Recently, Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper columnist, Charles Krauthammer, passed away. He was once asked what motivated him to write and Krauthammer replied, “History is shaped by its battleground of ideas, and I wanted to be in the arena, not because I want to fight, but because some things need to be said, and some things need to be defended.”
Some things, also, need to be asked.
For example, it’s been reported that a new study found, “When an unarmed Black American dies at the hands of the police, the emotional impact reverberates so widely that Black Americans who didn’t even know the victim report distress, anxiety and depression, creating a national mental health burden nearly comparable to the stress caused by a chronic illness like diabetes.” This report also stated that in the United States an unarmed Black person is three times more likely to be shot by the police than an unarmed White person, and in 2015, 30 percent of Black victims were unarmed compared to 21 percent of White unarmed victims. All of this data came from the Washington Post database that has tracked fatal police shootings since 2015.
Here’s what needs to be asked.
Why is a phrase like “three times more likely” used when the database has the actual body count, and why were the percentages of 2015 featured when the database includes the following years?
According to the Washington Post Police Shooting Database for 2015 there were 995 fatal police shootings. The police killed 401 Whites who were in possession of a deadly weapon compared to 188 Blacks for the same reason (over 200 more Whites). There were 94 fatal police shootings of unarmed people, 32 were White, 38 were Black, 19 were Hispanic, and there were five others. When you hear unarmed Black Americans are “three times more likely” to be shot by the police it gives the impression that the difference in body count would be as dramatic as the deadly weapons comparison.
But it’s not.
The great disparity between Black and White unarmed victims of fatal police shootings in 2015 was six people. So, the percentages (however they were calculated) 30 percent Black, 21 percent White, were used to dramatize the difference. But if this higher percentage is an annual pattern, that would be problematic, because Black Americans are only 14 percent of the U.S. population. So, it has to be asked is that a fact?
Let’s return to the database.
In 2016, 963 people were fatally shot by the police. Fifty-one were unarmed, 22 were White, 19 were Black, nine were Hispanic, and one other person. Unarmed victims were five percent of the total body count, and unarmed Black victims were two percent.
In 2017, 987 people were fatally shot by the police. 68 were unarmed, 30 were White, 20 were Back, 13 were Hispanic, and five others. Unarmed victims were seven percent of the total body count, and unarmed Black victims were two percent.
In 2018 (the database’s last update was June 20), 519 people were fatally shot by the police. Twenty-nine were unarmed, 15 were White, 11 were Black, two were Hispanic, and one other person. Unarmed victims are currently six percent of the total body count, and once again unarmed Black victims are two percent.
This new study wants intelligent people to believe that the deaths of six individuals in 2015 and two percent of the total body count of fatal police shootings during the subsequent years is straining the mental health of the Black community. Whenever scientific research revealed Blacks have lower IQ test scores than other ethnic groups the data was immediately dismissed as racist pseudoscience, but this study brings into question the mental strength of the Black community and it hasn’t been dismissed at all, and it won’t be, because it reinforces a divisive narrative fueled by racial causation and single-mindedness.
I think Krauthammer would agree that some things need to be denounced and some things need to be rebelled against.
(J. Pharaoh Doss is a contributor to the New Pittsburgh Courier.)
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