I have engaged in countless debates and write ups, on Facebook and elsewhere, with people who are convinced that the *cause* for why police shoot African Americans at a higher rate than they shoot other groups is a result of racism and bias.
Most folks are well intentioned and are genuinely concerned about the plight of our African American communities, as they and all of us should be. They see racism and historical injustice as an explanation for why those communities, in so many areas of this country, are in such turmoil today. And I would agree with them.
But on this topic, and after thoroughly enmeshing myself in the data and the stories for at least the greater part of three years now, I am convinced that a better explanation for the gap in how often blacks are shot by police versus other groups is violent crime rate, not racism, not unconscious bias.
Some of the disagreements come down to technicalities and confusion about what causation means, because I am referring to statistical causation of the gap in shooting rates, while others see single incidents as proof of a larger trend. I have tried to explain that such an intense focus on single perspectives from isolated incidents scews our perception and says nothing about the bigger picture, but to no avail.
Regardless though, single incidents can draw attention to a cause that people need to pay more attention to. And when statistics back up the concern, those single incidents can be a powerful catalyst for change.
Which is why I am drawing everyone’s attention to this video, which I was only made aware of this morning. The video shows an unarmed white man being shot by the police, who confused his wallet for a gun. The officer was acquitted earlier this year by a Federal Appeals Court, who ruled that “After careful consideration and review of a video recording of the shooting, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Davidson, we conclude that a reasonable officer in Hancock’s position would have feared for his life.”
Because the suspect was white, the explanation for why the officer shot him could not have been racism or unconscious bias against white people (the officer was also white). Therefore, the next best explanation for the shooting was that the officer genuinely feared for his life and made a tragic mistake. I would argue that this video presents a compelling case example of the phenomenon of why police may shoot unarmed men, whether they be black or white.
As such, if we want to understand the gaps in how often African Americans get shot in this manner, we must look elsewhere beyond racism and unconscious bias for the explanation, and statistics actually back this up. In that endeavor, the best place to start will be with the differences in violent crime between groups. Otherwise, no matter how many tears are shed over such tragedy’s, our solutions to the problem, so often focused on reducing racism and bias, will be about as effective as a cat chasing its tail.