Monday, July 11, 2016

NY Times Exaggerates Implication of a Study on Police Use of Deadly Force

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
Let's start with these facts:
- White people make up 63% of the country but only 48% of police action fatalities.
- African-Americans make up 13% of the country but 31% of these fatalities.

Recently, a single researcher found no racial disparity in the "extreme use of force-officer involved shootings" in Houston, Texas, based on that police departments self-reporting of incidents in which law enforcement officials believed a police shooting was justified. That is the actual extent of the finding of Roland G. Fryer, Jr., the researcher who also admits his data set is not "ideal".  
Incredibly, police in the United States are not required to file any uniform reports when their actions result in civilian fatalities. The FBI compiles voluntary reports of "justifiable police homicides" but the most agencies don't participate.  With no uniform reporting a detailed analysis of a single department has limited value. You can't conclude much from this study and you certainly can't generalize the findings nationally.  But that is exactly what the New York Times did.
In an article published July 11, 2016, the New York Times headline read, "Surprising New Evidence Shows Bias in Police Use of Force but Not in Shootings." The article goes on to say the findings, "contradicts the mental image of police shooting that many Americans hold..."  
The more robust and pertinent question is whether there is a pattern of racial disparity in all civilian deaths that result from police actions. When  reports of civilian deaths are compiled from local news accounts the answer is yes. Racial bias in which civilians end up dead in police actions is evident nearly everywhere. The only other bias more significant than a persons race is their gender. Civilian men are almost always the victims. 
I was among the first to analyse these local news reports data last April. In a region-by-region and state-by-state analysis there was clear evidence of a racial disparity in police involved civilian deaths. See
The grossly over-generalized reporting on the Fryer study by the New York Times isn't worthy of their reputation and doesn't serve the public interest in this important topic.

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