Defund the Police?

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Given the great distress over police killings of Blacks across the nation, I thought it would be helpful to take a look at some numbers from recent years. It may be that it will not be helpful, or that nothing will be helpful. Perception is everything. The actual numbers, while sobering and supportive of reforms and better training for police, do not support the claim that innocent, unarmed African-Americans are being murdered daily by racist cops bent on killing them.

In 2020, there were 1,021 persons killed by the police. Of these, 457 were White, 241 were Black, 169 were Hispanic, 28 were racially identified as “Other,” and 126 “Unknown.” So, 23.6% of all those killed by police were Black. Critics of the police will point out that Blacks represent only about 13% of the U. S. population, so the argument is that police kill Black suspects or offenders at a disproportionate rate. I will not argue against that, but it is important to ask if Blacks are committing a disproportionate percentage of the types of crimes that would put them in violent encounters with the police. In 2016, the latest year for which I could find statistics, the FBI reports that Whites committed 58% of violent crimes, which aligns with the fact that Whites made up 61% of the U. S. population that year. Blacks, on the other hand, committed 37% of violent crimes, including 50% of all homicides (2018), which is almost three times their 13% of the U. S. population. It is not surprising that Blacks are killed by police at a higher rate than Whites, given that they also commit a disproportionately higher percentage of violent crimes than Whites. Why does a community that makes up 13% of the population commit 37% of violent crimes? That is a good question, and one worth investigating. I suspect there are a lot of reasons that go in to answering that question honestly. But, regardless of the reasons, it is what it is. People who come into contact with the police, especially those who have violent encounters with the police, are more likely to be killed by the police.

In 2015, Donald Trump re-tweeted a meme that was somewhat popular among those who claim that Blacks killed a disproportionately high percentage of Whites and that police were responsible for only 1% of Blacks killed. The meme claimed to show statistics from the Crime Statistic Bureau of San Francisco. Here are the claimed numbers:

Blacks killed by Whites 2%

Blacks killed by police 1%

Whites killed by police 3%

Whites killed by Whites 16%

Whites killed by Blacks 81%

Blacks killed by Blacks 97%

These numbers are no where close to the truth. While the percentages here are not perfect because I’m forced to use numbers from different years for some of these, even still, they likely show a much more accurate picture of reality:

Blacks killed by Whites  8% of Blacks killed

Blacks killed by police      8.2%, of Blacks killed

Whites killed by police   13.7% of Whites killed

Whites killed by Whites 80.7% of Whites killed

Whites killed by Blacks   15.5% of Whites killed

Blacks killed by Blacks     88.8% of Blacks killed

It’s pretty clear, then, that most Whites are killed by other Whites, and most Blacks are killed by other Blacks. It’s also pretty clear that the police are not responsible for the majority of deaths for either racial demographic. What is interesting is that the police killed a larger percentage of Whites who were killed than of Blacks who were killed.

As I said, perception is everything. These numbers paint an interesting picture. Clearly, there is need for police reform. The police need less lethal options when encountering suspects, especially in areas such as traffic stops. I have no idea what sort of training police officers receive. I doubt, however, that most police chiefs and officers themselves would balk at the idea of more and better training. There also needs to be better communication and interaction between the police and the communities they serve. If the only encounter with the police a person experiences is a negative one where he or she is regarded as a suspect in a crime, then the relationship between the police and the larger community is going to be mostly negative. Police officers need to be seen and known by the residents of the communities they serve as people who actually serve the community.

However, when over 90% of those who are killed in a community or ethnic or racial group are killed by criminals or family members or whoever, and not by the police, then it’s difficult to make the argument that the police are your biggest problem or greatest threat. And, let’s be clear, right now the police are being portrayed as the greatest threat to Black lives in the U. S. This is no where close to the truth. It is so far from the truth, in fact, I have to wonder if those pushing this narrative are doing so in order to distract Blacks and others from the real truth – that the greatest threat to the safety and lives of Blacks in America is other Blacks (just as the greatest threat to the safety and lives of Whites in America is other Whites).

The call to defund the police, then, makes no good sense whatsoever. In fact, it is the opposite of good sense. According to a report by the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund “in 10 major cities where cops were sharply criticized, police activity dropped 48% since June 2020 and murders rose 56%.” There was a historical increase in homicides in 2020, an increase of 30% from 2019. Now, to put this in perspective, there were 11.4 murders for every 100,000 residents in 2020. In 1995, there were 19.4 murders for every 100,000 residents. So, we are not experiencing historic highs in homicide rates, but we did experience an historic increase from 2019 to 2020. Homicide rates increased in cities where the police were criticized for their methods and where their budgets were defunded. This is not rocket science. Where police feel less supported, they are less likely to invest their time and put their lives on the line. It is also predictable that those who will suffer more from less police presence are those in inner city, minority, poorer neighborhoods. Few of the politicians, activists, media elites and White “allies” calling for the defunding of the police will suffer the consequences of fewer police officers.

Meaningful police reform will only be possible if the genuine issues surrounding matters such as bad cops, police brutality, the militarization of police forces, over-reaction by officers in the field, and poor relations between police departments and minority communities are taken seriously. That means approaching them from a position of reality and not propaganda. It also means talking to those people who actually live in those neighborhoods that are likely to be greatly impacted by police reform initiatives. It certainly does not mean defunding or eliminating one of the few resources inner city neighborhoods have for protecting themselves.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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