We live in a time when facts don’t matter and it has never been easier to spread falsehoods online through social media hashtags.
That’s a very bad combination.
Here at Outkick I sometimes feel like I’m the lone voice in the media trying to reign in false hyperbole spread online that’s designed to instill social unrest and allow fear to divide us all.
Sadly, sports has become the newest frontier for the dissemination of falsehoods. That’s why I was disappointed to see LeBron James, one of the smartest athletes in the country, spreading fear and disinformation yesterday when he gave further legitimacy to the idea that police are targeting blacks.
This is simply not true.
LeBron James was asked about recent social unrest and said he feared for his son’s life if he was pulled over by police. Specifically LeBron said, “It’s a scary-ass situation that if my son calls me and says he’s been pulled over, that I’m not that confident that things are going to go well and my son is going to return home.”
This is, as I’m going to demonstrate below, a patently absurd opinion unsupported by any factual basis that serves to further provoke division between police and minority communities.
Predictably, James’s comments have echoed across social media and many have endorsed the entirely fallacious idea that black people are being targeted by police.
LeBron’s opinion is rooted in his feeling that black people are being targeted, but it is isn’t supported by actual facts. (The fact that feelings now dominate our national discourse instead of facts, is emblematic of a country rapidly teetering towards death by whining.)
So I decided to do something radical in this day and age, I decided to look at actual 2016 police shooting data to see whether or not LeBron’s comment about his fear for his son has any basis in reality whatsoever.
Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.
The Washington Post tallies every police shooting in this country. Here is the database for 2016. Presently there have been 714 police shootings in 2016, with 53.4% of all people shot and killed by police being white, 18.3% being Hispanic, and 28.4% being black. This means that nearly 72% of all people shot and killed by police in 2016 have been white or Hispanic. While it’s true that black people are being shot at a higher percentage than their 12% of the United States population, but, significantly, black people are actually being shot at a lower rate than their rates of violent crime would suggest. (Blacks represent 12% of the country’s population, but commit over half of all murders.)
Given that the population of this country is presently 323 million, your chances of being shot and killed by the police are incredibly low. And if you aren’t carrying a weapon, engaging in criminal activity, or attempting to kill the police yourself, your chances of being shot by the police are virtually nonexistent.
Indeed just 42 unarmed people of all races have been killed by police so far in 2016. That represents just 6% of all police shootings.
Let’s assume that if LeBron’s son were 16 years old and pulled over by police he would not have a gun or any other weapon. If that small assumption is made, then the odds of LeBron’s son ever being shot and killed by police in this country, regardless of his race, are virtually nonexistent. (To the extent that LeBron is worried about his son, a young black male, being a victim of violence, that’s perfectly logical given the data. But the threats to LeBron’s son aren’t from the police. The real threat to LeBron’s son would come from other black people. Since 93% of all black murder victims are killed by other black people.)
This year police have shot and killed 42 “unarmed” people of all races. (It’s important to note that “unarmed” doesn’t mean without danger. For instance, someone is “unarmed” if they reach for a police officer’s gun or attack an officer with kicks or punches.) Of those 42 people, 19 were white, 15 were black, 5 were Hispanic and three were of unknown race. This means that 64.2% of unarmed people shot and killed by police this year are white, Hispanic or of unknown race. Just 15 unarmed black people, a little over one per month, were shot and killed by police so far this year.
If you search the shooting database for unarmed people under the age of 18 shot and killed by police this year — the category that LeBron’s son would fit — there have been just three shootings of this sort all year. If we assume that the percentages are the same for these shootings as for the unarmed shootings in general, then just one unarmed black kid under the age of 18 has been shot and killed by police this year. And it’s possible that, in a country of 323 million, it hasn’t even happened once.
But let’s assume it has happened once.
Since there are millions of black kids under the age of 18 in this country, LeBron James, and a lot of other people in this country, are afraid of something that is a near statistical improbability.
How rarely are unarmed people shot and killed by police in this country?
Let’s consider other ways people have died this year. So far 35 people have died from lightning strikes this year. This means you are nearly as likely to be struck and killed by lightning as you are to be unarmed and shot and killed by police in this country.
Need more evidence of how rare this police shootings of unarmed people are?
Dogs kill 28 people a year.
Here’s an even wilder stat. You are more likely to be killed by bees, wasps and hornets — they claim 58 victims a year — than you are to be unarmed and killed by police so far in 2016.
If the media covered bee, wasp and hornet deaths like they cover police shootings of black people, none of us would ever go outside. We’d all think we were about to be killed.
And that’s my point in writing this article — just because you feel like something is true, doesn’t mean it is true. Don’t let the media convince you that an incredibly rare occurrence is actually commonplace.
The fact of the matter is this: LeBron’s son is nearly three times as likely to be killed by a dog, a bee, a wasp, a hornet or lightning this year — a combined 121 deaths — than he is a police officer.
Yet if LeBron had said, “It’s a scary-ass situation that if my son calls me and says he’s going outside to play basketball in the front yard, that I’m not that confident that with all the bees, wasps, hornets, dogs and lightning out here in the summer that things are going to go well and my son is going to return home.”
Everyone would have ridiculed LeBron’s fear of bees, wasps, hornets, dogs and lightning, right?
Yet they are nearly three times a greater danger to his son than the police are.
I can’t believe I have to say this, but regardless of your race, the odds of the police killing you are virtually zero. Statistically, unarmed people in this country of all races are under more danger from dogs, lightning strikes, bees, wasps and hornets than they are the police.