George Floyd, by video accounts — be select and incomplete video accounts, to be truthful — died a horrific, even murderously minded death at the hands of an uncaring police officer who locked his black victim against the pavement for several painful minutes, knee on neck, watching cavalierly as the life seeped from his body.
But that doesn’t mean all police hate blacks.
That doesn’t mean cops the country over awaken each day with the intent to kill blacks on their minds.
The statistics just don’t bear that out. Reports and surveys and research don’t bear that out. Even websites committed to furthering the message that police purposely murder blacks don’t bear that out.
Mapping Police Violence, in his website top headliner, writes: “Police killed 1,099 people in 2019.”
And below, the site reports this: “Black people were 24% of those killed despite being only 13% of the population.”
OK. But police, by job description, actually possess the right to take aggressive, even deadly, force against threatening suspects. Granted, that’s a dramatic conclusion to situations that should start at least somewhat peaceably, with police questioning then interrogating then handcuffing then placing in the squad car for transport to jail for arrest. But the best-case scenario doesn’t always occur. Suspects get angry. Police get angry. Emotions run high. Fights, scuffles, resisting arrests take place. Drugs-in-the-system sometimes shortchanges the peace. So, too, slews of other factors.
With all those factors at play, though, even Mapping Police Violence has to admit police killing of blacks is on the somewhat rare side — after all, 24% isn’t a remarkably huge percentage. Systemically speaking, that is.
Then there was this headline from Vox, printed just this week: “Police violence against unarmed suspects is down.” The story went on to report how “Black Lives Matter activism is working” because “police shootings of African Americans and unarmed suspects are declining.”
Then there was this, a headline from the Wall Street Journal above a piece written by author and writer Heather MacDonald, whose work focuses on tracking police statistics: “The Myth of Systemic Police Racism.”
She went on to say what many who look past the hype to get at the facts find: that yes, George Floyd’s death seems reprehensible but that no, his handling is hardly representative of how police around the country treat suspects — even black suspects.
Here are some thoughts from the federal government, from the National Institutes of Health’s “Deaths Due to Use of Lethal Force by Law Enforcement” study, focused on stats from 17 states between the years of 2009 and 2012.
The report goes, “Several high-profile cases in the U.S. have drawn public attention to the use of lethal force by law enforcement. … [But according to research] Victims were majority white (52%) but disproportionately black (32%) with a fatality rate 2.8 times higher among blacks than whites.”
Why is that?
The race card throwers would have it automatically believed that police are inherently racist and intent on using their badges to eradicate blacks — that there is “systemic racism” at play within police communities, nay, within all of America. Witness: Floyd.
“US Bishops: Systematic racism led to the death of George Floyd,” wrote Vatican News.
“‘How do we end systemic racism’: Former President George W. Bush praises peaceful George Floyd marchers,” wrote WTHR.
“George Floyd’s death reflects the racist roots of American policing,” wrote The Conversation.
But there are other reasons the percentages of blacks shot and killed by police, as well as jailed, are higher than those of other ethnic backgrounds.
Blacks, next to Hispanics, comprise the largest populations of gangs in the United States, according to statistics from NationalGangCenter.gov.
By the numbers, between 1996 and 2011, blacks made up about 35% of the nation’s gangs; compare that to whites, during the same time frame, at just under 12%.
And according to statistics from the FBI, blacks in 2016 accounted for 4,935 of the nation’s 9,374 arrests for murder — compared to whites, at 4,192; and for 41,562 of the nation’s 76,267 robberies — compared to whites, at 33,095. On murder, that’s a near-53% to near-45% percent difference between, respectively, blacks-to-whites; on robbery, it’s near-55% to 43%.
Statista, meanwhile, reports that 6,237 black males and 1,168 black females were murdered in this country in 2018, compared to 4,255 white males and 1,832 white females.
Is it racism that’s systemic — or a culture of violence?
Is it systemic racism — or acceptance of violence, willingness to embrace violence, tendencies toward violence, a heavy presence of cultural properties that foster violence, and the like, that are to blame for the violence? The latter cuts across all ethnicities, across all skin colors.
And certainly, it plays into police on-the-job realities and perceptions of handling crimes, of fielding arrests, of detaining suspects, of breaking up crimes in progress, of doing what they were hired to do.
Of course, it’s much easier to blame race.
It’s much easier, and in some cases, politically expedient, to point fingers at police for demographic disparities in crime statistics.
But that doesn’t solve the problems confronting America. That doesn’t save others from dying similarly violent deaths in both near and far futures.
Chalking up Floyd’s death to systemic racism not only seems premature. But it also does a real disservice to those of the country who would like to find actual solutions to the horrible crime rates in our nation’s communities, to the desperate situations faced by many in our country’s communities of colors, and to the senseless killings that take place every day across America, devastating families of all ethnic backgrounds, of all walks of life.
It’s not until we see truth, accept truth and deal with truth, no matter how uncomfortable, that we will actually start to save these lives.
• Cheryl Chumley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @ckchumley. Listen to her podcast “Bold and Blunt” by clicking HERE. And never miss her column; subscribe to her newsletter by clicking HERE.