The 'BLM' Paradox - Black Accountability Matters

Submitted by Salil Mehta via Statistical Ideas blog,

Given recent distressing killings between Blacks and police -in the past week - it is worth poring into the broad statistics that underlie homicides in this country, by race.  The subject here has become far more emotional of late due to three reasons:
  • (A) a lack of recent official national data covering homicides by race and by the police,
  • (B) activists have somewhat diverted our attention away from the broader statistics and instead focused us on a few edited videos of murders under the premise that this is what all Whites are about, and
  • (C) we have an election season where both sides of the aisle want a voice on this topic as it comports with their "broader" socioeconomic policies.
It is as important to get the truth out there in terms of where the threat lies, as it is to be compassionate to the many thousands of murdered innocent Americans (of all stripes) each year but that happen disproportionately by one race.  It is also worth reminding that the vast majority of initial deplorable headlines, about Blacks killed by police, have never later led to convictions by a balanced jury of peers who saw more concerning evidence than the (social) media showed you.  Clearly there are some false positives, though there are far many more false negatives.
Let’s start by dissecting some headlines recently by both Former Mayor Giuliani, and also blogger Nate Silver.  Both have made slightly different points, though both are factual in some sense, one is generally closer aligned to the broad statistics.
  • In the U.S. Blacks are killed at nearly 8x the rates of Whites. (based on this Silver is pointing to Rwanda, though brining this up in this past week only conflates and misdiagnosis the situation)
Now let’s dig into these deaths, by race:
  • If you are Black, then you were nearly 9x as likely to have been killed by another Black versus by the police.  And there was a very little chance at all that a White civilian killed you. (based on this Giuliani is wrong only in the accuracy of his stated probability, during a conversation about Black Lives Matter, but he is certainly close)
  • If you are instead White, then you were nearly 3x as likely to have been killed by another White versus by either the police or a Black civilian (this too would have supported Giuliani’s point, though he chose to never make it)
  • To drive home the point of where the threat is, something critical should be retold as we will below, that the 8x murder rate for Blacks versus Whites would rise to 8.5x if there were no police murders at all. (this reflects how much more impactful police killings are on White people then they truly have on Blacks)
Now in the past year of data there have been 5,556 homicides of Americans by members of their own race, or by police.  The Washington Post and The Guardian have unofficial estimates, and I averaged their databases together.  See the split of these murders, which are now precisely sized proportionally by the number of homicides in each of these four categories below.
We show this same information, charted chart two different ways so that the most crucial storyline can be reinforced.  First we should state that while there are nearly 5.5x as many Whites as Blacks in the U.S., it is disquieting that Blacks still kill their own almost as much as Whites do (using the left chart above: 45% for the left portion versus 55% for the right portion)!  Additionally, within the left-side’s number of Blacks killed, it’s actually a smaller portion are killed by police versus the similar comparison for Whites.  This is despite the fact that Whites are living in lower-crime neighborhoods (and yes they too are under economic duress just as Blacks are) to begin with.  If Whites are actually killing each other at a lower rate, it also must imply those neighborhood have less violent criminals!  For more information, recheck the bullets highlighted above describing Former Mayor Giuliani’s comments.
Now when looking at who is committing these dire murders, it is clearly more often than not being done by “everyday” neighborhood civilians, and not by the police.  We prove this by portioning the same 5,556 murders on the right chart above.  We see that the right portion of that ride-side’s chart shows that civilian murders are nearly equal (47% are Blacks versus 53% are Whites).  Yet the only 1 in 7 annual number of of all homicides are due to police (the left portion of the right-side’s chart) and not civilians.  When the police kill, 2/3 of the time it is Whites being killed!  We can ask where is the furor over that, when Whites don’t even account for >2/3 of the same-race civilian killings (as a reminder, it was only 53%)?
To be thorough, it is wistfully accurate that police too are victims of unnecessary murders by American civilians.  This type of murder happens at 8% the level of civilians killed by police, and 1% of the overall 5,556 level of annual killings in total we’re discussing here.  So this may appear to be a small number, but it is certainly not insignificant at all, to those we put to work in law enforcement.  Who’s killing these police?  We dejectedly note that an astonishing 4/5 of these police killed were done so by Black civilians (the same ones who are killing one another at 8x the national rate and paradoxically expecting law enforcement to stop that, but then shriek when the police do).  The Dallas sniper murders last week (and possibly the Baton Rouge killings today) have not done anyone favors, and numerically it will inexpugnably and instantaneously spike the number of police killed by Blacks, by ~15%!  None of this is to say that we advocate any Blacks being stalked and hunted anywhere, but the broad information we hear in the media doesn't offer proof that this is what is happening nor proof of economic discrimination.
An academic peer-reviewed paper, which I spent considerable time reviewing as the associate editor, was well-referenced earlier this year (for example written up in the Wall Street Journal). It explores threat factors associated with police who shoot at a scene (including critical insights such as Black officers are >3x more likely to shoot versus Whites when both confronted as a team within the same situation).  The author and The American Statistical Association journal were a vital probability and statistics citation for the recently viral Harvard University/National Bureau of Economic Research economics working draft on police aggression (and showing that shooting isn’t even the largest component of police aggression to begin with!)
Here is the topical research article we made free:
To summarize, we have a tapestry of racial homicide information that demonstrates that within the U.S., Black lives are committing crimes at an awfully-high disproportionate rate (again we can isolate the Blacks-on-Blacks homicide numbers above).  Additionally, Black civilians account for 4/5 of all murders of police who care about Black lives and are trying to reduce violent crimes in Black neighborhoods.  And while police kill fewer Blacks than Whites, Black police are >3x likelier to shoot versus White police.  Whites tend to murder anyone at a lower late, and this is despite the glorification in the media of a small fraction of incidences the don't represent the righteous struggle for many.
It is clear where the threat is where it comes to violent crimes, and so too why the recent movement against Whites is an awkward paradox.  Whites certainly have their flaws and discriminations and certainly struggling to make ends meet just like everyone else, but we also see that Black lives do matter to Whites.  And all innocent lives should matter.  The question is, why do Black lives (or any innocent lives) not matter to Blacks who are disproportionately murder?  This makes the appeal that Whites don’t care about anything, hard to absorb.  
Let’s put this all a little differently.  If we were in a situation in America, where we had an equal proportions of Blacks as Whites, in this hypothetical the number of butchered Americans in the hands of Blacks would burgeon (and astonishingly by police would fall) uncontrollably and our entire society would be left effectively unbalanced.  That would not be a stellar result.