Yes, All Lives Matter, But …

Yes, all lives matter, but black lives are far more likely to be ended by police. Probably would’ve been better if the movement was called “Black Lives Matter Too” so that poorly informed, non-black people would stop thinking that black people are saying that they matter more.

They’re not saying that, they just want to be treated equally.

Why are black people being disproportionately killed by police?

The deck is stacked against them and they are disproportionately represented throughout every part of the legal system. They’re more likely to be arrested, convicted, and incarcerated than white people for the same crimes.

So, if 1,000 white people and 200 black people (a ratio of 5:1 to reflect the U.S. population) commit the same crime, here is what the eventual prison population could look like:

100 white people and 74 black people might be arrested.

50 white people and 48 black people might be convicted.

19 white people and 24 black people might be sentenced to prison.

On the other hand, cops have a very tough job, particularly when they are called to situations in which the alleged suspect has a weapon. They have to make judgement calls during potential life and death situations about when to use deadly force and they don’t always get it right. Whether it’s explicit racism, implicit bias, or something else, they seem to get it right less often when a black person is the alleged suspect, but they don’t always get it wrong. Cops interactions with black people that don’t end in arrests or death never make it to the front pages, nor should they, but they represent the significant majority of interactions.

Cops are undergoing additional training on when to use deadly force, which has been made available to the public, opening people’s eyes to the unique challenges cops face every day:

The simulations are changing some minds. The Rev. Markel Hutchins, an Atlanta civil rights advocate who has been a vocal opponent of police abuse, did a series of police training exercises in April that he says opened his eyes to the dangers officers face.

“The training sensitized me in a way no other effort could have,” Hutchins says. “Our obligation is to promote understanding. We have to see the humanity in each other, the humanity in the lives of young African-American men and woman and vice versa.”

Hutchins, who is black, says the simulations helped him understand that a police shooting doesn’t simply stem from the fact that an officer is racist. He’s taking his new perspective to host a citywide town hall meeting and rally on June 13 with residents and police.

The Results: Nothing Has Changed Since Ferguson

Thus far, all movements, protests, police trainings, and other efforts have not been successful since police are killing people as often as they were before Ferguson:

Yet the best available data suggests that if police officers are being watched more closely, that hasn’t reduced the frequency with which they kill people. In fact, they might be killing people more often. And the people dying still are disproportionately black.

How Can We Reduce The Number Of Black People Killed By Police?

Many people mention diversity in the police force as a potential solution, but black cops tend to treat black people in a similar way as white cops.

According to Walker and Katz (2002, p. 434), there “is no strong evidence however, that African Americans or Hispanic officers perform differently from white officers.” As such, there is a lack of empirical support for the belief of better policing for Black citizens by Black officers, and in some instances research strongly contradicts this assumption (Kuykendall & Burns, 1980). Further, when it comes to what influences arrest outcomes there is no strong empirical evidence that African American and Caucasian officers behave differently (National Research Council, 2004; Smith & Klein, 1983; Worden, 1989)

What can be done to reduce the number of times cops kill black people? Here are a few things that made sense to my non-cop, non-black self:

  1. Get rid of quotas for officers. They are horribly discriminatory, create negative incentives, and force good people to do bad things in order to be “successful” at their job.

    As the officers describe it, the big problem is they are constantly encouraged to arrest and ticket as many people as possible to look like they’re doing their jobs. As a result, they target the most vulnerable communities.

    “When you put any type of numbers on a police officer to perform, we are going to go to the most vulnerable,” Adhyl Polanco, a New York City police officer, said. “We’re going to [the] LGBT community, we’re going to the black community, we’re going to go to those people that have no boat, that have no power.”

  2. Re-examine what gets measured in police departments. Police departments should not be profit centers, and revenue should not be the job of officers. People respond to incentives (see above) so measuring things like recidivism, citizen survey results, and other things which measure the effects of police on the community might be better than activity measurements like citations given or arrests made.

    Overall, police departments need more complex cockpits. Police executives need a more sophisticated understanding of how to use different types of information to understand the condition of their organizations and what is happening in the communities they serve.

  3. Reduce access to guns. Armed cops plus armed citizens makes it more likely armed conflicts arise.

    Last night’s tragedy was also the grotesque reductio ad absurdum of the claim that it takes a good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun. There were nothing but good guys and they had nothing but guns, and five died anyway, as helpless as the rest of us.

  4. Follow Coffey Anderson’s instructions on what to do when you get pulled over. Unfortunately you don’t have the luxury of knowing if the cop approaching you is one of the many good cops or few bad cops. Better to be safe than dead. In an ideal world you wouldn’t have to go above and beyond to make a cop feel safe, but reality is far different and it’s worthwhile if making a cop more comfortable is going to result in you going home without further incident.
  5. Treat people with respect. Officer Tommy Norman realizes that the kids he interacts with today will be the people with a voice in the community later. And he has a great voice and slick moves.

    A video posted by Tommy Norman (@tnorman23) on

There has been a ton written about the problem, but not much about solutions, so this is my contribution to that discussion.

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