Lies, Damn Lies, and Race Based Crime Statistics

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If you’ve been following the news at all you’re familiar with the tragedies that have occurred in Ferguson Missouri with the death of Michael Brown and in New York City with the death of Eric Garner. People who are trying to argue that both of these deaths were justified often rely on crime data they are interpreting to make the claim that black people are inherently more violent and therefor deserve this kind of treatment from the police. I’m going to focus on the statistics that were shown on an episode of The O’Reilly Factor when he was discussing these tragedies. There is substantially more to all of these issues, but better people than I are tackling the broader topics at hand. My aim here is to ready you to combat these statistics when you see them used.

The goal with this slide is obviously to show that black people commit more murders than they should based upon their percentage of the population. The idea that we have to take everything in the context of population percentage is important and will be brought up again later, but for right now let’s focus on the idea that blacks commit more murders than whites do.

In order to count in the ‘committed murder’ category it logically follows that you need to be arrested and convicted, but we know that arrest and conviction rates aren’t the same for different races. We know that people do drugs at nearly identical rates.


We should then expect no difference in the number of drug convictions if our justice system had no racial bias. That’s not what we see at all though. A report in 2007 showed that black people made up 3.7 times more drug arrests than white people did when we control for population percentage. Here’s that in graph form.


This same bias in our system also extends to sentencing. In 2005 the US supreme court ruled in US v Booker that judges didn’t have to stick to mandatory sentencing guidelines. That courts were given sentencing discretion, and told that the guidelines were just guidelines and not mandatory. Two years after that decision sentences for blacks became 15.2% longer than sentences for whites convicted of the same crime. By 2011 that number had risen to 19.5%. Over the same period of time it was found that blacks are 25% less likely than whites to receive a sentence below the minimum sentencing guideline.[2] There is no need to adjust for population here, if a black person and a white person are convicted of the exact same crime, the black person will on average receive a harsher sentence.

The whole concept of mandatory minimum sentencing has racist roots in and of itself. If you’re interested in learning more I recommend looking up the history of how we treat crack and cocaine crimes differently in this country despite them being pharmacologically identical drugs. Even though as a whole, drug use is identical across race, some specific drugs are used more by different races. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the drug more associated with use in the black community had much stricter penalties and a lower threshold for conviction.

In order for me to think blacks commit a disproportionate number of murders, I’d have to believe that the process that arrives at the arrest and conviction is fair in terms of race. We can see based upon drug arrest rates and overall sentencing rates that just isn’t the case. When the system on which the numbers are created is racist and incorrect, that’s the label we also must apply to the numbers themselves.

Moving on to the next set of statistics from The O’Reilly Factor.

The idea that we’re honestly meant to compare early 60s America with now is laughable.

This was the norm 50 years ago.

This was an era in which the poll tax still existed to keep black people from voting, black churches were being bombed, and certain states still had laws on the books saying it was illegal for a black person and a white person to marry. Have things gotten better since then? Yeah, it wouldn’t really have taken much. Anyone honestly trying to compare these two eras of American history is completely ignorant(possibly by choice) of what race relations were like at that point.

The second and third bullet points seem to be trying to make the point that more white people die via cop in this country, so black people shouldn’t complain. This slide seems to have already forgotten the third bullet point on the other slide. Whites outnumber blacks in this country 5 to 1, yet are killed by police at a rate of 2.6 to 1. The numbers don’t indicate whether that means white people are killed less often than they should be, that blacks are killed more often than they should be, or both, but whichever is the answer it certainly is a mark in favor of the idea that race is a factor when cops decide to pull the trigger. The refutation of those bullet points was on the screen literally five seconds previously yet somehow it gets lost.

There are plenty of other racist statistics and narratives being driven after the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. A lot deserves to be written especially about racist hiring practices forcing minorities to make money any way they can. That maybe fighting a war on poverty instead of on poor people would bring about real change. Those are all posts for another day though. I’ve seen the statistics I’ve refuted here used as gospel in several places around the internet lately, and I hope I’ve given you the tools necessary to nip this particularly brand of ignorance wherever it buds.

As always, questions, comments, and criticisms are welcome. Answers are guaranteed.



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