Police Shootings Aren’t a White or Black Problem

COLUMBIA, MO – NOVEMBER 9: Tents remain on the Mel Carnahan quad on the campus of University of Missouri – Columbia on November 9, 2015 in Columbia, Missouri. University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe resigned today amid protests over racial tensions at the university. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images) Michael B. Thomas Getty Images North America

Police shootings shouldn’t be the province of social media hashtags, they should be a legitimate issue addressed in a cohesive and intelligent manner by people of all races and ethnic groups. But instead they aren’t. Social media, which once seemed primed to connect us in ways we could only have ever dreamed of, has devolved into a series of warring tribes — white, black, Republican and Democrat, pro and anti second amendment, it’s nearly impossible to have a rational discussion online today.

Everyone hates everyone. 

As a self-proclaimed radical moderate I find myself constantly buffeted by insanity from both the left and the right wings of the political spectrum. The result is actual facts are lost at the beck and call of passion and anger. I’ve got a truly radical hashtag for you. It isn’t #blacklivesmatter and it isn’t #alllivesmatter either, it’s #factsmatter. 

In the past two days social media has been overrun by responses to shootings by white police officers of black men in Baton Rouge and Minnesota. The shootings have been accompanied by videos that you can seek out online and view if you haven’t already. I’m not going to discuss what happened in those incidents because, here’s a wild idea, I actually trust the justice department to investigate these incidents thoroughly. If the police are at fault, they should be charged with crimes just like anyone else would. 

But rather than spout off at the mouth or toss out a hashtag that isn’t designed to implement any actual change, but is primarily a signal for everyone else to show off what kind of person they are — I’ve already established that I hate death more than all of you. Murder and cancer too. Also I’m a better troop supporter than you are. — I decided to do something truly amazing — seek out the actual facts on police shootings. 

The Washington Post, a newspaper I grew to love while I was in college in Washington, D.C., has a very detailed analysis of every police shooting that has happened in 2015 and 2016. I’d encourage you to click this link and go read about the police shootings here.

The facts are pretty remarkable. 

In 2015 nearly a thousand people were shot and killed by police. Almost all of those people shot, over 95%, were men. 

That’s probably not a surprise to you, but here was the racial breakdown of all people killed by police in 2015:

51.3% white

27.3% black

17.8% Hispanic

(38 people were other race)

And here were the racial breakdowns of police killings so far in 2016:

51.4% white

26.5% black

17.1% Hispanic

(23 people were other races) 

Does it surprise you that in both 2015 and 2016 over 72% of the people killed by police weren’t black? And that over half of all people shot and killed by police were white in both years?

It sure surprised me. 

Now it’s certainly true that black people represent only 12-13% of the United States population and are twice that rate in the police killings, but according to FBI data in 2014 4,224 black men were arrested and charged with murder in this country. Meanwhile 3,807 white and Hispanic men were arrested and charged with murder. This means blacks were arrested for 51.3% of all murders in 2014 despite the fact that they represent just 12% of the population. Given that the black arrest rate for violent crime also exceeds 27%, black people are actually getting shot and killed less often when they’re arrested than white and Hispanic people are. 

Yet the only stories I’ve seen in the media and on social media have been about white police officers shooting black men. But that represents a tiny percentage of the overall police shootings.

So why are we focusing on such a tiny subset of police shootings? I suspect it’s because the media has utilized black fear of white racism to increase TV ratings. That same black fear provokes an equally virulent response from white America, which accuses black America of blaming everything on racism. So we swing from one hashtag extreme to the other #blacklivesmatter to #alllivesmatter without most people ever taking the time to examine actual police shooting data. 

That’s unfortunate because it’s led to a racial factionalization of an issue that shouldn’t be about race at all — every person of every race with a functional brain should be asking a significant question when they see this information: Why are police killing nearly a thousand people a year of all races? And what can we do to reduce that rate of violence?

But no one’s asking these questions because sowing seeds of disunity pays better than trying to unite. The result: social media and the resulting media coverage has turned police violence into a white vs. black issue. And the hashtag activism is, by its very nature, not going to change anything. How can #blacklivesmatter mobilize everyone who isn’t black to combat police violence when they’re only focusing on 27% of the victims? White and Hispanic people should have the same goals as black people here, making police shootings about race just ensures that nothing actually changes.  

Let me ask you this question, over 600 white people have been killed by police in the past year and half. Why haven’t any of us heard a word about any of those people? Isn’t it likely that some of those shootings were unjustified as well? Instead of examining all police shootings and seeking a solution that benefits everyone, we’re left compartmentalizing a complex issue not with facts but with passion and fear.

Even if that fear isn’t reflected in any of the data. For instance: white people aren’t marauding down the streets killing innocent black people with wanton disregard for the law. In the most recent FBI data over 90% of black people were murdered by other black people in 2013. Just 7.5% of black murders were committed by white or Hispanic perpetrators. And the same is true for white people, 84% of all murdered white people are killed by other white people. Just 14% of white people are killed by black people. This means white people are statistically twice as likely to be killed by black people as black people are by white people.

But neither is very likely at all! 

Racial anger obscures the larger point here — the races aren’t at war. There has never been a time in our nation’s history when white and black people have gotten along better. There has never been a safer time to live in America for people of all races. Just about every year less people are being killed violently than the year before.  

Yet we continue to feel more frightened than ever before. 

Why?

Because we aren’t using our brains, we’re allowing fear and emotion to dictate our responses. Hashtags aren’t a search for justice, they’re evidence of false fear.  

It’s time for intelligent people of all races and creeds to start to push back against false narratives designed to divide and scare us at a time when we need unity.

The use of police force isn’t a white, black, brown or yellow issue, it’s an American issue: the solution doesn’t come from one of our factions, it comes from all of them.  

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