Directly contradicting a widely-publicized Harvard study, an investigation by Drexel University Dornsife School of Public Health Professor James W. Buehler found black Americans are three times more likely to be killed by police than their white counterparts.
Although Buehler’s study disputes the controversial Harvard findings, the exponentially higher death rate for minorities at the hands of police aligns with a number of other studies of the subject.
“Using data from 2010 to 2014, Buehler calculated that African Americans had died at a rate of 6.8 per million residents, markedly higher than the white rate of 2.5. The Hispanic rate, 4.1, was between the figures for blacks and whites.”
Buehler’s analysis, published in the January edition of the American Journal of Public Health, found that, between 2010 and 2014, police killed around 450 people each year, mostly males — although independent organizations tracking such deaths found numbers significantly higher.
Telling of the issue of police violence in itself, the fact the number of people cops kill isn’t known stands at the heart of the issue — particularly as public debate rages over whether or not blacks are victims more often than whites.
“I wanted to put out this reminder that there are important disparities,” the professor, who served as Philadelphia’s health commissioner from 2014 to 2016, told Philly.com.
While Buehler found the higher rate of death by police for African Americans, the widely-circulated Harvard study by economist Roland G. Fryer, Jr., received the bulk of attention from politicians and law enforcement advocates — largely because no discrepancy in the rate of death was found.
But Fryer only analyzed the albeit markedly thorough data provided by a single city — Houston, Texas. As Philly.com explains:
“A frequent collaborator on projects examining race with Freakonomics author Steven Levitt, Fryer determined that though officers were more prone to use nonlethal force against black citizens, there was no evidence of racial bias in deadly encounters that had been precipitated by specific events. Indeed, Fryer wrote that in Houston, African Americans were nearly 24 percent less likely to be shot at by police than whites were.”
However, despite access to unusually detailed information, Fryer examined only specific types of encounters between police and the public — those in which cops resorted to lethal force after being summoned to the scene of an aggravated assault, for example — and did not include incidents resulting from routine traffic stops and the like.
Considering the number of highly controversial deaths by police in such incidents occurring in otherwise routine situations — for example, the fatal shooting of Philando Castile near St. Paul, Minnesota, where the aftermath was captured on live video by his girlfriend — the omission is a glaring one that likely decidedly skewed Fryer’s findings.
Studying a single city, Buehler noted of the Harvard report would also not present an accurate picture of a national problem — though access to equivalent information elsewhere is nearly impossible to obtain.
Buehler emphasized to Philly.com that, despite the sizable differences in their findings, he saw no conflict between his and Fryer’s analyses.
“I don’t think [Fryer] got anything wrong,” the professor explained, “I thought what he did was ask a very specific question, and the answer was misinterpreted and misunderstood.”
Further, the war on drugs and inexplicable continuance earlier this year of the Drug Enforcement Agency-led prohibition on cannabis — recently unjustifiably expanded to include non-psychoactive but medicinal CBD oil — leads to an untold and as-yet not thoroughly examined number of deaths by police each year.
Seeing this disparity should come as no surprise as the war on drugs was created to target black people. In fact, when looking at who suffers most from the drug war, it is the black community as they also receive far harsher penalties for the same ‘crimes’ as their white counterparts.
In a March report, in Harper’s Magazine, written by Dan Baum, John Daniel Ehrlichman, counsel and domestic policy chief to President Richard Nixon, came clean on the real reason behind the war on drugs — to criminalize blacks and hippies.
According to Baum, he tracked down Ehrlichman in 1994 at his engineering firm in Atlanta, Georgia.
“You want to know what this was really all about?” Ehrlichman bluntly asked Baum of the war on drugs. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
As former Congressman Ron Paul pointed out prior to the revelation admitted by Ehrlichman and the recent Colorado report;
[Black peope] are tried and imprisoned disproportionately. They suffer the consequence of the death penalty disproportionately. Rich white people don’t get the death penalty very often. And most of these are victimless crimes. Sometimes people can use drugs and get arrested three times and never committed a violent act and they can go to prison for life. I think there’s discrimination in the system, but you have to address the drug war. I would say the judicial system is probably one of the worst places where prejudice and discrimination still exists in this country.
Indisputably, the atmosphere in the United States has tensed considerably as large swaths of the population fear police and attempt to avoid interactions at all costs, as the moment an officer decides to employ deadly force seems not to have rhyme or reason.
Chuck Wexler, of the Police Executive Research Forum, currently works with police to reform use-of-force policies and develop better techniques of de-escalation to avoid having to employ force whenever possible. Wexler told NPR,
“How many cases [resulting in violence or death] would have been prevented when someone is obviously getting upset and losing their cool, if another officer had said, ‘Hey, step back, let me take over?’ That’s what you need — cool heads to prevail in.”
For black Americans, hearing Buehler’s findings they are three times as likely to be killed by police than whites might seem a tragic confirmation of what has been denied by law enforcement and police advocates — but for there to be a rate of killings by police at all is more telling of the magnitude of an apparently complex problem.
Unofficial tallies of the dead paint a bloody picture of American policing in 2016, as the Washington Post’s Fatal Force puts the total killed, as of publication of this article, at 940, and the Guardian’s The Counted lists 1,045 — but the true number of fatalities caused by police is likely far higher.