Friday, July 08, 2016

Are Americans Who Are Black Killed By Police More Than We Would Expect?

   If we just control for race, the answer seems to be yes, as is well-known.
   OTOH, if we control for more factors, the answer may be no.
   I don't have a position on this...except for this one: we have to know the answer to this question before we know whether we have a racial problem here at all.
   I won't be astonished if there is, indeed, "one trigger finger for whites and another for blacks." There's part of me, of course, that will always be surprised by racial bias no matter what the data says about its prevalence... But I have no strong presuppositions here. I just want to know the facts. I do think that the major media, in general, is inclined toward liberal points of view about a lot of things, inclined toward simple/simplistic explanations, and inclined toward sensationalistic explanations. And I think there's a strong bias on the left toward explanations in terms of bias/racism/sexism. And, of course, there are many parts of the prevailing liberal theory that cannot be questioned without bringing down charges of racism/sexism/"transphobia" or whatever... So we don't exactly have free and unfettered public discussions of the issues. Perhaps those are biases of mine, or perhaps not...but there they are.
  Anyway, tl;dr: we need to nail down the answer to the straightforwardly factual/descriptive questions before we know what kind of problem we're facing and how to proceed in terms of policy. And I'm not sure that our public discussions in this vicinity are predicated on actual knowledge.

   (Needless to say, even if we don't have a racial problem in this vicinity, we might still have some other problem, e.g. widespread excessive use of force by police.)


Blogger Darius Jedburgh said...

Winston, what do you think is probably the bigger factor:

(i) bias operating in the media presenting numerous recent police shootings as evidence that there is bias operating among the police when eg they pull over a black person, or

(ii) bias operating among the police when eg they pull over a black person?

11:59 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

sorry DJ...factor in what?

Something like: does the bias of cops skew their beliefs about blacks they interact with less than/more than the media's bias skews their reporting of such interactions? Am I getting that right?

It's an interesting question.

I'm gratified to be able to answer promptly: I don't know.

Until pretty recently I would have said: cops have worse bias, no contest. Now my answer is: I honestly have no idea.

I *especially* have no idea because I'm now now more inclined toward *honest mistake* explanations in both cases than I used to be. Though your question makes me think I was equivocating on 'bias.'

I infer that your answer is: cops are worse?

2:37 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Also, your question has sent my wee mind spiraling down a bunch of paths...
I'm not sure that the media is really that bad about this stuff...maybe they're just doing what they usually do: reporting on the conventional wisdom of their constituency (middle / upper-middle class college-educated professional mostly white folk (or folkx, as our lefty friends might say).

If that second link is right...then we have empirical evidence that bears on the question, and the answer is clearly: the media's bias is more significant--way, way more significant.

But there's no reason to have this argument until we know the answer to the empirical question(s) at issue.

I just unloaded a big pickup truckload of gravel, and am dehydrated and cleverly drank two beers so I shouldn't be trying to answer your intellectually dishonest Socratic leading questions you asshat.

2:51 PM  
Anonymous Lewis Carroll said...


There is related evidence that *the use of force* by police is more likely against blacks:

Note that this study does not specifically address police killings.

I have been interested in this since taking a Psychology and the Law class from David Dunning in college. Some counter-intuitive things I remember were things like even black police officers were more likely to use force against black suspects (making the charge of simple and explicit racism as an explanation harder to defend); and that in death penalty cases, the race of the defendant had no bearing on the likelihood of jury vote to execute, although the victim being white significantly increased the likelihood of a vote in favor of capital punishment.

Teasing apart these factors is made harder IMO because, as alluded to in the NYT article, there is no requirement that police departments share use-of-force data with any central authority like the Justice Dept.

5:03 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Thanks for this LC.

I wasn't sure I understood the reasoning alluded to in the study reported by the NYT, but am going to look at the study itself.

8:05 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

You know, on a second read I'm still puzzled by that NYT piece. The argument is still opaque to me, and I can't find the report on the website they link to.

8:16 AM  
Anonymous Lewis Carroll said...

I think you can find it at this link Winston:

Also, to be clear, I have not scrutinized the methodology of the study at all.

Interested in what you think.

11:45 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Thanks much LC.

6:40 AM  

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