A few years ago, I took a look at the most recent data on police killings in a post entitled When Arrests Go Bad. I found out a most curious thing.
Now, before I get to what I found, let me say that most of what I’ll put forward here in this post are facts. Not opinion. Facts. Here’s the first fact, as verified in the link above:
If you are getting arrested by the police for a violent crime, your chances of being killed by the cops are GREATER if you are white then if you are black.
• In 2015, for every thousand white people arrested for a violent crime, four white people were killed by police.
• In 2015, for every thousand black people arrested for a violent crime, two black people were killed by police.
Yes, I know that goes against conventional wisdom, but all I can do is tell you what the facts are. And this has been verified by studies like this one and this one, along with other studies that came to the same conclusion.
Intrigued, I repeated the analysis the following year in a post called Making The Shortlist, with the same result—if you get arrested, your chances of being killed are higher if you are white.
• In 2016, for every thousand white people arrested for a violent crime, three white people were killed by police.
• In 2016, for every thousand black people arrested for a violent crime, two black people were killed by police.
So the cops are more dangerous to you if you are white. Kinda puts a kink in the whole narrative behind the current riots …
Today, since the issue of white violence against blacks is once again in the forefront, I thought I’d take a slightly different look at the issue. The Bureau of Justice Statistics, part of the US Department of Justice, conducts a huge survey each year called the National Criminal Victimization Survey (NCVS). They’ve done this since 1993. The most recent one is from 2018, available here. They asked people all over the US about their experience with violent incidents. It contains a lot of fascinating data. For example, it has the following graphic:
Figure 1. Violent incidents 1993 to 2018, and violent incidents that were actually reported to police.
This shows that since 1993, the rate of violent incidents per 1,000 people has dropped to about a quarter of its starting value. I would not have guessed that. It also shows that over that whole time, only about half of the incidents were reported to the police.
What I was more interested in, however, were the tables showing the races of the offenders and the victims in the millions of violent incidents reported by the people polled. I wanted to see if black people were justified in their fears that white people were out to harm them. I must admit, I was surprised by the outcome.
Here are the results for the 3,228,201 violent incidents involving black people and white people, split up by the race of the offender and the race of the victim. Data is from Table 14 in the link above.
Figure 2. Violent incidents by the race of the offender and the race of the victim.
I truly did not expect that disparity. The rate of black people attacking white people almost 500 times as large as the rate of white people attacking black people. And not only that, but black people attack white people more often than they attack black people. I absolutely was surprised by that.
Let me say again, what I am putting forwards are facts. Your interpretation of them will assuredly differ from mine, but the facts remain unchanged.
So you tell me … based on the facts in Figure 2, which race should be afraid of violence from the other race?
I looked further. I considered whether people were more often victims or offenders. Here’s a look by race at offenders as a percentage of victims.
Figure 3. Number of offenders as a percentage of the number of victims, by race.
You can see that the number of black offenders is twice the number of black victims, while the number of white offenders is only 80% of the number of white victims.
To come at this from a slightly different angle, I took a look at the FBI murder data. After all, the current issue is the apparent murder of a black man by a white man. So … here’s that data:
Figure 4. Murders by the race of the offender and the race of the victim.
Once again, we see the same pattern. The rate of black people killing white people is about ten times as large as the other way around …
I ask again … which race should be afraid of the other?
My answer to that question is simple. Neither one should be afraid of the other. Here’s why.
For each race, the odds are much larger that you’ll be killed by a member of your own race.
Which way does the danger lie?
So to shift away from undeniable facts, this is a plea for some sanity and compassion. People are always going on about “the talk” that black parents have with their sons, to keep them from getting killed by cops … funny, but my mom gave me the same talk. “If you are stopped by the police, be polite, move slowly, don’t resist, and do exactly what they ask.”
But the real danger to everyone isn’t from the police. The real danger to white people is, yep, from other white people … and the real danger to black people is, yep, from other black people. Not the cops. Other white people. Other black people.
Finally, let me be clear. There absolutely are racist cops in this country, and there are racist police departments. And in a curious development, a few of the racist cops are black and use their badges to take out their anger, just like their white counterparts. Hey, are we a country of opportunity or what? As I said, police brutality, violence, and corruption are a real issue for everyone, not just one race or another.
However, there are far, far fewer of both racist cops and racist departments than when I was a young man. And there are also far, far more black police officers, police chiefs, and police commissioners. Heck, both the Chief of Police and the Deputy Chief in Minneapolis, where George Floyd died, are black … are people seriously accusing them of racism?
But then when I was a young man, white people and black people couldn’t marry in some US states, segregation was still legal, and segregated clubs, restaurants, hotels, beaches, pools, and even drinking fountains were common across the Southern US. An older friend of mine told me back then of watching the Warden of Parchman Prison Farm and a Deputy Warden beat a black man to death with leaded canes … they told him “Say one word about the nigger and you’re next”. Hey, that’s how people talked back then, it was bad times for black people.
