An unarmed black man, Jacob Blake, became the next victim of a police shooting in the United States, after he was shot seven times in the back on Sunday in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The sheer audacity of it makes one’s blood boil, and makes it clear that police officers in the United States simply don’t care about black lives.
Less than three months after George Floyd was brutally murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis, and with the #BlackLivesMatter protests and campaigns across the globe still ongoing, a seven-year veteran officer put seven bullets in Jacob Blake’s midriff, while the 29-year-old was attempting to get into his car, with his children inside, and with his back turned. And what followed were images of violent protests in Kenosha that bring back memories of South Africa in the 1980s under the brutal apartheid regime.
Ask yourself, what separates the first line of images above from the second?
Now, I’m by no means suggesting that the racial injustices in America are comparable to those which were carried out by the Apartheid regime. Although, America’s history of slavery, Jim Crow laws, Red-lining and the Southern strategy do not help the country’s cause when it comes to drawing comparisons between the legislative measures taken to rob American black people of their freedom, and South Africa’s fascistic National Party’s policies in the latter half of the 20th Century.
However, the violence in the streets of South Africa ended nearly 30 years ago, our black citizens won their freedom and, while economic disparities persist and rampant crime remains a continual threat to black lives, the contagion of police brutality in our country has come to an end. In America, not so much…
For most countries around the world, we take for granted that civil rights and equal judgement before the law, regardless of race or ethnicity, are required for a functional society.
In the United States, however, starting with the highly publicised shooting of Michael Brown in 2014, stretching through countless high-profile cases including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and now Jacob Blake, provide undeniable evidence that Black Lives simply do not matter. And when we’re presented with evidence of how the police react to white Americans who are painstakingly guilty of worse crimes, it is absolutely clear that the American police possess a racial bias. The latest evidence comes in the form of 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse’s actions on Tuesday – where he shot two people while openly carrying an automatic rifle and was allowed to return home, with the police arresting him without any form of brutality on Wednesday.
USA Today’s timeline of the Jacob Blake shooting, violent protests and Rittenhouse’s arrest is incredibly informative and I highly recommend that you read it. Yet, while the anecdotal evidence is there, there remains a massive dispute among political commentators over the broader statistics. So what do the stats actually say?
Stats and dataIf you have been closely following the stories of police shootings in the United States, you will undoubtedly have come across the graph above, which shows that more white people are shot by policemen than any other race. It is commonly circulated in conservative and right-wing circles to create the impression that racial bias among policemen is not disproportionate. However, 73.6% of Americans are white, as per 2017 census data. And when you look at police shootings per capita, it paints a completely different picture. It is therefore a case of confirmation bias that drives American conservative narratives. If you have made your mind up about the state of affairs in the country, you’ll do anything to google and find the data that’s suitable to you and will purposefully ignore the rest. And it doesn’t end there.
In a Reuters fact check, the anti-partisan news agency addresses a graph that circulated on Facebook (which has since been flagged as false information), as well as a written post relating to George Floyd’s death.
The graph captures a 2013 FBI crime report, which details the frequency of crimes by race in terms of perpetrators and victims. The values, representing homicides per 1,000,000 members of the murderer’s race, shows that “whites [are] killed by blacks” at a frequency of 9.83, “blacks [are] killed by whites” at a frequency of 0.77, “whites [are] killed by whites” at a frequency of 10.22 and “blacks [are] killed by blacks” at a frequency of 53.94.
Reuters contacted two statisticians, Regina L. Nuzzo, Ph.D., and Lucas Mentch, Ph.D., from the American Statistical Association (www.amstat.org/), as per their article.
“The thing first and foremost that jumps out is that the different columns are being standardised in different ways on the same chart,” said Mentch, also an Assistant Professor of Statistics at the University of Pittsburgh. He explained that the “per 1,000,000 members of the murderer’s race” label at the top of the chart means that “you’re changing what you’re standardising by in each of those bar charts,” which “doesn’t seem appropriate in this circumstance,” the article reads.
