The Selective Racial Outrage Over Police Shootings
The non-indictments of the Cleveland police officers involved in the shooting death of African-American teenager Tamir Rice predictably reignited musings on how supposedly bad the American justice system is for blacks.
And there was no more damning charge against that justice system than The New York Times editorial boards declaration of a racial double-standard in policing last week. The Times editors said the Rice shooting amounted to a “terrible stain” for the city of Cleveland.
“Tamir Rice of Cleveland would be alive today had he been a white 12-year-old playing with a toy gun in just about any middle-class neighborhood in the country on the afternoon of Nov. 22, 2014,” the first sentence of the editorial reads.
Blaming Rice’s death entirely on his skin color and his community and not on the fact that he was a large male pointing what looked like a real gun at cops, the Times said the Cleveland police is an “occupying force” which denies the “humanity” of black citizens. (RELATED: Experts Determine That Shooting Of Tamir Rice Was Justified)
Apparently, cops knowing and making decisions based on Rice’s neighborhood being a hotbed of crime is downright racist. The Times’ overall point, as clearly discerned from its opener, is that race was a major factor in why Rice died that day — and a white male in that situation would’ve never been shot at.
But is this assertion really true?
Activists and friendly journalists love to point out the disproportionate number of black men who are killed by police. More whites are shot by law enforcement than blacks, but the numbers don’t align with the racial ratios of the general population.
Those who believe there is an ingrained, irrational bias among police officers against African-Americans take this number as a sign that cops get trigger-happy around blacks. What’s usually left out of the conversation over the disproportionate number of police shootings of African-Americans are the disproportionate number of crimes, particularly violent crime, committed by African-Americans.
According to a City University of New York analysis published last summer, 30 percent of the individuals killed by police between May 2013 and April 2015 were African-American. Forty-nine percent were white.
This number is not too far off from the disparity shown in violent crime statistics. According to Department of Justice statistics compiled by Manhattan Institute scholar Heather MacDonald, over 22 percent of violent crimes were committed by blacks in 2012 and 2013, while 43 percent were committed by whites. Twelve percent were described as “other” and eight percent were listed as unknown.
These numbers could help explain why African-Americans — who make up 13 percent of the population — account for 30 percent of the individuals shot and killed by police. It also shows that white people certainly do have the chance of being shot by police if they were engaging in the kind of behavior shown by Tamir Rice.
Besides the numbers, there are several cases of whites being shot by police officers under circumstances that are far more dubious than the confrontation that occurred in Cleveland on November 22, 2014.
At the same time the country was focused on the (later justified) August 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, an unarmed white 18-year-old was shot and killed in Salt Lake City, Utah, by a non-white police officer after refusing to obey that officer’s order. A Utah court later cleared the cop of any wrong-doing.
In July of 2015, an unarmed white 19-year-old was shot and killed in a South Carolina Hardee’s parking lot by police over marijuana possession. In spite of the family’s outrage, prosecutors refused to press charges against the officers who opened fire.
The next month, several officers barged into a home in Dekalb, Georgia, over a false burglary report, shot the homeowner, his dog and each other in a darkly comedic demonstration of incompetence. The wounded homeowner — whose dog didn’t survive — in this case was white while the inept officers were black. Additionally, the neighborhood that this major mishap occurred was solidly middle-class.
A few months later in November, two officers in the small town of Marksville, Louisiana, murdered a white six-year-old and severely wounded the boy’s father, Chris Few, in an unprovoked shooting. Few was unarmed and had his hands up when the cops lit him up and the pick-up truck that carried his young son. The two cops charged with murder in connection with the fatal shooting are both black.
Even though these are only a few examples of the large number of whites who are shot by police every year and the Louisiana case is particularly egregious, no large-scale demonstrations erupted over these unarmed victims. No New York Times columns on the epidemic of police brutalizing white bodies. No Department of Justice investigations were opened into whether the offending police department had any trace of prejudice.
Clearly, there’s a serious discrepancy in the reactions to police shootings that depends entirely on the race of the person shot. As articulated by one Kentucky sheriff when he was asked in a press conferences last May if he was worried about community backlash after his deputies fatally wounded an armed suspect, “We do not want trouble. We are glad that he is white, and we shouldn’t have to be worried about that.” (RELATED: ‘Glad That He Is White,’ Kentucky Sheriff Says Of Suspect Shot By Deputies)
And that’s probably how police should expect their communities to react to the vast majority of shootings done by law enforcement. Right now, there’s a narrative out there — fostered by premier media outlets like The New York Times and prominent political figures like the president — that blacks are being unfairly untargeted for violence by the law.
That’s how an elected official in Jackson, Mississippi, can even think of calling for black leaders to throw bricks and rocks at cops. (RELATED: Mississippi Councilman Recommends Violence To Keep Police Out Of Jackson)
The facts of the Ferguson case — which showed that Michael Brown was fighting and charging officer Darren Wilson when killed — and the number of whites killed by law enforcement shows that that notion isn’t accurate. Police, like all professions, make mistakes and those who unjustifiably shoot and kill suspects should be brought to justice. (RELATED: Holder Admits ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ Claim Was Bogus)
However, society should remember that these are isolated incidents and African-Americans are not shot simply because of their skin color.
Rather than being possessed by the delirious notion that racist cops are murdering blacks without consequences, African-American leaders should be more concerned with the phenomenon which leads to the vast majority of the deadly encounters between police and blacks — the crime and violence endemic to their communities.
That kills far more African-Americans than police — and law enforcement are often the only people who can protect the innocents of a given community. It’s worth remembering in the aftermath of the Baltimore riots, cops pulled back patrols in many predominately black neighborhoods. Murders skyrocketed as a result.
So who’s to blame for those lives lost if you can’t point the finger at trigger-happy police officers?