Black People Do Not Suffer Disproportionately From Police Brutality

Milwaukee BLM Protesters, almost all White????

Re-posted from Just the Facts By James D. Agresti

July 15, 2020

A recent New York Times article by Jeremy W. Peters claims it is a “fact” “that black people suffer disproportionately from police brutality.” He also asserts that President Trump’s rejection of this accusation is “racially inflammatory” and “racially divisive.” To the contrary, comprehensive facts show that this allegation against police is false. Furthermore, this deception has stoked racial divides and driven people to despise and even murder police officers.

In an interview with CBS News that is slated to air in full tonight, reporter Catherine Herridge asked Trump, “Why are African-Americans still dying at the hands of law enforcement in this country?” He responded that this is a “terrible question” and that “more white people” are killed by police than black people.

CBS News, the New York Times, and many other media outlets are criticizing Trump’s response because blacks are a much smaller portion of the U.S. population than whites. Thus, the odds of being killed by police are higher for each black person than each white person. This frequent argument is highly misleading because it omits facts that are vital to this issue. As detailed in a 2018 paper in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science:

  • “The most common means of testing for racial disparity in police use of deadly force is to compare the odds of being fatally shot for blacks to the odds of being fatally shot for whites.”
  • That logic is flawed because it relies upon the false assumption that white and black people commit life-threatening crimes at the same rates.
  • The rational way to analyze this issue is to compare the odds of being fatally shot to each race’s “involvement in those situations where the police may be more likely to use deadly force.”
  • Based on four different national datasets on “murder/nonnegligent manslaughter, violent crime, and weapons violations,” “in nearly every case, whites were either more likely to be fatally shot by police or police showed no significant disparity in either direction.”

The facts about murder and police killings underscore this reality. Black people represent about 13% of the U.S. population, at least 53% of murder offenders, and roughly 33% of people killed by police.

The Supreme Court’s 1985 ruling in Tennessee v. Garner  forbids police from using lethal force except in situations where there is a genuine risk of “death or serious physical injury.” In 2015, the Washington Post found that over the prior decade an average of about five police officers per year were indicted for violating this standard, and only one per year was convicted.

Likewise, a study conducted by the left-leaning Center for Policing Equity reveals that police are 42% less likely to use lethal force when arresting black people than when arresting whites. Yet, the authors of this study buried that data on the 19th page of a 29-page report and wrote an overview that gives the opposing impression.

Taken together, the facts above disprove the claim that “black people suffer disproportionately from police brutality.” Yet, media outlets routinely ignore these facts or report them in isolation so that their implications are obscured. Meanwhile, they widely spread the counterfactual message that has inspired racial strife, hatred of the police, and slayings of officers. For example:

  • Before Ismaaiyl Brinsley murdered New York City policemen Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu in 2014, he posted on Instagram: “I’m Putting Wings On Pigs Today. They Take 1 Of Ours….. Let’s Take 2 of Theirs #ShootThePolice, #RIPErivGardner and # This may be my final post.”
  • During a 2016 Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas, TX in which the crowd chanted “Hands up, don’t shoot,” Micah Johnson killed five police officers. During standoff negotiations, he said he wanted to kill white people, especially white officers. All of the policemen he murdered were white.
  • Ten days later, Gavin Eugene Long shot six Baton Rouge, Louisiana police officers, killing three of them. His suicide note stated: “I must bring the same destruction that bad cops continue to inflict upon my people,” meaning people of color.

Beyond this, the Times and other media outlets that propagate those racially provocative falsehoods are accusing people who challenge them of stirring racial hostilities.

There are more than 800,000 sworn law enforcement officers in the U.S., and they commit roughly one murder per year. This amounts to an annual murder rate of 0.13 per 100,000—or about 38 times lower than the general U.S. murder rate of 5.0 per 100,000. Police are vetted for criminality, and thus, they should be much less likely to commit murder than the average person. However, police are also faced with life-threatening situations more often than the general public, and this opens doors for violent tendencies to emerge.

Regardless, it is irrational to accuse police or any other group of people of brutality or systemic racism based on the actions of an infinitesimal portion of them. Yet, the media and activists repeatedly do this, even though it is a hallmark tactic of racists and demagogues.