So the professionals are essentially saying that the graph values, presented side by side are based on different benchmarks (per million black people and per million white people), which is like comparing apples with oranges, considering the different proportions of the population that each race makes up. “[A] more sensible way to look at the data is to compare apples to apples and then oranges to oranges,” Metch says.
Nuzzo, meanwhile points to the increased likelihood of black Americans being murdered.
“If you’re a white person in 2013, based on the FBI data, your chances of being killed by anyone are roughly 13 in a million; if you’re a black person in 2013, your chances of being killed by anyone were 62 in a million, which is almost five times what the odds are for a white person.
“If you’re a white person in 2013, your chances of being murdered by another white person are approximately 11 in a million, and your chances of being murdered by a black person are two in a million. Meanwhile, if you’re a black person in 2013, your chances of being murdered by another black person are 56 in a million, and your chances of being murdered by a white person are five in a million.
“Nuzzo also cautioned that all these numbers were rough approximations for the sake of illustration, and that the reality is much more complicated than can be captured in either a single Facebook graph…. The numbers presented in this graph are misleading and do not accurately represent the FBI data from which they originated,” Reuters conclude.
What the stats don’t say
Any social scientist, economist or researcher in similar fields worth their salt would confidently say that there are clear correlations between economic wealth and crime, and that it is beyond question that poverty is the leading cause of crime in any country on earth – which is why crime and safety indexes, in European countries like Slovakia, Sweden, Slovenia, Belgium, Norway and Ukraine, which have relatively high levels of wealth and low levels of inequality, are incredibly favourable. Venezuela, a remarkably poor and unequal society has the highest crime index, followed by Papua New Guinea and South Africa.Now, consider the disparities in income between white and black Americans. By median income, Black Americans earn $13,803 less than white Americans, annually. On average, black Americans earn $20,352 less than their white counterparts. That’s a large disparity which determines factors such as the ability for black parents to feed and clothe themselves and their children, what neighbourhoods they can afford to live in, the quality of schooling and divorce rates, among a whole host of other factors.
It should therefore come as no surprise that the top three most dangerous neighbourhoods in America are found in Baltimore’s N Monroe St / W Lanvale St neighbourhood, which has a violent crime rate that’s 19 times higher than the national average; the East 34th St / Sutherland Avenue neighbourhood in downtown Indianapolis; and East Biddle St / North Broadway in Baltimore according to a 2018 study.
Dating back to the 17th century, when African slaves were brought to the Province of Maryland, Baltimore’s racial demographic has historically been majority black. And the income per capita in Baltimore is $27,129.
Indianapolis, on the other hand, has a white ethnic majority, but also a median income of $25,094 (16% lower than the national average).
And while Indianapolis is something of an exception to the rule of poor neighbourhoods in the US (along with the extremely poor Appalachian region between Alabama and Georgia), poverty in black neighbourhoods in America has been very much constructed through practices such as red-lining, which persisted from the 1930s, right through the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. There is certainly evidence that the effects of practice has carried through to this day, 50 years after it was banned.
What does this mean for the United States in 2020?
Somehow, in what’s considered the greatest, most prosperous and most free country in the world, black people in the United States are suffering every day as a result of socioeconomic disparities. And, on top of that, they are being shot by police at a disproportionate rate and it is clear for all to see.
Yet there is an insistence from many Americans and conservative sympathisers around the world who are unsympathetic to the #BlackLivesMatter movement that there is no systemic targeting of black men and women by police officers throughout the country. And this needs to end.
Right now, Jacob Blake is paralysed from the waist down after his experience with police shooting and he is handcuffed to his hospital bed, which exemplifies the police’s attitude towards black men who are not a threat by any means. We still don’t know whether Jacob Blake’s paralysis is permanent, but the fact is that the seven shots fired into his back is a disgusting injustice that is not an outlier. As long as politicians, political commentators, public figures and ordinary Americans alike continue to excuse this phenomenon, America will forever be sending out a message to the rest of the world that black lives do not matter.