“Black Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter!”
This is a chant that you will likely hear on the news in regards to a social movement that is fighting for equal treatment under the law. They claim that those with darker skin are singled out and killed more often than lighter skinned people simply because of the color of their skin. While it’s well documented this was the case in the 1960s and even past the end of segregation, is it still prevalent today? Do the Black Lives Matter protesters have reason to be protesting, or are they simply being strung along by those who tell them that they do?
Before we begin to answer all of those questions it’s important to get the context of crime today. Specifically we are going to look at violent crime. According to the FBI, in 2014 there were 1,165,383 violent crimes, with the majority of them being aggravated assault . This seems like an absurdly high number of violent crimes until you see a couple more interesting things on the table. When the FBI began recording and reporting this data in 1995 the number of violent crimes was higher at 1,798,792 that year. This might be disturbing as the math suggests that violent crime has only gone down by roughly 600,000 cases a year. While that math is correct you have to take into account the increase in the US population. In 1995 you can see that the US population was said to be about 262,803,276, while in 2014 it was 318,857,056. Take the rise in the US population and the decrease in violent crimes into account and you will see that the rate of violent crime has actually dropped dramatically.
Why do I bring up violent crime rates though? Because those are the only times in which police will draw their weapons and fire. Police are trained to respond to situations appropriately and apart from a few bad eggs and some misunderstandings police do not shoot unless as an absolute last resort to end the threat to themselves or to others around the perpetrator . If you watched the video, you’ll see a former police officer describing how the police are trained in regards to firearm protocol in the field. One of the common complaints is why not use tasers. The answer is that most of the time officers do use tasers. In fact, a 2011 study done by the Department of Justice shows that at the time almost 15,000 police forces across the US were using tasers . Yet, when it comes to tasers as a non-lethal force they tend to malfunction and in some cases not work at all on perpetrators who are particularly violent. Take a look at this video and notice how the officer’s taser doesn’t even phase him. Not only that but tasers do malfunction and leave the officer vulnerable should they not work.
How does this all relate to racism in the police force though? Well with that context, let’s take a look at some of the claims that Black Lives Matter makes about how black people are treated by the police force, by looking at some examples. Recently I was made aware of a list someone had created regarding black people being killed by police. It’s a list of names of black people who were killed by law enforcement in 2014 and 2015 seen here. Let’s briefly address some of those names on the list and see if they were targeted specifically because they were black.
Terry Garnett Jr.: Shot as he was evading police and turned his SUV on an officer 
Lavall Hall: Shot while running around swinging a broom and evading police. 
Johnathan Ryan Paul: Died in police custody in isolation cell. 
Jaimie Croom: Standoff with police resulted in him getting shot 
So of those 4 there are 2 that are a tad bit ambiguous. In the case of Lavall Hall if you look at the video the officer is backing away while shooting. There is very little corroborating evidence other than the dash cam of the police car, but officials say that the young man was running around waving a broom around as a weapon. According to the report there is a different angle of the video which shows him running away from the police as the police command him to stop. Honestly, I can’t tell whether or not this shooting is justified, but people are instantly on the side of the dead young man and with good reason. When people see a dead 25 year old at the hands of the police people want to know why the man died so young. There is also the case of Johnathan Ryan Paul where we can see that the three officers involved are being charged and dismissed from the force.
Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the police officers involved in these incidences, however, and see what their thought process might have been. In the case of Lavell Hall, what the officer more than likely saw was a mentally unstable young man who was using a broom as a weapon. This young man was running away from the police, refusing to comply and again, brandishing a weapon. The fact that the weapon was a broom has no bearing on the situation as anything can be used as a weapon to seriously harm seen here. If the man was running around with a weapon towards where there could be other innocent people in harm’s way, the policeman would have fired. This would not be as big of an issue if the weapon had been a crowbar, or something more commonly associated with a blunt weapon. I don’t know for certain, but think about both sides here, and you’ll find that the case isn’t so black and white.
In the Johnathan Ryan Paul case, the man was not only uncooperative but dangerous as well. He had been destroying property and refusing to comply with the prison guards’ instruction. This led to him being restrained and put in the isolation chamber. A big deal is being made of one of the officers standing at the door and watching Mr. Paul while he was laying unresponsive on the floor. But once again, imagine you are the police officer. This man has already proven to be violent and unruly. What is to prevent him from faking the immobilization in order to make an attempt at escape by catching the officers off guard? This officer was erring on the side of caution. On the other hand, one of the first duties after detaining someone in that manner is to ensure the well being of the prisoner. The officer didn’t do that, which I totally agree with him being dismissed for that reason. I completely understand his reasoning, but that does not necessarily mean I agree with that particular decision.
Finally, let’s take a look at one of the real reasons that black people make up a large amount of those incarcerated . As seen in the study in the official 2010 census there is a disproportionate amount of black inmates as opposed to white inmates or inmates of other ethnic backgrounds. A more recent study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that this had not changed, but that the percentage of the inmate population that black people comprise is smaller as seen in table 7 . In this table you can see the numbers of incarcerated black people aren’t as significantly different than the number of incarcerated white people. Another argument is that most of the black people incarcerated are in for nonviolent drug offenses. Taking a look at Tables 13 and 14 of the 2013 study shows that this is incorrect as Drug offenses of all kinds take up a grand total of 15.9% of all the incarcerated black population while violent offenses make up 58.3% of that number.
The statistics shown in the 2013 study are largely a result of the socioeconomic class that black people tend to find themselves in. The 2014 report from the Census Bureau shows in figure 1 that the median household income for black families is significantly lower than other ethnic backgrounds, including Hispanic at the second lowest . The same study shows in Table 3 that Black people comprised of 25.2% of those living in poverty.
When you take those statistics and look at where the crime rates are highest, it’s in low income neighborhoods where poor people are more liable to live . This in conjunction with 25.2% of the impoverished being black leads to a disparity in the amount of crimes being committed in those areas by black people. Along with this, police are more apt to patrol in areas where crimes are liable to be committed than in those where crime is not as prevalent. Combine all of these factors together and you end up with a formula for a large percentage of incarcerated black people.
Many people will also point to this poverty statistic and claim it is part of the system. I would contend that it’s not the “white man” or even necessarily the government that is keeping those black people in the lower rung of socioeconomic privilege but their own community. Statistics have shown that those who live in crime ridden areas are more liable to commit crimes themselves . This is perpetuated by the fact that people such as Professor Lawrence Brown  espouse that white people should give any extra money they have to black people; participants in the Al Sharpton’s Million Marcher’s protest calling for “dead cops” , and Black Lives Matter protesters heckling students in a library . Add to that the fact that black on black crime accounts for almost 93% of black victims from 1980 to 2008  and you end up with a recipe for disaster.
In conclusion cops do not single out black people. There is no evidence to the contrary. The factors that lead to black people having higher rates of incarceration are a mix of socioeconomic class as well as the vicious cycle of crime in poverty ridden neighborhoods. There are instances of people breaking out. Many people are under the impression that sports are the only way out of the cycle since those successes are the most publicized. Yet there are other examples of people growing up in poverty an crime ridden neighborhoods who grew into flourishing adults. The answer is addressing poverty by showing those people the opportunities that they have instead of making them tokens in the drive to not be racist.