The Lie Behind the Lynch Mob
Sunday in New York City, Al Sharpton led at least 2,500 marchers in a rally condemning “a society where police are automatically excused” for wrongdoing. At issue was the recent death of Eric Garner, a black New Yorker who resisted arrest and subsequently died from what a medical examiner described as an interplay between a white police officer’s chokehold and Garner’s multiple chronic infirmities. A featured speaker at Sunday’s demonstration was the mother of Amadou Diallo, a black man who was killed in a 1999 shooting by four NYPD officers. “Police cannot judge our sons and execute them for no reason,” she declared.
In a similar vein, Sharpton portrays the recent shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown in Missouri as an example of law-enforcement “devaluing the lives of people,” and he vows to make that incident a “defining moment on how this country deals with policing.” His contention is that too many African Americans are being unjustifiably killed in the streets by white police. If he’s correct, then we’ve got a monumental national scandal on our hands that surely deserves to be addressed. So let’s examine the facts and see what they tell us.
The most comprehensive information we have on this issue comes from a landmark 51-page report published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2001. This study examined incidents where police used deadly force to kill criminal suspects during the 23-year period from 1976 through 1998. The study did not distinguish between whites and Hispanics, but instead categorized all members of those two demographics as “white.” So, for the moment, let’s refer to this group as “W&H” (Whites & Hispanics) rather than “whites.”
During the course of the entire 23-year period examined in the study, 56% of all suspects killed by police were W&H, and 42% were black.
Over time, W&H constituted an ever-increasing percentage of those who were killed by police: In 1978, they accounted for 50% of all such killings. By 1988 that figure had climbed to 59%, and by 1998 it stood at 62%.
Meanwhile, the trend for African Americans was moving in precisely the opposite direction: In 1978, black suspects were 49% of those killed by police. By 1988, that figure had fallen to 39%. And ten years after that, it stood at 35%.
Most cases where police killed suspects during 1976-98 were same-race incidents: When W&H officers were the killers, the suspects were usually W&H (63%). And when black officers were the killers, the suspects were usually black (81%).
In 1998 specifically, 3.2 out of every 10,000 black officers killed a black suspect sometime that year, whereas only 1.4 out of every 10,000 W&H officers killed a black suspect.
Also in 1998, about 2.8 out of every 10,000 W&H officers killed a W&H suspect sometime that year—double the rate at which W&H officers killed black suspects.
To fill in the data from more recent years, we must turn to a 2011 BJS study which covers the period from 2003 to 2009. Unlike the earlier study, this one does distinguish between whites and Hispanics. Of all suspects who are known to have been killed by police during the 7-year time frame, 41.7% were white, 31.7% were black, and 20.3% were Hispanic.
It is also worth noting that during the 2003-2009 period—when blacks were 31.7% of all suspects killed by an officer—blacks accounted for about 38.5% of all arrests for violent crimes, which are the types of crimes most likely to trigger a confrontation with police that could result in a fatality. These numbers do not in any way suggest a lack of restraint by police in their dealings with black suspects. On the contrary, they suggest the opposite.
The bottom line is this: Evidence of systemic racism in police shootings simply doesn’t exist. Anywhere.
But Al Sharpton and his ideological ilk have no use for facts like these. For Sharpton, the corpses of Michael Brown and Eric Garner are merely props to be exploited for the purpose of advancing the singular agenda he has had for more than 30 years, which is to convince as many people as possible that America is, and always has been, an inherently racist wasteland that needs to be fundamentally transformed—economically, politically, and socially. The facts of any specific case are irrelevant to Sharpton. For him, everything is about the larger agenda.
Nor is this anything new for Sharpton. Way back when this utterly pathetic individual was immersed in his equally pathetic Tawana Brawley “rape” hoax, one of his closest aides, Perry McKinnon—a former police officer, private investigator, and hospital security director—revealed the following: “Sharpton acknowledged to me early on that ‘the [Brawley] story do sound like bullsh**, but it don’t matter. We’re building a movement. This is the perfect issue. Because you’ve got whites on blacks. That’s an easy way to stir up all the deprived people … and all [you’ve] got to do is convince them that all white people are bad. Then you’ve got a movement.’”
A quarter-century later, nothing—absolutely nothing—has changed.
NOTES: All calendar years from 1976 through 1998 are counted, thus 23 separate calendar years are included in the study. All told, approximately 8,578 suspects were killed by police during those 23 years. The annual totals ranged from a low of 296 to a high of 459. Data for a small handful of states is missing from this study, but the vast majority of police killings nationwide were counted.
 “Hispanics” is a broad and nebulous term referring, generally, to people whose heritage can be traced to Spanish-speaking countries. The term was concocted for political purposes in 1970 by the Nixon administration. For an excellent explanation of the term’s origins and its subsequent ramifications, click here.
 The data in this study are not entirely comprehensive, because not every U.S. state reported its overall statistics in every year that was examined. Nevertheless, the ratios uncovered in the report are highly illuminating.
 The annual violent-crime arrest statistics for 2003-2009, broken down by race, can be found here: 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009.
 Richard T. Pienciak, “6 Interviews That Shook Tawana Team,” New York Daily News (June 16, 1988), p.4.
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