Numbers Don’t Speak for Themselves

(Part 2  is here. .

Recently, a friend of a friend posted a link to this article of an article.

The article didn’t say anything particularly new. But I’ve heard of Heather MacDonald, the person it quoted at length.  Given this topic of policing and Black citizens and death is on my (everyone’s)  mind for obvious reasons, I figured…..

There are people who bring up statistics, even unpopular statistics,  about crime because they believe a rational, honest discussion — not a media barrage of click-bait infotainment will help more people not be murdered.

One recent admirable example of this is Mark Follan.

On the other hand, some people bring out stats not because they are looking for a solution.

They trot out the numbers because they resent their ideological opponents and want to make them look bad.

Check out this website where the Mac Donald article came from. Monday they posted a news item on police shootings  with this headline –  capitals theirs:

“New Study find NO RACIAL BIAS Against Blacks in Police Shootings”

Again, capitals theirs.

Now, they could have just been trying to tell us the main point of the study so we wouldn’t have to actually read it.

OR…. they could have been trying to say “See, all you whiney Black  (beeps) !  You’re wrong! Stop complaining about racism!”

You be the judge.

Anyhow, getting back to Mac Donald.  I don’t know much about her  (I mainly recalled the name from this piece).  I’m sure she has world-bettering motives in mind with all her stat gathering.

Which is great.


But this particular article/summary of her work doesn’t seem like bettering is on the agenda. It more reads like one long, capitalized headline trying to prove “certain people” are wrong.

At the heart of the article/summary is the unstated theory that since a disproportionate number of Black people commit crime,  all Black people in the United States should be okay with being 2nd class citizens. Specifically: 

  • They should be okay with being presumed guilty and dangerous.
  • They should be okay with having their freedom of movement restricted (stop and frisk, pullover traffic stops).
  • And they should be okay with being killed or having violence done against them by police in larger numbers than other racial groups

Call it The Disproportionately Argument.  (Somebody probably already has…)

Central to this argument is the idea that Black people are mainly  attackers. And so they have no reason to complain about how they’re treated by cops (or, really, by anyone...).

“Blacks are more likely to kill cops than be killed by cops. This is according to FBI data, which also found that 40 percent of cop killers are black. According to MacDonald, the police officer is 18.5 times more likely to be killed by a black than a cop killing an unarmed black person.”

So, a close look.  Stipulating OBVIOUSLY that all of these deaths are horrible….

Last year:

42 cops were shot to death.   So, roughly 17 police officers were shot to death by cop killers who were Black.

1134 people were shot to death by police.    15%  of those deaths were African American males aged  15-34. So, last year, roughly,  170 unarmed African American men 15-34  were shot to death by cops.

Now, if Mr. Follan were writing this piece, the point might be that – even despite upticks this year – data shows that both police officers and Black civilians do not need to worry all that much, statistically speaking,  about actually being killed by one another.

The analysis in this article makes no such observation.

Actually, I don’t know what observation the analysis in this article is making.

Or I guess it’s that anti-misconduct activists shouldn’t object to  170 unarmed  Black males, including children, being killed last year by trained, armed, professional law enforcement officers who are paid to serve and protect them …. because 17 officers were killed by criminals who shared the Black skin tone?

Apparently, the disproportionality of Black criminals also justifies another trend: the disproportionality of Black civilian deaths by cop. Cops and Black people face off more often than other groups, thus, Black people will be killed  more often than other groups.

“…as MacDonald writes in The Wall Street Journal, 2009 statistics from the Bureau of Justice Statistics reveal that blacks were charged with 62 percent of robberies, 57 percent of murders and 45 percent of assaults in the 75 biggest counties in the country, despite only comprising roughly 15 percent of the population in these counties.

Such a concentration of criminal violence in minority communities means that officers will be disproportionately confronting armed and often resisting suspects in those communities, raising officers’ own risk of using lethal force,”

Now the irony here is,  these above two paragraphs are supposed to be Mac Donald’s defense against claims any of this is racist.

First of all, let’s put aside the concept of due process for a second and  presume, as this article does, that being “charged” is equal to being  “guilty” .

