Race and Crime: Assumptions and Reality

Member Group : Reflections

Nobel Prize-winning novelist and celebrated black author Toni Morrison said she wanted "to see a cop shoot a white unarmed teenager in the back" before she’d agree that America’s never-ending conversation about race should be over.

"And I want to see a white man convicted for raping a black woman," declared Morrison. "Then when you ask me, ‘Is it over?’ I will say yes."

It’s pretty obvious that Ms. Morrison didn’t get the Nobel Prize for proficiency in statistics or for accuracy in polemics.

As reported in The Washington Times (April 21, 2015): "An analysis released last week shows that more white people died at the hands of law enforcement than those of any other race in the last two years, even as the Justice Department, social-justice groups and media coverage focus on black victims of police force."

The newspaper cited a case of less media coverage when a person shot and killed by a cop in an interracial encounter is white: "Gilbert Collar, an 18-year-old white student at the University of South Alabama, was shot and killed while naked, unarmed and under the influence of drugs by a black police officer."

The officer was cleared of wrongdoing by a Mobile County grand jury in a case that received little media coverage outside Alabama, according to the news report.

It’s likely that no one reading this column is familiar with the name Gilbert Collar or the circumstances surrounding his untimely death. CNN’s Anderson Cooper didn’t bring spotlights and camera crews nonstop for months to the University of South Alabama every night, manufacturing crowds and protests and conducting perpetual interviews with students and activists about the purported injustice of the shooting, alleged police misconduct or possible racism involved in the death of an unarmed white teenager.

One might predictably argue that more whites are killed because there are so many more whites than blacks in the overall U.S. population and that the larger number of whites killed doesn’t mean that blacks aren’t being disproportionately targeted by the police.

More relevant, however, than the overall racial breakdown of the population, when analyzing the even-handedness of law enforcement, is the racial breakdown of criminals in the United States.

The official summary of U.S. crime by race issued by the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division — "Murder: Race, Ethnicity and Sex of Offender, 2013 (Single victim, single offender)" — shows that the number of offenders by race was nearly identical between blacks and whites in the murder category, with 2,698 white offenders and 2,654 black offenders during 2013. That same year, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that whites were 77.7 percent of the U.S. population (or 62.6 percent if Hispanics self-identified as white were excluded) while 13.2 percent of the overall population was black.

If anything, based on the FBI’s murder calculations by race, whites may be overrepresented and blacks underrepresented in deadly encounters with law enforcement.

The end result, the unintended consequence, as described by Heather Mac Donald in "The New Nationwide Crime Wave" (The Wall Street Journal, May 29, 2015): "The consequences of the ‘Ferguson effect’ are already appearing. The main victims of growing violence will be the inner-city poor."

Ralph R. Reiland is an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University and a local restaurateur ([email protected]).