Second thoughts about race and police killings

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Polls as of July 3 estimate that between 15 million and 26 million Americans had participated in the George Floyd protests, making it the largest protest movement in American history.

Ending abuse of power by American police would be a great accomplish.  But if the protestors define the problem as racial prejudice and nothing else, and if they limit their demands to defunding or cutting budgets of police departments, they may wind up accomplishing very little.

“Race reductionism” means reducing everything to a question of race.  In the USA, almost every social problem has a racial angle.  But very few things are about race exclusively.  Almost every social problem also has a money angel.

No reasonable person would shut their eyes to racial prejudice.  But racial prejudice alone does not explain why white Americans are more likely to be killed by police than Europeans of any race.  Or why American states with the smallest black populations have some of the highest rates of police killings.

The first chart shows the annual rate of police killings per million people for young and older black and white Americans.  It demonstrates that progress is possible.

The second chart shows the rate of police killings in different American cities.  It demonstrates that race cannot be the whole story, unless you assume that people in Albuquerque are more than 13 times as racist as people in New York City, or people in Memphis, Tennessee are nearly three times as racist as people in Nashville, Tennessee.

Police killings correlate more closely with poverty than with race.  Black Americans represent 24 percent of the victims of police killings, and 23 percent of the poor.  White Americans comprise 46 percent of the victims of police killings, and 41 percent of the poor.

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There are those who would like to drastically cut budgets for police departments and use the money to improve public education, housing and social services.  Not a bad idea.  The problem is that there isn’t enough spare money in police department budgets to make much of an improvement.

There are those who say it doesn’t make sense that someone with a gun and Mace is the one you call on to defuse domestic violence or deal with a mentally ill person who is acting out. Good point.  The problem is that having an array of highly-trained specialists on hand will not come cheap.

The best outcome would be for Black Lives Matter to broaden its demands to include (1) adequate funding of municipal social services, (2) enactment of Bayard Rustin’s Freedom Budget to create full employment and living wages and (3) reasonable restrictions on gun ownership.  Hopefully, this would result in less crime, fewer police killings and a better world for both white and black people.

The result of reform would not be zero police killings.  Sometimes the use of deadly force is the only way to protect human life.  But the disparities among cities and the progress over time shows that use of deadly force could be much less than it is now.


A symposium on

To End Police Violence, Fund Public Goods and Raise Wages by Dustin Guastalla

The Surprising Geography of Police Killings: Back of the Envelope Calculations by Christian Parenti.

The Policing Crisis by Roger Lancaster.

Between #Defund and Reform: Reimagine Safety and Restructuring America by Tauheeda Yasin Martin.

Other sources.

Defunding Police Requires Public Control Over External Resources by Ella Fassler for ShadowProof.  Another needed change: End seizure of assets of people merely suspected of crimes.

Police-Involved Shooting, Baltimore, July 1, 2020 by Peter Moskos for Cop in the Hood.  An example of an unavoidable police killing.

Disparities in Police-Involved Shootings by City and County by Peter Moskos for Cop in the Hood.

Who Are Police Killing? by Mike Males for the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.

Less Punishment, More Justice by David Cole for the New York Review of Books.

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One Response to “Second thoughts about race and police killings”

  1. Fred (Au Natural) Says:

    “reasonable restrictions on gun ownership”

    But nobody will propose such. It will be people who think guns are holy vs. people who think they are the tools of Satan.


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