According to data compiled by The Washington Post, police across the country killed nearly 1,000 people in shootings last year.
The number of officer-involved fatal shootings rose slightly in 2017, with 987 people killed last year; about two dozen more than the 963 shot and killed the year before.
A report in The Hill goes on to note that “minority males were shot and killed at a disproportionately higher rate than white males.”
But comparing the racial composition of those killed with the overall racial composition of the United States is misleading. The media’s unspoken assumption is that police killings should match America’s overall demographic statistics. However, not all people are equally likely to come into confrontation with the police.
An article in the National Review used an example from Michigan State University researcher Joseph Cesario, who noted that an officer is not as likely to shoot the cashier selling him a cup of coffee as he is to shoot a citizen with an outstanding warrant he has just pulled over.
Other examples make it clear that race demographics can change wildly, depending on circumstances. For instance, black people, who constitute about 13 percent of Americans, make up 1.4 percent of doctors, 38 percent of barbers, and 16 percent of cooks. They account for 14 percent of pedestrian fatalities and 74.4 percent of NBA players but just 8 percent of NPR newsroom employees.
The media wants Americans to believe that race is the single most important and predictive element of fatal encounters between police and civilians. However, this is simply not true. With a few exceptions, violent criminal attacks are the best predictor of whom police might shoot in America.
Even the Post itself pointed out in 2015: “In 74 percent of all fatal police shootings, the individuals had already fired shots, brandished a gun or attacked a person with a weapon or their bare hands.”
It’s also important to note that police don’t typically initiate their contact with the person who is shot. Three-quarters of fatal encounters start with someone contacting police and reporting the suspect, the National Review report noted. Further, more than half of the unarmed people killed by police suffered from mental-health issues, drug intoxication, physical disability, or some combination of those issues.
Mainstream news outlets are known to conflate correlation and causation in their efforts to sell ads by sparking outrage in readers. But what they really do is foment racial discord and stir up unwarranted hatred of law enforcement.
“Our officers are in 1.5 million volatile encounters a year, so shooting someone is an incredibly rare event,” Los Angeles Police Department Assistant Chief Michel Moore told The Post. “Yet we pull each instance apart and see what factors might have played a role and train our officers to make that rare event even more rare.”