Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Whites Shoot Cops---Cops Shoot Blacks

Whites Shoot Cops---Cops Shoot Blacks

     Everyone knows that police shootings of unarmed blacks is, sadly, a common occurrence. Less well known is the fact that a cop is more likely to be shot by a white assailant than a black.
     More than 30 years of research establishes without question that blacks are "disproportionately among those at the wrong end of police guns." In some parts of the country they constitute 60 to 85% of police shooting victims. On the average, nationwide, they are six times more likely than whites to be shot by a cop,  and in some big cities they are three times more likely than whites to gunned down.
     Most of the time the killings are deemed justifiable homicide based on the cops asserted fear that the black assailant posed a lethal danger, yet the fact of the matter is that a cop is more likely to be killed by a white assailant than a black. In 2012, 48 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty. Of the known offenders, 30 were white and 16 were black (5 were of other ethnicities). From 2003 through 2012, 304 of the assailants were white and 259 black. Given that stop and frisk and similar tactics  in the big cities and places like Ferguson generate more police contacts with blacks per cop than with whites, the probability of any given black encounter being lethal for the  cop is less than it is for any given white encounter.
     So why are blacks more likely to be shot?
     The killing of Amadou Diallo, a 22-year old West African immigrant by New York City police provides an answer that probably holds for 90 percent of the questionable cases. Diallo was shot, according to the police, because of his 'suspicious movements". The 'suspicious movements' were the actions that for a young white man in a different part of town would have gone unnoticed. (Diallo's family later won a $3,000,000 judgment against the City.)
     Research by Plant and Peruche, two psychologists at Florida State University,  indicated that in a simulated, laboratory situation "officers were more likely to mistakenly shoot unarmed Black compared with unarmed White suspects".  The same research also indicated that with extensive further training "the officers were able to eliminate this bias".
    Some might argue that bias or no bias, higher crime rates in minority communities account for more minorities being shot by the police. Research I did many years ago on the Las Angeles Police Department is relevant in reflecting on this argument. At that time the Department was divided into so-called patrol districts in which 'field interrogation' (roughly analogous to stop and frisk) was the preferred mode of policing. The crime rate for serious offenses was indeed higher in minority districts than in the white districts, but an analysis of the figures indicated that if one assumed each crime was committed by a different person, then for every 20 persons in the  white districts, 1 had committed an offense, while for every 20 persons in the minority districts, 2 had committed a serious offense. In other words, the overwhelming number of people in both communities were law abiding, but based on a difference of 1 person in 20, every member of the minority community was put at the risk of a police encounter as they went about their daily business, with the attendant risk of the innocent being shot, but almost no members of the white community.
     The assumption of each crime being committed by a different person was analytically necessary but  the reality was that a small number of people in each community commit multiple crimes, hence probably only I in every 30 or 1 in every 40 persons in the minority community had committed a serious offense, making the habitual blanket intrusion for behavior overlooked in other communities even more egregious.   
    Change is possible but there has to be the will for a Department to do what is necessary to change procedures and reduce bias. Clearly, some departments have it, other do not. And where it does not exist the struggle must continue by all legitimate means.


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