Fingers and Toes
Counting dead black people on the eve of Black History Month.
I received the following graphic in the mail and was asked to comment.
Killed by Cops
Over the years, in response to my readers, I’ve done piecemeal bits social science analysis of ‘what happens to black folks in America’. Since Free Black Thought is about the broad variety of black intellectuality, I think it is reasonable that the waters are full of acrimony. Smart people will disagree about the import of such evidence. From my perspective, there’s essentially one place to go with this kind of analysis and it is towards resentment and fragility. People killed by cops, as presented by this graphic illustrates a very specific area where race appears to be deterministic. It’s all bad news, and there’s nothing that black folks can do about it. Sure you can try to make a federal issue or a federal civil rights issue, but how does that effect the independence of 17,000 different police departments across the country?
But also let’s look at the numbers.
37 per million is the following small number. 0.000037 Graphically, it’s easy to show how big that is vs 0.000028 or 0.000015. But let’s consider another way to look at the same ratios. How many people are not killed by police? 1-0.000037 = 0.999963; that’s 99.9963% of black America who die from things other than police misconduct. Not that we’ve put such a fine point on whether or not all of these deaths occurred when the suspect was shooting back or any other extenuating circumstance. After all, it’s the dead black body that matters, right? Race indicates innocence and victimization, right? Constantly hearing such news makes one want to jump off a bridge just for the blissful silence. To sleep, perchance to dream.
Killed by Self
Now let’s just throw in some wider perspective while we’re being morbid as hell. It is generally understood that black Americans commit suicide at a lower rate than white Americans.
That’s 17.5 per 100,000 for whites and 7.5 per 100,000 for blacks. But let’s put that in the same denominations as police killings (per million). That’s 175 per million vs 75 per million.
So when you look at it this way, it’s easy to say that black Americans are about twice as likely to kill themselves than they are to be killed by police. And whites are 2.33 times as likely to kill themselves as blacks are. Those are the facts, but we’re not looking at agency. Why do black Americans commit suicide? Well, that’s behind a paywall, but it’s an interesting question that gives us more than stereotypical race talk to think about. The causes for these for the most vulnerable subgroup of black Americans is the subject of research done by Sean Joe of UW St. Louis. My nickel bet says it has nothing to do with ridiculous soundbites that can be painted in streets and bannered across buildings.
So given a choice between publishing statistics where no black agency is considered vs one that is twice as deadly and has known interventions, which acrimonious discussion would you rather have?
Killed by Disease
Aside from all that, I dare you to talk about diabetes. I have it. It kills. Overall 38.2 per 100,000. That’s 382 per million according to KFF. That’s 10x as deadly as police. Which black lives matter the most? There is no new Jim Crow. There are only racial distractions and diversions from actionable solutions clogging up our intellectual highways and byways and Twitter. We haven’t even touched on heart disease, cancer or car wrecks.
And once more on top of all that, nobody that overlooks Roland Freyer’s work on policing is ultimately credible. His is the most comprehensive and unlikely to be outdone. I'm going to include some a here to the singular work of Roland Freyer.
First here is Heather Mac Donald, who generally spoke my language back in the early 2010s.
Here is Fryers' paper which I have archived for all time because you never know:
An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force: Roland G. Fryer, Jr.†
This paper explores racial differences in police use of force. On non-lethal uses of force, blacks and Hispanics are more than fifty percent more likely to experience some form of force in interactions with police. Adding controls that account for important context and civilian behavior reduces, but cannot fully explain, these disparities. On the most extreme use of force – officer-involved shootings – we find no racial differences in either the raw data or when contextual factors are taken into account. We argue that the patterns in the data are consistent with a model in which police officers are utility maximizers, a fraction of which have a preference for discrimination, who incur relatively high expected costs of officer-involved shootings.
You cannot account for anything significant about Americans by placing facts front and center that affect 0.000037 of their population every year. Yet these are the facts so many lead with and get embroiled over. I have a hard time believing so many people are innumerate, but they’re acting as if they’re counting on their fingers and toes. One little, two little, three cop killings.. Then again, there’s this:
All of which I’m sure has been complicated by COVID to an unknown degree since that survey was taken in 2016. If you have a Stoic eye and a fondness for mortality and morbidity stats, you would know as I do, such things don’t vary much over the span of a few years. They did get flu and stroke right. What somebody should check are reporting of ‘gun related’ crime vs actual gun related crime. Leave a comment if you know something juicy and accurate.
Killed with Kindness
Now that we are officially in the summer of minority love and on the cusp of yet another Black History Month, one can expect some peaky interest in the latest ESG, DEI and other racialized distortions of who Americans actually are and what we truly need to face about ourselves and the risks we take in our daily lives. As it has for decades, even before MLK was blessed with a banking holiday, we will consider various aspects of The Struggle, and a parade of facts that may or may not be relevant. One can hardly argue against the moral sentiment, but let us not confuse the maps presented with the territory. No it doesn’t matter if it makes a difference for just one person. This is not middle school.
As a defender of the philosophy of science, there is a Occam shaped razor I can pitch out there which encapsulates much of what principle I am always implicitly saying about the temerity of racial theories. They are stupidly reductive. The proper approach requires higher orders of dimensionality to be accurate and explanatory. Which is why Dr. Joe’s analysis of suicide is relevant and not free. At any rate here is a permanent link that should be around as long as I am. It’s about the way I think about causality and correlation. In the social sciences, I think sometimes we use far fewer dimensions than we do in marketing. Scary.