What do the Stats Mean : Black Lives Matter

We see these numbers thrown around everywhere but what do they truly mean? For example an increase of 200 percent actually means a doubling of quantity increased; 50 with an increase of 200 percent would be 150. In regards to graphs, a pie chart should be used to compare parts of a whole and bar graphs to accurately show the difference between groups but when using a pie chart to make the latter it is misleading. Let’s be honest, people also usually do not have the time to sit down and double check to see whether a statistical graph or number is accurate nor do they have the time to truly comprehend it. I am sure you have heard someone spit out a statistic that they have seen online, and maybe even you have done that, but did you know what those numbers meant? Hopefully this and other pieces alike can help explain the statistics surrounding some of the biggest issues in this country and around the world.

Image by Margaret Deignan/ IG: @designsbydeignan

A powerful movement that gained support after the killing of George Floyd and reached new peaks and momentum during the summer of 2020, Black Lives Matter, has brought along with it a slew of statistics often used in favor by activists or against the movement by supporters of Blue Lives Matter or All Lives Matter. The thing with statistics is that we trust them to be unbiased, as they should be, but often it can be skewed due to data collector themselves, the samples taken or even the person using them or reading them wrongly. Here are the most used statistics in regards to BLM and what they mean.

“Black people only make up 13 percent of the population but commit more than 50 percent of crimes”

There is not a single reputable data source that actually proves this statement, but it is well known by many and is used to justify racially motivated police brutality. While the claim’s origin cannot be pinpointed, it became popularized on social media spaces such as reddit and the earliest and most direct statement of this comes from Stormfront: an American Neo-Nazi and white supremacist internet forum created by a former Ku Klux Klan leader. In fact over time, this even became a sort of meme format within certain subreddits as well as the popularized iFunny media forum, at the end of 2012. 

The reality is that Black people in the United States are at a disproportionate disadvantage as law enforcement and the justice system are inherently racist, this leads to higher rates of convictions and undue charges. Evidence for this will be mentioned later in the article.

“Black adults are about five times as likely as whites to say they’ve been unfairly stopped by police because of their race or ethnicity (44% vs. 9%).  Black men are especially likely to say this: 59% say they’ve been unfairly stopped, versus 31% of black women.”

This statistic is directly from the Pew Research Center under an article titled, “10 things we know about race and policing in the U.S.” This single handedly shows the disparity in trust that American citizens have within the police force. Clearly not everyone feels protected by the police and therefore not everyone will depend on the police to actually keep them safe, simply due to the fear of being wrongfully arrested for merely existing. While being stopped by the police is not synonymous with arrest, being stopped increases the risk of an arrest and in the worst scenarios, death. This points to the invalidity of the argument: “if you don’t like the police, next time don’t call them when something happens.” If your response is to tell marginalized communities to not call the police, not only are you disregarding the ever so present wariness, but you are also lacking the wherewithal to understand the nuances of police interactions and their job responsibilities.

“The US population is 72% white; 75% of police nationally are white. Blacks make up 13% of the population and 12% percent of the police.” 

This statistic comes from, “The End of Policing,” by Alex Vitale. To put into perspective, for every 100 people in this nation, we have 72 white people and 13 black people; for every 100 police officers in the nation, we have 75 white officers and 12 black officers. While this one may seem a little unnecessary, it shows one thing : the police force is proportionally accurate with the population percentages. The argument of simply increasing the number of black police officers to combat racial discrimination during police-civilian encounters does not make sense. What we can understand is that the individual is not the issue here but rather the system; the notion that the more diverse the police force is the less violence there is has been shown to be false. The race of the individual officers almost has no impact on the force used in deescalation practices and therefore diversifying cannot solve this issue.

“The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division only has 50 lawyers, some of whom are assigned to other tasks.”  

Vitale uses the term, “lawyers” in this scenario which also applies exclusively to attorneys.The Department of Justice has eight divisions that handle legal business: Antitrust, Civil, Civil Rights, Criminal, Environment and Natural Resources, Tax, Justice Management and National Security (the last two do not fall under litigation). According to the “A career counselor’s guide to lateral hiring at DOJ,” by the official DOJ website, more than 9,500 attorneys are already designated. Even if we were to stop at 9,500 attorneys, when distributed equally, each division should have about 1,187 attorneys. However, we only have 50 attorneys in the civil rights division and as Vitale states, not all of those are able to give full time to their division as they work for more than one. If someone was to get harassed by the police or wrongfully victimized in an incident of police brutality, it is most likely assigned to the civil rights division of the DOJ and when there is such limited amount of employees, we can begin to question whether the protection of civil liberties are actually taken seriously.

The blatant and purposeful target on African Americans is undeniable with this statistic. While the idea of raiding a house, without due reason, presents as a huge issue on its own, it is exacerbated by the preoccupation with African Americans. This is intentional and strategic. This subsequently leaves room to discuss over policing. Over policing is a flagrant attempt to help solve issues of crime. Increased police presence has no substantial correlation with a decrease in crime though it does offer longevity as it concerns mass incarceration and the escalation of originally non-violent police encounters.

“White police officers and their black colleagues have starkly different views on fundamental questions regarding the situation of blacks in American society, the 2016 survey found. For example, nearly all white officers (92%) – but only 29% of their black colleagues – said the U.S. had made the changes needed to assure equal rights for blacks.” 

A final statistic from the Pew Research Center—while this still is based on the data that analyzed just police officers in the nation, it is still clear that compared to black officers a significantly higher percentage of white officers believed that equal rights for Black people exist in this day and age. They essentially believe that we live in a post-racial society. 

However, everyone’s perception of equal rights must be brought into focus. There are so many things we must unpack. Who’s voice is more reliable and truthful when speaking of whether equality has been achieved? Are we aware of which voices are being represented when making decisions in politics, funding and things of that nature? If a group that has always held onto power believes that justice is present, what are the chances that they are biased? Considerations about race in relation to law enforcement NEEDS to unequivocally make considerations on the basis of time and intersectionality. This includes knowing that [a qoute from Angela Davis]”racism is intrinsic to capitalist social relations” (Davis) and knowing that the Civil Rights Act was passed 1964 and understanding that ideologies and the way society is structured can not rapidly do a 360.

Statistics can help us to be level headed but we must be aware that putting too much faith in data can lead to crippling emotional intelligence and thus humanity can be lost. Using math to calculate the damage that has been done in our nation and as a means to comprehend the extent to which these fatal encounters can help rationalize the BLM movement and the opposing view is necessary. At the same time, one must also remember to check the bias of each statistics as well as the source’s credibility to better ones grasp on the situation.

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