October 28, 2020

There is no epidemic of fatal police shootings against unarmed Black Americans

The video of George Floyd’s tragic death under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer has led many to ask whether it represents the tip of an iceberg of police brutality. For centuries, United States law enforcement was interwoven with slavery and segregation, and that memory cannot be easily erased. But the evidence does not support the charge that biased police are systematically killing Black Americans in fatal shootings.

Much of modern policing is driven by crime data and community demands for help. The African American community tends to be policed more heavily, because that is where people are disproportionately hurt by violent street crime. In New York City in 2018, 73% of shooting victims were Black, though Black residents comprise only 24% of the city’s population.

Nationally, African Americans between the ages of 10 and 34 die from homicide at 13 times the rate of white Americans, according to researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Justice Department.

Community requests also determine police deployment, and the most urgent requests often come from law-abiding residents of high-crime neighborhoods.

An elderly resident in the Mount Hope neighborhood of the Bronx once described to me her fear of entering her building lobby, since it was so often occupied by trespassing youth hanging out and selling drugs. The only time she felt safe was when law enforcement was around: As long as she saw the police, she told me, everything is OK. You can come down and get your mail and talk to decent people.

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