  1. I would like to send you some studies that appear to provide evidence that appears to substantiate significant disparities in the use of force against African Americans. If you would kindly provide me an email I can use I would happy to send these to you for your comment. I would send you the actual studies, not the citations or mere references (with 1 exception.).
    1. A Multi-Level Bayesian Analysis of Racial Bias
    in Police Shootings at the County-Level in
    the United States, 2011–2014
    2. An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force,
    Roland G. Fryer, Jr.†
    July 2017
    3. Is There Evidence of Racial Disparity in Police Use of Deadly Force? Analyses of
    Officer-Involved Fatal Shootings in 2015–2016
    Joseph Cesario, David J. Johnson, William Terrill (abstract only)
    4. Officer characteristics and racial disparities in fatal
    officer-involved shootings
    David J. Johnsona,b,1, Trevor Tressb, Nicole Burkelb, Carley Taylorb, and Joseph Cesariob (Heather MacDonald used this study as (among others?) for her editorial in the WSJ.
    5. Correction for “Officer characteristics and racial disparities in
    fatal officer-involved shootings,” by David J. Johnson, Trevor
    Tress, Nicole Burkel, Carley Taylor, and Joseph Cesario, which
    was first published July 22, 2019; 10.1073/pnas.1903856116 (Proc.
    Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 116, 15877–15882).
    6. Police, Race, and the Production of Capital Homicides
    Jeffrey Fagan†
    Amanda Geller*

    Thank you for your considerations. I am very appreciative of the very fine work JustFacts does to bring a balanced and factual presentation of the evidences and arguments to the issues of our day.

    • Thank you for your kind words. Below are the key facts on these six studies. As you’ll see, they are either fatally flawed, inconclusive, or actually find that police are not more likely to use lethal force against minorities:

      1) A Multi-Level Bayesian Analysis of Racial Bias in Police Shootings at the County-Level in the United States, 2011–2014

      This study uses an incomplete, crowd-sourced dataset that records 16 cases of civilians being shot by police in Houston, TX and surrounding areas from 2011 to 2014. During this period, at least 177 such shootings occurred in Houston alone. In other words, the study’s data is so fragmentary that it is useless.

      2) An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force

      This study found that “on the most extreme use of force – officer-involved shootings – we are unable to detect any racial differences in either the raw data or when accounting for controls.” The author, Harvard professor Roland G. Fryer Jr., called this “the most surprising result of my career.”

      On the other hand, the study did find that “blacks and Hispanics are more than 50 percent more likely to experience some form of force in interactions with police,” but this drops to 21.3% when controlling for factors like resisting arrest. Fryer theorizes there is a racial reason for this, but the remaining difference could be due to factors that the study did not control for, or it may be because police are more likely to forcibly restrain people in high-crime neighborhoods to prevent situations that require lethal force, regardless of race.

      The paper is also marred and its credibility is undermined by this misleading claim: “The raw memories of these [racial] injustices have been resurrected by several high-profile incidents of questionable uses of force. Michael Brown, unarmed, was shot 12 times by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, after Brown fit the description of a robbery suspect of a nearby store.” Before the working draft of this paper was published in 2016, the Obama Justice Department proved in 2015 that the officer shot Brown in self-defense. On 9/12/16, I personally wrote to Fryer with documentation of that fact, and yet, he still submitted this paper for final publication with this falsehood in it.

      3) Is There Evidence of Racial Disparity in Police Use of Deadly Force? Analyses of Officer-Involved Fatal Shootings in 2015–2016

      This is the exact same study that I quote in the article above. Again, it found that “in nearly every case, whites were either more likely to be fatally shot by police or police showed no significant disparity in either direction.”

      4) Officer Characteristics and Racial Disparities in Fatal Officer-Involved Shootings

      In the words of the study’s authors, this study found that “once crime rates were taken into account, civilians fatally shot by the police were not more likely to be black or Hispanic than white.” Furthermore, it showed that “white officers are not more likely to fatally shoot minority civilians compared to black or Hispanic officers.”

      5) Correction for “Officer Characteristics and Racial Disparities in Fatal Officer-Involved Shootings”

      This is merely a technical clarification of the study just above that changes none of its results.

      6) Police, Race, and the Production of Capital Homicides

      This study mentions earlier research about racial disparities in the death penalty, but the facts are that relative to the rates at which people of different races commit murder in the U.S., black people are less likely to be sentenced to death and executed than white people.

      The study correctly points out that murders are less likely to be solved in minority neighborhoods and posits racial causes for this, but it also recognizes that this may be due to factors such as these:

      • Minorities are more likely to be involved in murdering strangers than whites, and such murders are more difficult to solve.
      • Police resources are stretched in minority neighborhoods due to high crime rates.
      • Minorities are less likely to cooperate with murder investigations due to fear of reprisal and hostility towards police.


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