BERNARD COLUMN: Stats show breakdown on race in policing

Published 9:30 am Tuesday, June 14, 2022

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By Jack Bernard

Bernard is a retired corporate executive

The inter-relationship of race and law enforcement in the United States is an extremely complicated subject. Coming from a law enforcement family, I know that the issue is not a new one.

There are a large number of Americans being shot and killed by police every year, 1,144 just last year, disproportionally Black. There are also a significant number of law enforcement officers shot in the line of duty, disproportionally by African Americans. 

Unfortunately, Blacks are killed by police more often than Whites, per capita. Per million rates of shootings resulting in death by police were- 61 for Blacks, 29 for Hispanics, and 21 for Whites, according to Mapping the Violence. In other words, a Black person was nearly three times as likely to be shot dead by law enforcement versus other races. 

People on the left, such as Black Lives Matter, will say that situation is primarily caused by profiling, which has been shown to be true. According to one study, “the threshold for being perceived as dangerous, and thereby falling victim to lethal police force, appears to be higher for White civilians relative to their Black or Hispanic peers.” Even more disturbing, a number of those Black citizens killed were unarmed.

Those on the right will say that there are more Black deaths per capita by police because the African Americans who are confronting these police officers are more violent and aggressive than those of other races. This assertion has not been proven. 

However, the right’s position that there is more stringent law enforcement in Black areas due to higher crime rates does have some validity in relation to economic factors. In other words, lower income areas tend to have more violent crime and Black Americans tend to have lower incomes versus White Americans.

Policing is also greater in African American areas, as well as Black versus White homicide rates. Further complicating the situation, as opposed to those who say, “defund the police,” heavy police presence is desired by  Black Americans. Of African Americans polled, 38% want an increase versus only 10% who desire fewer police. However, these findings are tempered by the fact that 52% of African Americans believe that they are treated unfairly by law enforcement. All of this is from a Gallup poll. So, the desire is for more unbiased policing rather than funding cuts.

What about police who are dying? The number of police officers who died in the line of duty has gone up dramatically over the last decade from 186 in 2011 to 295 in 2020. We have not seen a rise like this since Great Depression in the 1930s. However, these figures are very misleading n that virtually the entire rise can be attributed to police dying of Covid-19. Only 64 officers were shot.

As for the shooters, 52 percent were White, and 43 percent were Black. The proportion for “ambush” shootings was equal between the two races (44% White, 43% Black). In that African Americans are a smaller percentage of the US population (13%), there appears to be a much greater proportion of Blacks killing police versus Whites.

What does the public think about all of the above? Democrats tend to see racism (82%) and police violence (65%) as major issues. However, hardly any GOP voters agree (racism-25%, police violence- 14%). Further, Republicans appear unaware that Blacks are victims of police violence, with the majority saying that all races are treated the same, although the facts show otherwise.

What can we conclude from the above? First, African Americans are being shot and killed by law enforcement at a high rate versus other races. Plus, police are being shot and killed by Blacks at a higher rate than other races.

Second, we must do much more non-partisan research regarding both issues and publish the findings. We need to study the issues. There is little understanding of either issue.

Third, we must work to remedy the problems. Whatever we have done in the past as a nation to address the issue of racism and policing is undoubtedly not working.

We must come up with specific strategies, goals and time framed actions to ameliorate the situation, rather than continue to hope that the issues simply go away.