Gun Control Debate Ignores Black People?

Adam Conover of “Adam Ruins Everything” weighed into the gun debate again, with a huge part of the schtick an illogical appeal to emotion about Philando Castile to justify the position that Blacks do not enjoy the same rights as whites. You can watch it all here if you like:

Now, this sparked the obvious comments like:

Philando Castile killed in Falcon Heights Minnesota by police officer, Jamal Robertson killed by a police officer in Chicago, and Emantic Bradford Shot and killed by police in Alabama. All three of these men were literally good guys with guns but shot and killed by the police simply because they were black men who legally carried guns.

But what is missing is any sort of statistical analysis, are black concealed carry permit holders killed by police at a greater statistically significantly different rate than white concealed carry permit holders? Throwing three names up there that happened with three very different circumstances isn’t helping. Both Jemel Roberson (not the mistakenly named Jamal Robertson) and Emantic Bradford were obvious mistakes by the police responding to an active shooter scenario, one was a bar shooting, the other a mall shooting. Of the two, the shooting of Roberson is the most egregious since he was wearing a high visibility vest and performing his job as security. Bradford, responding to the mall shooting unholstered his pistol and was shot by responding officers. Tragic yes, but hardly unique.

But it is not just black people being shot for having a concealed carry pistol, Eric Scott was executed by the Las Vegas Police and never held accountable either. Unfortunately, all of those anecdotes, are just that, anecdotes. And the plural of “anecdote” is NOT “data.”

So what does the data say? First, statistically there is no difference in the likelihood of being shot by a black cop or white cop if you are a black suspect.

Black Cops equally as likely to kill a black suspects as white cops.

When controlling for confounding factors, blacks are less likely to be killed by police than whites or Hispanic/Latino.

I know it sounds counter intuitive to say that blacks are less likely to be shot than whites once you control for confounding factors. However, if you look at all the other aspects of getting shot by police OTHER than race, and account for those such as urban vs. rural, rich vs. poor, education level, employed vs non-employed, you can see that for a white and black suspect with the same confounding factors, it is statistically safer for the black suspect. Unfortunately that is cold comfort, because what it means is that in order for the “blacks are overall 3.5 to 6 times more likely than whites to be shot by cops” to also be true (which it is at the raw statistical level) the confounding factors outweigh race in the risk equation.

Lets take a look at a few maps.


A measure of economic mobility in the United States. Red bad, Green Good.

If you align that data with this map, you can see some very interesting correlations.


Percent of African Americans by county. Note how much overlap between larger African American population aligns with decreased Economic Mobility in the previous map.

If I said that you were better off being Black in Seattle or Denver than being Black in Chicago or Atlanta, would you believe me?  Even if you don’t, I would ask you to really defend any position that describes the United States as only offering homogeneous opportunity and risk for black Americans. Things like education, neighborhood, and economic mobility are confounding factors against any race based measurement.

I should also point out that the upper midwest has some skewing factors such as sparse population and the shale oil boom. If you look at South Dakota you’ll see an area of dark red in the north and south of the state surrounded by areas of much better color options, and using that data I bet you can figure out where two large Indian Reservations are in South Dakota.

Now Adam Conover doesn’t talk at all about anything other than race in his presentation. Not income or education level, not location. Even the website has come to the conclusion that geography matters.

Unfortunately what they don’t tell you is that many of those shootings were in fact justified (which is why we don’t know their names as we do Philando Castile, Jemel Roberson, and Emantic Bradford). If you look at the total population for Oklahoma of 3.93 million, versus Georgia’s 10.43 million, and then notice that Blacks are much more evenly spread across Georgia rather than concentrated around Oklahoma City and Tulsa. The 1.5 million people in Oklahoma City and almost 400,000 in Tulsa are almost half the population of the entire state. To explain Oklahoma City, the black population is around 225,000 and so a 7 point something on the scale provided translates to about 15 police shootings of black suspects every year. However, I’ve only been able to find 1 incident of police shooting an unarmed black man that rose to the level of Philando Castile unjustified, the shooting of Terence Crutcher who was evidently high on PCP and TCP, although comments will be open for others to provide input if they desire.

