The Democratic candidates have revived the anti-police rhetoric of the Obama years. Joe Biden’s criminal-justice plan promises that black parents will no longer have to fear when their children walk the streets — the threat allegedly coming from cops, not gangbangers. Pete Buttigieg has said police shootings of black men won’t be solved “until we move policing out from the shadow of systemic racism.” Beto O’Rourke claims that police shoot blacks “solely based on the color of their skin.”
A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences demolishes the Democratic narrative regarding race and police shootings. It turns out that white officers are no more likely than black or Hispanic officers to shoot black civilians. It is a racial group’s rate of violent crime that determines police shootings, not the race of the officer. The more frequently officers encounter violent suspects from any given racial group, the greater the chance that members of that racial group will be shot by a police officer.
In fact, if there is a bias in police shootings after crime rates are taken into account, it is against white civilians, the study found.
Earlier studies have also disproved the idea that white officers are biased in shooting black citizens. The Black Lives Matter narrative has been impervious to the truth, however. Police departments are under enormous political pressure to hire based on race, despite existing efforts to recruit minorities, on the theory that doing so will decrease police shootings of minorities. The Obama administration recommended in 2016 that police departments lower their entry standards to be able to qualify more minorities for recruitment.
Departments had already been deemphasizing written exams or eliminating requirements that recruits have a clean criminal record, but the trend intensified thereafter. The Baltimore Police Department changed its qualifying exam to such an extent that the director of legal instruction in the Baltimore Police Academy complained in 2018 that rookie officers were being let out onto the street with little understanding of the law. Biden’s plan would require police hiring to “mirror the racial diversity” of the community as a precondition of federal funding.
This effort to increase minority representation won’t reduce racial disparities in shootings, concludes the PNAS study, since white officers aren’t responsible for those disparities; black crime rates are.
Moreover, lowered hiring standards risk bad police work and corruption. A 2015 Justice Department study of the Philadelphia Police Department found that black officers were 67 percent more likely than white officers to mistakenly shoot an unarmed black suspect; Hispanic officers were 145 percent more likely than white officers to mistakenly shoot an unarmed black suspect. Whether lowered hiring standards are responsible for those disparities wasn’t addressed.
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The persistent belief that we are living through an epidemic of racially biased police shootings is a creation of selective reporting.
In 2015, the year the PNAS study addressed, the white victims of fatal police shootings included a 50-year-old suspect in a domestic assault in Tuscaloosa, Ala., who ran at the officer with a spoon; a 28-year-old driver in Des Moines, Iowa, who exited his car and walked quickly toward an officer after a car chase; and a 21-year-old suspect in a grocery-store robbery in Akron, Ohio, who had escaped on a bike and who didn’t remove his hand from his waistband when ordered to do so.
Had these victims been black, the media and activists would have jumped on their stories and added their names to the roster of victims of police racism. But because they were white, they are unknown.
The “policing is racist” discourse is poisonous. It exacerbates anti-cop tensions in minority communities and makes cops less willing to engage in the proactive policing that can save lives. Last month, viral videos of pedestrians in Harlem, The Bronx and Brooklyn pouring water on passive NYPD officers showed that anti-police hostility in the inner city remains at dangerous levels.
The anti-cop narrative deflects attention away from the real criminal-justice problem, which is high rates of black-on-black victimization. Blacks die of homicide at eight times the rate of non-Hispanic whites, overwhelmingly killed not by cops, not by whites, but by other blacks. Democratic candidates should get their facts straight and address that issue. Until they do, their talk of racial justice will ring hollow.
Heather Mac Donald is a Manhattan Institute fellow. Adapted from National Review.