Monday, June 8, 2020

About that systemic racism by the police...

I used to have a boss named Ron. Ron was responsible for the maintenance of a very large bodyshop in an auto factory. By my count, it contained something over 800 robots and the conveyors, welders and positioning equipment to match.

Ron (not that I ever addressed him by his first name) contended that 80% of the time, his organization was capable of "fixing" an equipment problem on the first visit.

He cautioned that 20% of the time the problem would get worse after his organization touched the equipment.

Ron's honesty was breathtaking. Everybody else was cheerleading "continuous improvement". Ron's realism served as a reality check. Almost-good-enough might look like plenty-good-enough in the rear-view mirror if your improvement project was the one-in-five that went into the ditch.

Ron wasn't blaming anybody. Automobile factories are complicated. Old equipment has quirks and history. Different skilled tradesmen have different, sometimes non-standard ways of fixing equipment. That strap might be the only think keeping the trolley on the tracks.

My take-away was that some unavoidable percentage of high-stress encounters will go in-the-ditch. People's judgement is befuddled with adrenaline. People are running their spurs into you to act in certain ways. You will not see or hear things that are as plain as the nose-on-your-face due to the tunnel effect.

Systemic racism
How come nobody ever comments that the police are SEXIST? Eyeballing the data, men are ten times more likely to die at the hands of the police than women. That difference dwarfs any racial difference.
This chart is floating around the internet. It shows that men are vastly more likely to be killed by the police than women.

It shows that Black men are twice as likely to be killed by the police than White or Latino men. Note that this is a population-adjusted metric (per 100,000)

What if we started thinking like Ron. What if we could adjust the number and use the number of interactions with the police, by race, as the denominator rather than just the gross population?

Looking at the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Explorer, it informs us that for the last year available approximately 200,000 violent crimes were committed by Whites and Latinos. In that same time period, 187,000 violent crimes were committed by Blacks.

According to the ever-helpful Wikipedia, 73% of Americans identify as White (which includes most Hispanics) and 12.7% identify as Black.

Combining the two pieces of information, according to the victims who chose to report violent crimes, Blacks are 5.25 times more likely, on a per-capita basis, to commit crimes the FBI classifies as "violent".

Death by cop

The CDC has a very nice query tool and if you dig into it you see they have a category for "death due to 'Legal Intervention / Operations of War'"

I took the liberty of mining the data for Black men and White men and binning it by five-year silos. I also adjusted the per-100,000 data to reflect the odds of death due to "Legal Intervention" happening to a given individual over the entire five-year span.

Reposted for ease of viewing.
Two things should jump out. In aggregate, the odds of dying at the hands of the police are twice as high for Black men than for White men but the only age group where they are FIVE TIMES higher are for the 15-19 years age-group.

According to Ron-think, Black men are not being unfairly treated by the cops. If anything, they are less likely to have an issue on a per-occurrence basis.

The other quirk is that peak risk for Black men occurs five years earlier than for White men. 25-29 is the riskiest age for Black men and 30-34 for White men.

I was surprised. I had a flawed mental image. I would have expected the highest risks for both groups to straddle the late-teens and early-twenties. Perhaps it is because offenders with a history are more likely to vigorously resist arrest because they have more to lose in terms of sentencing.

Is the analysis perfect? Of course not. Violent crimes are a small sub-set of police interactions with the population. However, it is the riskier sub-set. After all, the perpetrators have already demonstrated a willingness to be violent and the police take that into account.


  1. Systemic racism is nothing more than buzzword bingo... That way nobody has to provide actual data that can be checked. What you've done is effectively disprove it with what you've done here. 5x more likely to commit crimes means 5x more 'opportunities' to interact with the police, is just one example.

  2. If you look up the numbers more whites are shot by the police every year than blacks.

  3. The protests have indeed changed my mind. Now I would like to see the police clubbing them on TV. Not the black ones, just the commie white ones.

    1. P.S.- why not the black ones ? Because they are unaware that they are being USED by the communists. Many other words could have been used, but "unaware" will do.