Separating narrative from fact in the crime and policing crisis

Related News: Minneapolis Ranked 25th Most Dangerous City

shutterstock_178332035Some unjustified police shootings, a dangerous narrative fomented by the Black Lives Matter movement, and a complicit media who slot everything into the racist-cop paradigm have created social unrest not experienced since the late 1960s and early ‘70s.  The difference is that today this anti-cop ideology is embraced at the highest levels of the establishment from the president and his attorney general down to college presidents, foundation heads, and the press.  Heather Mac Donald, a leading expert on crime and policing, says “we are playing with fire, and if it keeps spreading, it will be hard to put out.”

Therefore I was encouraged that the University of St. Thomas recently held a forum with law enforcement officials and community activists that focused on civility and finding common ground.  Based on Star Tribune columnist Jon Tevlin’s report of the event, here’s what they got right and where they’re off base.

1. Everyone agreed “that inherent bias, based on experience, exists:” True.

To better understand this bias and the challenges Blacks face while driving, please watch conservative U.S. Senator Tim Scott’s recent remarks on the Senate floor in which he describes his experience being pulled over seven times in one year.

But, as Heather Mac Donald recently wrote, four studies have come out this year that demolish the charge of police officer shooting bias:

They show that if there is bias among police officers in their shooting decisions, it works in favor of blacks and against whites. “Implicit-bias” training, based on a lie, is a grotesque waste of resources at a time when officers are desperate for more hands-on tactical training that will help them make those crucial shoot/don’t shoot decisions in the field, or avoid being put into such an excruciating situation in the first place.

2. “Black men are stopped by police far too frequently, and die at the hands of police far too frequently, compared to whites:” False.

The statement is quite awkward as it’s hard to agree without looking like one supports more whites being killed by police or disagree without being insensitive to blacks who are killed, but stats that Heather Mac Donald published in the Washington Post will give us a more accurate picture of what is really happening:

[A]s of July 9, whites were 54 percent of the 440 police shooting victims this year whose race was known, blacks were 28 percent and Hispanics were 18 percent, according to The Washington Post’s ongoing database of fatal police shootings. Those ratios are similar to last year’s tally, in which whites made up 50 percent of the 987 fatal police shootings, and blacks, 26 percent. (The vast majority of those police homicide victims were armed or otherwise threatening the officer.)

Does the actual distribution of police victims confirm the Black Lives Matter allegation that policing is lethally biased? That depends on the benchmark chosen for assessing police actions.

Typically, activists and the media measure police actions against population ratios. Given that blacks are 13 percent of the nation’s population, a 26 to 28 percent black share of police gun fatalities looks disproportionate. But policing should be measured against crime rates, not population percentages, because law enforcement today is data-driven. Officers are deployed to where people are most being victimized, and that is primarily in minority neighborhoods.

In America’s 75 largest counties, comprising most of the nation’s population, blacks constituted 62 percent of all robbery defendants in 2009, 57 percent of all murder defendants, and 45 percent of all assault defendants — but roughly 15 percent of the population in those counties. In New York, where blacks make up 23 percent of the city’s population, blacks commit three-quarters of all shootings and 70 percent of all robberies, according to victims and witnesses. (Whites, by contrast, commit less than 2 percent of all shootings in New York City and 4 percent of all robberies, though they are nearly 34 percent of the population.)

New York City’s crime disparities are repeated in virtually all American metropolises. … Blacks commit homicide at nearly eight times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined. Black males between the ages of 14 and 17 commit gun homicide at nearly 10 times the rate of white and Hispanic male teens combined. Should police stops, arrests and those rare police shootings nevertheless mirror population ratios, rather than crime ratios? The answer is not forthcoming from Black Lives Matter activists.

In 2015, the police fatally shot 36 unarmed black males, according to The Washington Post’s typology, and 31 unarmed white males. The Post’s classification of victims as “unarmed” is literally accurate but sometimes misleading. The label can fail to convey the charged situation facing the officer who used deadly force.

At least five “unarmed” black victims had tried to grab the officer’s gun, or had been beating the cop with his own equipment. Some were shot from an accidental discharge triggered by their own assault on the officer. One had the officer on the ground and was beating him on the head so violently, breaking bones and causing other injuries, as to risk the officer’s loss of consciousness. And one individual included in the Post’s “unarmed black male victim” category was a bystander unintentionally struck by an officer’s bullet after an illegal-gun trafficker opened fire at the officer and the officer shot back. If a victim was not the intended target of a police shooting, race could have had no possible role in his death.

3. Everyone agreed “that young black men should comply completely when stopped by police.” True.

It was very good to hear that all agreed on this point and it would help things if activists and the media could get this message out – loud and clear — to the masses.

4. “[Hennepin County Attorney Mike] Freeman praised [Black Live Matter leader Nekima] Levy-Pounds’ efforts to eliminate nuisance crimes that tag blacks.” Terrible Policy.

As Katherine Kersten recently explained in the Star Tribune, the Minneapolis City Council’s recent decriminalization of “lurking with intent to commit a crime” has eliminated an important proactive policing tool that prevents bigger crimes:

Police say the lurking ordinance allowed them to stop and question people acting suspiciously. It helped prevent bigger crimes, like burglary, and to get guns off the street. One veteran officer (who wished to remain anonymous) estimates that the 400 or so lurking charges filed from 2009 to 2014 probably led to 2,000 arrests for bigger crimes.

But even worse this misguided policy has emboldened criminals and put police on the defensive:

Today, gangbangers and criminals are more emboldened than he’s ever seen them, says [retired Minneapolis police Sgt. Tim] Hoeppner. “They know the cops are afraid to stop and confront them about their guns. They taunt and catcall and spit at the cops’ feet, and then pull out their cellphones to video any reaction. They know there will be no consequences.”

“If the City Council members would ever take a walk down Hennepin Avenue at midnight,” Hoeppner adds, “they would understand how badly their policies are hurting the city.” Especially at bar closing, large, moblike groups block sidewalks, steal cellphones, and harass or sucker-punch people.

More evidence of this came out today as Minneapolis was ranked as the 25th most dangerous city based on its violent crime rate of 1,063 reported incidents for every 100,000 residents, and its robberty rate scored 10th highest in the country.

The clearest evidence-based voice in the midst of this crisis belongs to Manhattan Institute scholar Heather Mac Donald.  Here is her summary of the situation from her important July 18 piece in the Washington Post:

Contrary to the Black Lives Matter narrative, there is no government agency more dedicated to the proposition that black lives matter than the police. The data-driven, proactive policing revolution that began in the mid-1990s has saved tens of thousands of black lives that would have otherwise been lost to urban gun violence had crime remained at its early 1990s rate. Unfortunately, those crime gains are now at risk, thanks to the false narrative that police officers are infected with homicidal bias.

Peter Zeller is Director of Operations at Center of the American Experiment.