My least favorite course in college – and the one in which I earned the lowest grade – was statistics. The fact that my social media feeds and inboxes over the last week are filled with statistical analyses and data has been head-explodingly cringe-worthy. Most of them have been in the context of the Baton Rouge (Alton Sterling), St. Paul (Philando Castile), and Dallas (5 dead officers) shootings.
As per usual, every comment, conclusion, number, and supposition neatly falls to one side or the other of the political divide. They’re some version of “Police unfairly target minorities” or “The Black Lives Matter movement ignores data and is founded upon lies and racial demagoguery.”
The president was patently dishonest in his approach to statistics and numbers. Speaking on Thursday morning from Poland, prior to the shooting in Dallas, he gave these statistics in reference to the two aforementioned shootings:
“Last year, African Americans were shot by police at more than twice the rate of whites. African Americans are arrested at twice the rate of whites; African Americans defendants are 75% more likely to be charged with offenses commanding mandatory minimums.
If you add it all up, the African American and Hispanic pop [sic], who make up only 30% of the general population, make up half of the incarcerated population.”
While these facts may indeed be true, he did not directly state the conclusion he wanted to be drawn from them.
In a Facebook post, however, he was slightly clearer in his intent (emphasis added):
“[The shootings] are symptomatic of the broader challenges within our criminal justice system, the racial disparities that appear across the system year after year, and the resulting lack of trust that exists between law enforcement and too many of the communities they serve.”
What he is really wanting to say, without directly coming out and saying it, is this: Law enforcement and the justice system are racist and intentionally targeting blacks. The numbers prove it.
The president is connecting proportionality with intent. In other words, if the system were NOT racist, then it would follow that the percentages would be equal to that of the population representation as a whole. This concept, known as “disparate impact,” however, is not true. There is another possibility: The numbers are what they are due to the criminal activity and poor decisions made by individuals.
Thomas Sowell has brilliantly pointed out how using statistical representation as evidence of racism is a fallacy:
Blacks are far more statistically “overrepresented” among basketball stars in the NBA than among people stopped by police in Ferguson. Hispanics are similarly far more “overrepresented” among baseball stars than in the general population. Asian Americans are likewise far more “overrepresented” among students at leading engineering schools like M.I.T. and Caltech than in the population as a whole.
What the president did was fraudulent and intentionally misleading. Given what is going on in the country right now, it’s pouring fuel on the fire.
On the other hand, some statistical data and analyses that I’ve found particularly compelling and interesting have been compiled and written about by Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute. In her recently-released book The War On Cops, she presents facts and figures about crime and policing, and then makes an overwhelming case: law enforcement activity is driven by lawlessness in communities, NOT by race.
Some timely and pertinent facts from Heather’s book were summarized this week by Aaron Bandler at The Daily Wire:
- Twice as many whites were killed by police than blacks in 2015.
- More whites and Hispanics die from police homicides than blacks.
- White police officers are less likely to shoot at blacks than Hispanic or black officers.
- Cops are more likely to be killed by blacks than are blacks by cops.
Facts and statistics, of course, do not themselves provide answers and solutions for the various problems confronting the nation, but an accurate accounting of them and an honest understanding of them are essential first steps. Otherwise, a tremendous amount of time and energy will be wasted (at best) and people may continue to get hurt or killed (at worst).
Heather and I spoke in greater detail about her book and its conclusions on my radio show a couple of weeks ago. You can listen to the isolated segment here:
This was originally published by Independent Journal Review
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