This is not a column that I am going to enjoy writing but what follows still needs to be said. And although I am going to appear to be very critical of law enforcement in the commentary that follows, please take my word for it when I say that I am extremely pro-cop. And the reason I am very supportive of the men and women in blue is that I have witnessed on numerous occasions their willingness to be the first ones who rush into a location when God knows what is behind that closed door. But nevertheless I still believe that what follows needs to be said.
Actually, I’m not going to be critical of law enforcement so much as I am going to say some pretty unkind words about a long article about police shootings that has just appeared in The Washington Post. The article claims to be a very detailed study of almost 1,000 police shootings that have occurred this year. Turns out that the FBI’s annual report on what they call justifiable law enforcement shootings is like everything else that is published in the UCR, namely, a best-guess estimate based on what local law enforcement wants to report (or not report) to their federal friends in DC. But the fact that the given by the Post is twice as high as what we get each year from the FBI makes me wonder about the credibility of any crime data published in the UCR.
Be that as it may, the very first headline of the Post’s story is that only 4% of all police killings resulted in the deaths of “unarmed” Black men shot by White cops. The Post should be ashamed of itself for writing something so basically divisive, stupid, and in terms of its implication, simply wrong. Because the report immediately linked this number to the protests that have sprung up about cops shooting blacks in many communities, the most notable of course being the shooting of Michael Brown. The report then goes on to say that although Black men represent only 6% of the U.S. population, they accounted for 40% of the unarmed men shot to death by the cops in 2015. So the takeaway from all of this is that if there’s a racial problem in the issue of police homicides, it’s not so much that cops shoot unarmed Blacks so much as there is a disparity between Black males as a percentage of the overall population and the numbers of ‘armed’ Black men who are shot dead.
There’s only one little problem with this analysis and it makes me wonder whether the staff that created this report for the Post even took the trouble to look at the data on which the report is based. Because when I started to read the details of the actual shootings themselves, what jumped out at me was the extent to which the definitions of what constitutes ‘armed’ versus ‘unarmed’ victims, Black or White, doesn’t add up to the same thing at all.
There were, according to the article, 70 police homicides in December, of which the victim in 47 cases had a gun. There were also 15 shootings in which the victim had a knife and 9 instances in which the victim wielded some other kind of weapon, including a baseball bat, a “metal stick” and a brick. Now don’t get me wrong. If someone came at me with a brick I would certainly feel that I was being threatened with serious bodily harm. But in fact the victim threw the brick at an officer, he didn’t actually hit him with anything at all.
Again, I’m not in any way attempting to impugn the dedication and hard work of our men and women in blue. If anything, my concern here is with the obvious attempt by The Post to create a sensational story out of some buts of thin air. But when it comes to stories involving guns, The Post usually gets it wrong.