Police Brutality is a Human Issue, Not a Racial Issue

Black lives matter, but they’re also being used as a pawns to protect the legal system.

Daniel Goldman
May 7, 2019 · 6 min read
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Photo by Matt Popovich on Unsplash

It‘s unfortunately rather common to hear about an incident where a cop ends up opening fire on an innocent person. The general rhetoric is that police brutality is focused on blacks and other minorities. However, not only does the actual science reject this view, but the rhetoric is really being used to protect the law enforcement system.

Figures and Rates

First, there are a number of ways to measure an event. In general, it can be measured in raw numbers, or it can be measured as a rate with respect to some population. Rates are important because they allow us to compare the occurrence of events across different populations. Many will point out that while more white people are shot by cops, this result is because there are simply more white people. And that statement makes sense.

The issue boils down to selecting the correct sub-population to adjust the figures. In this case, we need to adjust not just for race, but also the number of crimes being committed. And it turns out that adjusted for crimes committed, white people are shot more often. This analysis makes sense in light of the research.

For instance, the above study approximates the likelihood of a police officer using a firearm against a suspect. Using existing data sets, the analysis suggests that police are 30% less likely to use a firearm against a suspect if they’re black than if they’re white. If our theory is that racism is the source of police brutality, then these figures should be reversed. It should be more likely that the most violent use of force would be reserved more for the target of racist attitudes.

This study is not the only study that looked into police use of firearms. And it’s important to test the theory in a variety of ways before saying that the findings are robust. For instance, the following study uses a simulation approach.

Police officers had to determine if a suspect was a threat or not, and decide whether or not to shoot. The authors believed that officers would be more likely to shoot black suspects than white suspects. However, the findings instead contradicted their assumption. Officers were less likely to fire on black suspects than white suspects. Moreover, they were less likely to mistakenly hit an innocent person if the suspect was black.

While this study is a simulation and simulations can suffer from a number of issues, such as the subject’s awareness of the objectives, that the results of the simulation are consistent with the empirical study is important. Moreover, if the subjects were intentionally trying to avoid shooting black targets, there should have been more errors in judgement rather than fewer errors.

Media Attention

So then one has to ask why it appears that police shootings are so much more commonly experienced by blacks and other minorities. The answer is because of the media. Some of it is unintentional or at least not all that malicious. The media emphasizes what sells. “White person gets shot by cop” doesn’t sell, and “white person gets shot by black cop” absolutely doesn’t sell.

If it does sell at all, it’s because of manipulations of the headline. For instance, recently a decision to award a family of a slain victim with a $20 million settlement made news. The only mention of race was the assertion that the payout was so large because the victim was white. But the reality is that the case was just cut and dry. The victim, who had called 911 because she thought she heard what sounded like a sexual assault, approached the police car that arrived in the scene. The officer then proceeded to shoot the victim.

By the officer’s own testimony, he did not believe that the person had a weapon. He did not evaluate whether the person was a threat. He opened fire, from inside the police car, because he “sensed” that his partner felt threatened.

But those reports also don’t support a narrative that is being developed by the media and the establishment. The “police brutality is a racial issue” narrative is utilized to gain more readers, but also to manipulate those minorities. It’s easy to manipulate people when you can convince them that they’re victims that need help. Consider that in NPR’s report, there was no mention of the race of the victim. There were pictures, so perhaps it wasn’t necessary. But compare that article to the following NPR article.

Not only are the races of the shooter and the victim all over the article, but they’re right there in the headline. While this analysis isn’t a scientific one, I wouldn’t be too surprised if an analysis of all articles on shootings by police, published by NPR, had this kind of bias, where articles involving white victims or black officers do not explicitly mention race anywhere as often as articles involving black victims or white officers do.

The Anger of the Masses

The media publishes what sells, even if it’s biased. Yet the bigger issue is that corporate media doesn’t want the masses to realize that they’re being assaulted by a corrupt legal system, because then the masses will reject that legal system, and possibly in an extremely violent way.

As it is, there are violent attacks against police, and while populist uprisings don’t work, it won’t stop people from trying, or lashing out when they’re angry. For now, police are actually relatively safe, because only a few people believe that they’re being abused by the system. If millions upon millions of people begin to realize that they’re also at risk from the system, how will they respond?

Good Cops Get Fired

A final point that I want to make is that the problem is indeed the system itself. Some argue that these issues, whether racial or not, are just some bad apples. But there really are no good cops, or at least they don’t last in the system.

What does it mean to be a good person? Perhaps there’s no universal right or wrong, or good and bad, but I think most people would agree that, to an extent, it means doing what is “right,” even if it will hurt you as a result. I do not think that a person who gives into his own fear or self interest is necessarily bad, however they certainly are not good.

What does it mean to be a cop? It means that you are authorized and required to uphold any and all legislative acts that are currently on the books. This requirement exists, whether or not the law is constitutional or just. A prime example is the body of law relating to the war on drugs, which constitutes codified science denial. This war is a failure. It is pretty clear to most people. It hurts those who need help. We have the largest prison population as a percentage of the total population, among the industrialized countries. And yet the war continues. The foot soldiers of this war are the police officers. If most cops were good, this war could not have been waged.

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Daniel Goldman

Written by

I’m a polymath and a rōnin scholar. That is to say that I enjoy studying many different topics. Find more at http://danielgoldman.us

Politicoid

Promoting a scientific understanding of politics and economics, sustainability, and freedom.

Daniel Goldman

Written by

I’m a polymath and a rōnin scholar. That is to say that I enjoy studying many different topics. Find more at http://danielgoldman.us

Politicoid

Promoting a scientific understanding of politics and economics, sustainability, and freedom.

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