- - Thursday, January 7, 2016


One of the persistent narratives of the year just past was that the police are conducting a deadly war on black America. The narrative is pushed by media sensationalists until it becomes conventional wisdom. The narrative is wrong. The facts, collected by nonpartisan sources, say so. Perception, often encouraged by irresponsible reporters and pundits, nevertheless becomes reality, and anger and fear fester.

Several surveys have attempted to count the number of persons killed by law enforcement officers last year. The London daily Guardian reported 1,134. The Washington Post counted 965 through Christmas Eve, and reported that black men, who make up 6 percent of the U.S. population, were 40 percent of the unarmed men shot to death in incidents with police. Only 4 percent of those were shot by white officers, a statistic that’s inconvenient to the purveyors of the narrative that racist cops are making war on black men in America.

Black lives, like all lives, matter. One death at the hands of the police is one too many, but there is no compelling evidence that law enforcement officers are deliberately targeting blacks. FBI statistics for 2013, the most recent year for which the numbers are available, show that blacks are involved in 38.7 percent of arrests for violent crimes. Though not everyone arrested is eventually found guilty in court, it’s clear that blacks are more frequently involved in incidents to which police are called.

Police, like everyone else, err. They are forced to make quick decisions in which human lives, including their own, are at risk. Tragedies are often the result of error, as in Cleveland when 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot and killed while waving a pellet gun that had the appearance of a real gun. Sometimes, but rarely, they act with inexcusable disregard for human life, as Officer Michael Slager apparently did when he shot Walter Scott, a motorist, in the back last year in North Charleston, S.C.

Across the nation, 124 officers died in the line of duty last year, as recorded by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. Of those, 42 were killed by guns, down 14 percent from 2014, and 52 were traffic-related.

Several black deaths at the hands of police, and the subsequent sensational and one-sided media coverage, has encouraged the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, and encourage the impression that the war on blacks is real. But in a new Cato/YouGov national survey, 65 percent of respondents say they believe a war, if there is one, is aimed at the police. By party, 81 percent of Republicans agree, 62 percent of independents agree — and so do 55 percent of Democrats. From this, 92 percent of respondents say police officers should wear body cameras on duty.

The Black Lives Matter movement has made its point, that no life can be held cheap, and all lives matter. The police, like everyone else, must be held to account when they err. The media must be held to account, too, when an appetite for irresponsible sensation leads it to error, and worse. There is no “war” against anyone.

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