And let’s put aside all the different socio-economic factors that lead to some people being ‘charged’ and other people ‘getting away with a slap on the wrist because it’s powder not crack.

Or so forth.

And while we’re at it, let’s also ignore the inflammatory nature of the 100% unquantified, substantiated throw-away appositive “often resisting.”

What we are left with is a statistic that – on first glance – points to some kind of pathology in the Black communities studied:  “The Blacks are 15% of the population but committing 57% of the murders!”

….Of course they’re not.

A specific demographic subgroup in this  15% of the population is committing 57% of the murders (or a major portion of them.).  Are Black toddlers committing more violent crimes than white 20-somethings?

Of course they’re not.

Black people and Black communities are not synonymous with criminals and criminal activity.We are not facing some pathological tendency in a “race” people. We are facing a trend in a very specific, small, and weird as it may sound, vulnerable American subgroup. This is a crucial distinction to make.

Let me correct that. This is a crucial distinction to make if your goal in investigating this topic is to reduce cop and civilian deaths by creating and supporting policy and intervention which actually reduce violence.

If your goal is simply to rail against people who’s race-based complaints and activism stir up your resentment,  then, as you were.

But I am a playwright, so let me back myself  here with some other people who do this for a living and see how they divide data into not just racial but gender and age and other categories to give us useful information:

Black youth homicide a problem.

And this

CDC has some info. 

Some fact checking on age and gender.

American Journal of Medicine


I guess then,  the disproportionality argument should be amended to say:

Given young Black men disproportionately commit violent crimes, the infringement on any and every Black person’s safety, civil rights and freedom by law enforcement and others is  justified and shouldn’t be complained about and any  lethal consequences that stem from these infringements should be overlooked as human error due to justified fear. 

And of course, it’s still wrong.

But wait, there’s more.

Mac Donald and the article go on with this idea of the fearsome Blacks. They point out that The Blacks may actually be scarier than we thought. Apparently, black criminality is under-reported:

“….unarmed black men are more likely to die by the gun of a cop than an unarmed white man… the ratio was seven-to-one of unarmed black men dying from police gunshots compared to unarmed white men…..

But, BUT that number “doesn’t tell the whole story…” 

Apparently,  according to Mac Donald’s individual scouring of police reports “if the victim ended up being unarmed, it was certainly not for lack of trying.”

Oh, those silly victims of being shot to death and their zany antics!

The article then list some incidents  where an unarmed person was killed but was with someone who was armed, etc.  Fair enough.  That should be addressed. How often does this happen? How does it skew results?

But, what about the reverse?

Shouldn’t we examine cases of unarmed men who are listed as “armed” in police reports?

What about cases where the policeman said he feared for his life but didn’t, he just made a fatal mistake and wanted to cover it up?

Don’t we need research and factor in those  anecdotes too, to get the “whole story?

Unfortunately, darn, the government doesn’t keep those records.

There’s a video sometimes, but….  

So, according to  Mac Donald and this article’s writers,  the way to get the  “whole story” is to (a) assume the police never lie and (b) extrapolate on anecdotal evidence to the point you more or less decide, eh, the heck with the research– even though your anecdotes at best mitigate but in no way erase the research.  

Conclusion: Blacks are much worse than we thought! So zip it, activists!

The reason I bring this passage up is not to focus on shoddy crap “agenda journalism” masquerading as  fact-based objective analysis.

Well, no, that is the reason I bring it up.


But I mention it more because because this article takes a statistic that everyone should find unacceptable and which has a clear racial component….and dismisses it. 

And that means we don’t work on fixing any issues which led to this awful ratio and these deaths.

And isn’t that the goal of researching and analyzing this subject? Finding truth? Finding solutions? All lives mattering?

Where did the capital letters go, people? 

It’s just wrong to say people don’t need to try to overcome prejudice so they treat everyone sanely  (that old chestnut)  — and it’s even more wrong to say it’s not prejudice if we quote the right stats. Because, honestly, this has nothing to do with math and everything to do with something deeper:  Part 2

Thanks for reading,



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