“California police fired what sounded like more than 30 bullets at a packed car in a shopping store parking lot, killing a black father of three and injuring a young woman in the latest US law enforcement shooting to spark backlash.” That’s the report from The Guardian.
Police in Barstow, two hours outside of Los Angeles, killed 26-year-old Diante Yarber, who was believed to be unarmed and was driving his cousin and friends to a local Walmart on the morning of 5 April. Police have alleged that Yarber was “wanted for questioning” in a stolen vehicle case and that he “accelerated” the car towards officers when they tried to stop him, but his family and their attorney argued that the young father posed no threat and should not have been treated as a suspect in the first place.
In short, the exact circumstances surrounding the shooting remain unclear and will no doubt be the subject of an extensive investigation. His friends and relatives are, as you’d imagine, is devastated.
“The police took him away for no reason,” said Brittany Chandler, the mother of Yarber’s 19-month-old daughter, Leilani. “The police should be held accountable for this … They are sick people for them to be able to shoot someone down in broad daylight.” …
“It still doesn’t even feel real. I wish I could just wake up and it would be a dream,” said Chandler, adding it was difficult to imagine her daughter growing up without Yarber. Police probably targeted him because he was black, added Chandler, who is white: “They would’ve never drawn their guns on me.”
While the number and race of the officers involved hasn’t been disclosed yet and the circumstances are obviously disputed, the shooting is already being called racially motivated. Yet another example of police officers’ propensity for drawing down on and firing at black men.
We could lament over the fact that he was just sitting in Walmart’s parking lot, but in a nation where white supremacists with badges gun down 12-year-old black boys in parks; where vigilantes gun down 17-year-old black boys walking home; where shape-shifting slave patrols choke black men standing on street corners minding their business; where so-called officers of the so-called law shoot to kill black men standing in their grandmother’s backyard, or kill black mothers and wound their babies in their own homes, or fatally shoot sleeping black girls in their beds, who are we to think Walmart’s parking lot is safe…right?
We know how this plays out.
“White supremacists with badges.” “Shape-shifting slave patrols.” “So-called officers of the so-called law.”
The Root, which describes itself as covering black news, opinions, politics and culture, was originally started by the Washington Post. While it’s now part of what’s left of the Gawker Media “empire,” it’s a shame that Ms. Savali isn’t more familiar with her publication’s former parent company’s work.
Following the Michael Brown shooting in August of 2014 and all that followed it, the Washington Post began compiling what they call the Fatal Force Database, which assembles a variety of data on every officer-involved shooting in the US.
First, let’s stipulate that every individual instance of anyone shot and killed by police is a tragedy, no matter the circumstances. And that not every police involved shooting is justified. Individual cops make mistakes. Or are trigger happy. The issue here is whether there is an identifiable trend of police officers shooting black men.
A few minutes spent digging into the Washington Post data would have revealed to Ms. Savali — assuming she’s open to seeing facts — that, all incendiary rhetoric to the contrary, the facts don’t support her premise that police officers disproportionately kill black men.
First, it’s extremely rare for police officers don’t shoot anyone of any color. Here are the totals for 2015, 2016 and 2017.
To put that in perspective, police officers interact with the public hundreds of thousands of times a year for crimes from jaywalking to murder. From this small, three-year sample, in a nation with 330 million people, you can see that the number of those interactions that escalate to the point where cops pull their firearms and kill an individual is surprisingly and consistently small.
As for the race of those who are shot and killed . . .
So according to the Washington Post’s numbers, whites are shot and killed by police at about twice the rate of blacks.
But hold on. Blacks represent only about 12 to 13% of the population. If that’s the case, why do they make up almost twice the percentage of those who are shot and killed?
The answer has to do with how frequently blacks commit other crimes. According to the FBI in 2014 (the must current numbers I could locate) blacks were arrested and charged with murder 4224 times. That’s compared to 3807 whites and Hispanics. In other words, blacks made up 51% of the 8230 people arrested and charged for murder.
Blacks were also arrested for 37% of non-murder violent crimes (rape, robbery and aggravated assault). In other words, blacks tend to commit crimes at a higher rate than their representation in the population. And they’re shot and killed by police at a rate lower than their statistical representation in violent crime would indicate.
Long story short, Ms. Savali’s implicit point — that black men are overrepresented in the total of people who are shot and killed by police officers — is false. In fact, the opposite is true. They’re actually shot and killed less often than you’d expect when taking into account the percentage of crimes they commit.
Does any of that indicate that the Diante Yarber shooting was justified. Of course not. We don’t know enough about what happened to judge that yet. And no one can know what prompted the officer(s) involved to draw their guns and open fire.
Are there bad cops? Yes, there are. Just like there are bad plumbers, auto mechanics and accountants. Are there racist cops? Again, of course there are. There are about 765,000 LEOs, so there are no doubt the same percentage of racist police officers as there are racist individuals in the general population.
But throwing around the kind of baseless charges — calling cops white supremacists and slave patrols — that Savali makes, does precisely nothing to improve the situation. If fact, to the extent that these charges cause officers to pull back from involvement and policing in minority majority areas (i.e., the Ferguson Effect) the people who will be most harmed will be blacks. The people Savali no doubt is most concerned for. But she probably hasn’t thought quite that far ahead.