So I give Americans, both white and black, huge props. In my lifetime we’ve gone from the blatant legal segregation and racial division I listed above, to having black men and women as Senators and Members of Congress, black men and women mayors, police chiefs, governors, generals, police officers, and a black President who was both elected and re-elected. That is an astonishing accomplishment for such a short time.
So we’ve come a long, long way since then. And no, we are NOT now a “fundamentally racist society” as some claim. That’s a huge exaggeration. If we were, black and brown people wouldn’t be risking their lives to come here. In my wide experience of working and traveling in North America, South America, Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Pacific, we are one of the more racially egalitarian countries on the planet … and yes, some racism still exists.
We need to get used to the idea that both can be true at once.
As a country, we seem to have lost the ability to hold two ideas at one time—for example, the idea that America is one of the best places on earth for all races, and the idea that there is still work to be done regarding racism.
My final conclusion? Police brutality is an issue whether you are white, black, or in between. It is not an issue owned by any race. As to what we can do about that, I can do no better than to restate my ideas from my first link above, my post entitled When Arrests Go Bad, wherein I said:
Now, the numbers of deaths are low. But still, with over nine hundred citizens killed by police, surely we can do better than that. And the number of unjustified deaths should be zero. So here, in no particular order, is what I’d do:
- Require that all police be trained in Aikido. Aikido is a martial art which is designed to NOT hurt the other person. Instead, you learn to immobilize someone, disarm them, and prevent their escape without harm to either them or yourself. During the period when I studied Aikido on Maui, the Sensei was a Maui policeman. Many of the Maui cops had spent years studying Aikido at the dojo, and they were very proficient. If they grabbed your sorry okole, or if you tried to attack them, you could count on two things—nobody got hurt, and your okole stayed grabbed.
In Aikido, you never have an opponent—instead, you have a partner. Seeing the person in front of you as your partner instead of your opponent is a very different mindset. It is a much more profitable way of approaching violent interactions. Aikido contains no kicks, no punches, nothing designed to harm the other person. Instead, it is all about disarming the other person and ending the situation with nobody getting hurt. “Ai-ki-do” means the path of harmony with energy, it is a non-confrontational martial art.
As much effort as we put into training police how to win violent situations, we need to put that same amount of effort into training police how to avoid, defuse, and minimize violent situations. Among other tools, Aikido is very important in this crucial aspect of police work.
Increase the involvement of the police with the community, particularly in less formal situations (sports, schools, big brother/big sister programs, martial arts, neighborhood watch meetings, Christmas toy drives, holidays, pancake breakfasts for charity, etc.) The only way to repair and improve the trust between the citizens and the police is for us all to get to know each other. I greatly enjoyed getting to know the police officers I trained with in the Maui dojo, it changed my whole mindset about police.
Increase the number of women on the police force, particularly beat cops. The cops on the beat are the backbone of the force, they are the public face of the police, and they are often the ones involved in the high-voltage interactions. We need many more female street cops.
Get the majority of the city police out of the cars. A good policewoman walking a beat knows every shopkeeper along the way … and what is more important, every shopkeeper knows the policewoman. A cop driving by in a car knows nobody and nobody knows them … which is a bad condition for any society. Plus walking a beat makes you fit, while sitting in a car makes you fat.
Body cameras are no magic bullet, but the truth is good for everyone—it protects police and citizens alike. However, there are many unanswered questions as to exactly how to implement that while protecting the privacy rights of both the police and the citizens.
Increase transparency regarding possible police misconduct as far as is consonant with police requirements, officer and citizen rights, and legal restrictions. In particular, it is not enough that justice be done in cases of police misconduct. The public needs to see that justice is done, even if it can not be seen until well after the occurrence when the dust has settled and all the facts are in.
Anyhow, that’s how I’d improve the situation, always bearing in mind that the number of people killed by the police will never be zero … too many armed violent nuts out there.
Let me close by pointing out the real tragedy. Everyone I know, everyone I read, black, white, and in between, was appalled by the death of George Floyd. It united more people than any single issue that I’ve seen in a long time.
But due to the protests and the riots, he’s being forgotten, and in a colossal own goal, the issue has become the looting and violence … sigh …
Meanwhile, here in the redwood forest the rains have continued until late in the year. That’s a blessing because we had zero rain in February, not one drop. Weather, not climate.
From the windows of the house we can see that the mothers are taking care of the newly born …
And the funny bald chickens are taking care of the newly dead …
So life in the forest goes on. It is my great good fortune to live among giant trees and forest creatures who know nothing of COVID, riots, partisan politics, or police brutality …
My very best wishes to you all, stay well and safe in these parlous times,