Following the shooting of Michael Brown and subsequent civil unrest in Ferguson, it wasn’t uncommon to hear that there’s a “war” being waged against blacks by police.
It’s unclear what date this war commenced, and which police are fighting on the front lines, but many remain convinced it exists nonetheless.
While those claims are hyperbolic, if there was in fact evidence that police are more likely to use deadly force on black suspects in identical situations to white suspects, there is a problem. A new study at Washington State University aimed to figure that out.
According to the Washington Post, the study “used highly realistic police simulators, in which actors in various scenarios approach and respond to officers on large, high-definition video screens in an attempt to recreate critical situations on the street. The officers are equipped with real guns, modified to fire infrared beams rather than bullets, and the scenarios can branch into conflict or cooperation, depending on the officers’ words and actions.”
So what did they find? There was a racial bias, but not in the direction you’d think:
Even with white officers who do have racial biases, officers are three times less likely to shoot unarmed black suspects than unarmed white suspects.
This is just a simulation of course, but the Post does note that historical data bears this out too.
A 1974 study concluded that “the police have one trigger finger for whites and another for blacks.” A 1978 report found that 60 percent of black suspects shot by the police carried handguns, compared with 35 percent of white suspects. In 2001, a statistical study showed that black people comprised 12 percent of the population but committed 43 percent of the killings of officers.
But there has also been a contrary narrative, that officers are hesitant to fire at black suspects, starting with a 1977 analysis of reports from major metropolitan departments which found officers fired more shots at white suspects than at black suspects, possibly because of “public sentiment concerning treatment of blacks.” And in 2004, David Klinger at the University of Missouri-St. Louis interviewed more than 100 officers and found “evidence of increased wariness about using deadly force against black suspects for fear of how it would be perceived and the associated consequences.”
There goes another narrative, but do you think we’ll stop hearing it? So long as the likes of Al Sharpton and company can milk a paycheck from it, I wouldn’t count on it.
[Note: This post was authored by The Analytical Economist]