 crime statistics (Expanded Homicide Data Table 3), but it could be misleading. As an explanatory note explains, Table 3 “is based on incidents where some information about the offender is known by law enforcement.” That is, it “excludes data when the offender, age, sex, race, and ethnicity are all reported as unknown.” Moreover, Table 3 includes only murders where a single offender is known to have killed a single victim; that, too, omits a significant number of murders from the chart. Consequently, Table 3 breaks down only 6,676 murders that occurred in 2016.

As the FBI explains elsewhere in its compilation, however, there were an estimated 17,250 murders in the United States that year. In 7,881 of these, the victim was black.

To summarize, (a) Table 3 drastically understates the total number of murders in 2016, and (b) in a high percentage of murders, the offender is unidentified. Consequently, the number of blacks killed by blacks in 2016 was clearly higher than 2,570 – no doubt, significantly higher if we assume the offense rates consistent with those derived from cases in which the offender’s race is known.

Though I was trying to highlight the problem of black-on-black killings, I inadvertently understated the gravity of the problem. The afore-described sentence is not essential to the overall argument in the column, so we’re removing it.

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