Bridgebuilding or political narrative?

A comprehensive Harvard study of police data indicates that police are less likely to use lethal force against black civilians, but target black civilians with non-lethal force at a significantly higher percentage than with white suspects. The study of a 15-year period on police data regarding racial differences is contained in AN EMPIRICAL ANALYSIS OF RACIAL DIFFERENCES IN POLICE USE OF FORCE by National Bureau of Economic Research’s Roland G. Fryer, Jr., an African American Harvard professor of economics, July 2016. The study found that Blacks are 23.8% less likely to be shot at by police relative to whites, but Blacks are harassed far more in police interactions.

Fryer Studied 1,332 shootings between 2000-2015 using detailed data from police reports in Houston; Austin, Tex.; Dallas; Los Angeles; Orlando, Fla.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and four other counties in Florida; 3.5 million arrests from New York City stop and frisk records 2003-2013; and 500,000 observations from 1996-2011 in the Police-Public Contact Survey by the Bureau of Justice. The study found: Black civilians are 30.9% less likely to be shot with a pistol (rather than a taser) relative to non-black suspects.  Officers are 47.4% less likely to discharge their firearms before being attacked if the suspect is black; Blacks are 53% more likely to experience any use of non-lethal force; Blacks are 21.3% more likely to endure some form of force.

The study indicated blacks are 19.4% more likely than whites to be involved in an interaction with police in which at least a weapon is drawn; Officers decisions to use lethal force are not correlated with the race of the suspect. The study finds there are no differences in the use of lethal force for black suspects compared with white. There is no evidence of racial differences of the officers who use lethal force. Fryer said, “Much more troubling, due to their frequency and potential impact on minority belief formation, is the possibility that racial differences in police use of non-lethal force have spillovers on myriad dimensions of racial inequality.”—meaning lethal force is not racially motivated, but harassment likely is.

This study backs up what the black community has believed for generations—police in general do not serve and protect them the same as whites; that blacks live under a form of soft tyranny that doesn’t afford them the feeling of freedom and security. Every time there is a senseless death such as George Floyd’s, these concerns grow even deeper. This is where the frustration and perception of being treated unfairly becomes reality. It is a vicious cycle that informs behavioral reactions to police. What is our response as Christians? Christ said in Matthew 7:12, “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” It’s the Golden Rule and we should employ it in all our relations. Be a bridgebuilder focused on the pith of the issue rather than the political narrative.

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Bill Wilson

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