The shooting of black Americans by officers of the law is one of the most controversial issues in the United States today. Nationally, the issue has taken center stage, with many protesting these shootings and in turn linking it to racism without any proof, demonizing police, and calling to defund police forces (despite significant opposition to such ideas in the black community). In Philadelphia, Mayor Kenney echoed such sentiments when he posted on social media about America’s “original sin of racism.” Kenney further added that black Americans should not have to “fear for your lives – or for your loved ones.” Yet what the politicians proclaim and what the media show do not align with the facts.
First, for all of the widespread media coverage of police shootings each year, nearly twice as many unarmed white suspects are shot by police compared to black unarmed suspects in the country each year. Name one.
Statistics also show that black Americans do not have to fear for their lives at the hands of police. For analysis, one does not have to look any further than the Philadelphia Police Department. “Collaborative Reform Initiative: An Assessment of Deadly Force in the Philadelphia Police Department,” a 2015 study conducted on the Philadelphia police force by the Obama Department of Justice, revealed that white police officers do not overwhelmingly shoot unarmed black suspects.
Moreover, the study revealed that when it comes to police shootings, ‘areas with higher levels of violence saw higher levels of police involved shootings.’ Simply put, the level of street violence in a neighborhood is the predominant factor for police shootings — not race.
“Collaborative Reform Initiative: An Assessment of Deadly Force in the Philadelphia Police Department” was a study conducted from 2007 to 2013 on the shootings of the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD). This study included a “detailed description of the nature and prevalence of Officer Involved Shootings (OISs) by the PPD.” It examined each OIS in which there was an unarmed suspect and a threat perception failure (TPF) – an occurrence where “an officer perceives that a suspect is armed due to the misidentification of a nonthreatening object (e.g. a cell phone) or movement (e.g. tugging at the waistband).” Such cases comprise the “majority of unarmed OISs in Philadelphia.”
Many of the claims of alleged racist police shootings focus on white police officers shooting unarmed black suspects. However, this report challenges such claims. Consider the percentages of the races of unarmed suspects shot by police: unarmed white suspects were shot by police at a higher rate. From the report of OISs, black suspects who were shot were unarmed 15.8 percent of the time. Hispanic suspects were unarmed nearly 15 percent of the time. Yet, white suspects were unarmed nearly 25 percent of the time. This is especially noteworthy given that black Americans comprise the majority of the city’s population and armed suspects.
Additionally, consider the race of the officer involved in the shooting of unarmed black suspects. Based on the data of this report, when it comes to TPFs of OISs by the race of the police officer, white police officers had the lowest percentage of involvement. Analysis shows that of OISs involving TPF for black suspects, white police officer TPF rates for black suspects averaged 6.8 percent. For incidents involving black suspects and black officers “the TPF rate was 11.4%,” almost double the rate of white officers. Hispanic officers “had a TPF rate of 16.7% when involved in OISs with black suspects.”
Most significantly, this investigation, initiated by Obama’s DOJ, concluded that “no group of officers had a significantly different rate of TPFs amongst various suspect races. For example, the difference in the rate at which white officer OISs were TPFs was not significantly different for black, Hispanic, white, and Asian suspects.”
Moreover, the study revealed that when it comes to police shootings, “areas with higher levels of violence saw higher levels of police involved shootings.” Simply put, the level of street violence in a neighborhood is the predominant factor for police shootings — not race.
Yet, the findings of this report were not widely reported by the media – local or national. Why not? Wouldn’t a study conducted on police shootings of the police force of the 5th largest city in the country who (at the time) had an African-American mayor, initiated by an African-American Attorney General, of the administration of the first African-American president that concludes racial discrimination is not a factor in police shootings be worthy of media attention? Any internet search will show you such affirmations never occurred – especially by Philadelphia’s local media.
“I believe the police are not discriminatory, based on race, nationwide. It is their job to go where crime is and, unfortunately, that means they will go to neighborhoods populated by black people,” Ward Connerly, African-American scholar and founder and chairman of the Civil Rights Institute, told me. “Racial bigotry is rarely the driving force,” Connerly said.
“I personally am not persuaded that race is a major problem.”
These facts run counter to the claims of Mayor Jim Kenney. Perhaps if he examined the findings of the most recent Department of Justice assessment of his own police force, he might be more inclined to share the truth with Philadelphians. Instead, false narratives are passed along to the public.
“This seems again to play into a BLM narrative that is passionate and sincere, but not based on data,” Dr. Wilfred Reilly, assistant professor of political science at Kentucky State University, a historically black college, said. “The fact that it isn’t [based on data], is not debatable.”
These findings of the nonexistence of police discrimination in shootings of black Americans are shared by several other studies over the past decade.
Consider the data of African-American scholar Roland G. Fryer Jr. A professor of economics at Harvard University, he was the youngest African-American to ever receive tenure at the Ivy League institution. In his 2016 study, Fryer found that there aren’t “any racial differences in either raw data or when accounting for controls” pertaining to officer-involved killings. The study also declared that there was “no definitive proof of discrimination.”
Another recent study from 2019 revealed that there is no evidence of widespread racial bias when it comes to police killings. First, the study shows that there is “no racial bias on behalf of white officers relative to black officers when it comes to fatal shootings.” Second, the study found that violent crime rates are the main factors of the majority of instances in killings by police. Next, the vast majority of killings — “between 90-95%” — occur when suspects were either attacking police, or attacking civilians. Last, unarmed people killed by police are extremely rare.
Many detractors cite the specious claim that African-Americans are shot at a disproportionate rate given their 13 percent share of the United States population. For many on the Left, this undoubtedly proves America’s ‘original sin’ of systemic racism.
“In fact, our findings show no support that black citizens are more likely to be shot by white officers,” said Joseph Cesario, co-author of the study.
“We hear about the really horrendous and tragic cases of police shootings for a reason: they’re awful cases, they have major implications for police-community relations and so they should get attention,” said Cesario. “But, this ends up skewing perceptions about police shootings and leads people to believe that all fatal shootings are similar to the ones we hear about. That’s just not the case.”
Many detractors cite the specious claim that African-Americans are shot at a disproportionate rate given their 13 percent share of the United States population. For many on the Left, this undoubtedly proves America’s “original sin” of systemic racism. Yet, using the country’s total population is not accurate when making such evaluations. The correct benchmark to calculate any racial disparity in fatal police shootings should be predicated on instances of police exposure and violent crime rates.
Police shootings are a controversial topic, but Philadelphians deserve to know the truth. Divisive and hateful fear-mongering is a political tool of totalitarian regimes. When the mayor of the birthplace of our country is advancing politically driven propaganda, it does not serve the best interest of any Philadelphian.
In cases of police shootings, the citizens of our city – and our country – would be wise to take the words of Kentucky’s Attorney General Daniel Cameron when announcing his findings on the Breonna Taylor investigation: “Our reaction to the truth today says what kind of society we want to be. Do we really want the truth, or do we want a truth that fits our narrative?” The more we search for the truth instead of narrative, the better everyone’s lives in our country will be.
Chris Tremoglie attends the University of Pennsylvania and has been published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily Caller, Washington Examiner, and National Review. He recently completed his honors thesis on “Did Glasnost and Perestroika Cause a Rise in Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict in the Post-Soviet Balkans?” @cwtremo.