Racism and Police Excessive Use of Force: The Facts

As has been said by many people recently, we live in a time of a racial pandemic. Race and policing are a critical aspect of the racial issues that in some respects are both dividing and uniting our society.

More specifically, it is the use of excessive – sometimes – lethal force by the police that has caused weeks of protests and a sudden unifying of diverse groups in our country. Everyone, in one way or another, is dealing with the fallout from years of police use of force and young people (for the most part) who are fed up and crying out for justice for Black people who, it seems based on media reports, to be on the victim side of excessive use of force. Not only is
everyone thinking about these issues, which are by no means new or suddenly recognized, but they are being discussed. If you are going to be thinking and talking about racism and excessive use of force, then you need to have as many facts as possible at your disposable.

That is why a recent article in the Wall Street Journal caught my attention. The essential data presented in this article, written by Roland G. Fryer, Jr., a Harvard professor of economics, is important. Fryer is a man who grew up Black in the south. He knows more than a little about police brutality and being Black. But he is also an economics “nerd” -- his own term – and he believes in the power of data to inform debate and public policy.

Fryer points out that he has seen the same media accounts of police violence against Blacks that we’ve all seen. But as a researcher, he wanted to find out what is true and not true about racial differences in the police use of force. His research and his work have come up with some conclusions.

For instance, Freyer has data that clearly shows that there are racial differences in terms of the victims of police use of nonlethal force. Not lethal force; nonlethal force. When the police reported an incident of their own use of force against a citizen, that citizen was 53% more likely to be a black person. When citizens themselves reported on encounters with the police, the police were more likely (in fact, 350% more likely) to use force against a Black person – rather than a white person. When Freyer controlled for all the possible variables in these accounts of use of force, Black people were still 66% more likely to be the victims of police use of force.

But, maybe Black people are just disobedient and non-compliant in encounters with the police. Freyer looked into that, too. Still, when he compared compliant Blacks with compliant whites, Blacks were 21% more likely to be the targets of police aggression. Black parents should tell their kids they should be compliant in their dealings with police officers. However, sometimes – if you’re Black – it just won’t make you less likely to avoid an unreasonable use of force.

We know that Black people are more likely to be shot than white people, right? Not so fast, cautions Freyer. Looking carefully at research from around the country and no matter how he analyzed the data, he could find no clear indication that officer-involved shootings more often targeted Blacks. True, he says, perhaps more unarmed Black people than unarmed white people might be the victims of police shootings, but over all there is no evidence that Black people are shot more often by law enforcement officers.

Freyer concludes his article by stating that there is sufficient evidence to justify police reform in America. But only true reform can come about if we actually argue from solid evidence – not from our emotions and feelings.

Full article by Roland G. Freyer, Jr.

Written by James Windell, MA

Share this post:

Comments on "Racism and Police Excessive Use of Force: The Facts"

Comments 0-5 of 0

Please login to comment