If we stop looking at broad state to state comparisons, you can find black/white disparities. For example, this comes from a study done in that racist enclave of New Have, Connecticut:

First, relative to Whites, Blacks in our study were at an economic disadvantage, as demonstrated by their lower income and education levels. Consistent with these findings, in 2011, Black men were unemployed at a rate of 25% in the city of New Haven compared to 12% for White men (). The median income for Black families was US$37,547 compared to an average White family income of US$77,443 (). It is reasonable to suggest, as others have (; ), that the involvement of Blacks in the drug trade may be at least partly a response to their poverty and lack of employment opportunities. To ensure Black drug offenders will fully benefit from criminal justice diversionary, prison, or reentry programming, it is important to be cognizant of the economic reasons for their involvement in the drug trade and address their economic needs. Accordingly, investment in quality inner-city education, youth programming, and effective job generation, training and placement should be an important part of efforts to address crime prevention and recidivism.

Second, Blacks were more likely to be charged with possession and sales, while Whites were more likely to be charged for illegal activity related to drug use, such as stealing to support their drug habit. Yet, Whites and Blacks in our study both reported the same degree of drug sales. Drug sales may be more visible in inner city, overcrowded Black neighborhoods where they are more likely to take place outdoors (). Recent research in the ecology of crime has focused our attention away from individual characteristics and social capital within neighborhoods to the characteristics of neighborhoods themselves, such as the activity level on streets (). The widespread and well known over-policing of Black neighborhoods during the war on drugs (, , ) can further stigmatize and disillusion those in contact with police, and lead to more law-breaking () and punishments beyond their sentences. For example, with regard to the latter, to the extent that Blacks in our study were more likely to be incarcerated on charges explicitly labeled as drug-related, Blacks would also be more likely to suffer the collateral consequences specifically associated with drug charges, such as exclusion from certain forms of financial aid, housing benefits, and job screening scrutiny ().

To any residents of the racist enclave of New Haven, CT, I apologize as I’m sure it is actually a really nice town. But it serves to illustrate the “confounding factors” that surround police/citizen interactions, and how economic and educational factors are extremely important (although none of that helped Eric Scott who was a white, college educated man in America, so much for his privilege).

So I hope that this article has looked at the problem of getting blacks involved in the gun debate in a more healthy manner than fist pumping BLM and shutting down ambulances trying to save lives. It is important to ensure that the rights of every American citizen are equally protected under the law, if we don’t do that we have no legitimacy as a nation of laws. Unfortunately the factors that drive the disparity in outcomes are less to do with race and more to do with education, employment, income, and geography. Yes there are heart breaking stories and individual cases where you scratch your head going, “what the hell were the police thinking?” but as Eric Scott or John T. Williams illustrates, that isn’t exclusive to black Americans. Cops don’t get it right every time, and often don’t pay an appropriate penalty for getting it egregiously wrong when they do.

To be completely fair, police have a job that is often as much art as anything else. A police officer must assess a situation rapidly, and often they don’t have time to make a truly informed decision before acting on training. One police officer who was working security at a concert put a “hysterical man” on the ground before he figured out that it was a distraught parent looking for his son, another talked about his first encounter with someone having a diabetic episode and only learning how to differentiate that from drug/alcohol intoxication by on the job experience. There is no replacement for experience, and by definition experience is what you get right after you really needed it.

But, just because police have a difficult and challenging job doesn’t mean that we get to give them a free pass when they screw up. Otherwise we are not a nation of laws, but a nation of populations that have separate rights and privileges based on occupation.

As more black Americans exercise their second amendment rights we will see these issues keep coming up, Adam Conover chose to stir the pot without addressing the real issues of why there is an apparent disparity. If you want to address the disparity in police involved shootings, first we have to address the real issues of education and economic mobility rather which we can change, rather than “race” which we cannot change.


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