A new peer-reviewed study of police killings indicates that white officers are less likely to shoot and kill minority suspects. Critics say it's not about police racial disparities.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOSTS:
When looking at the number of police shootings in relation to the population, one finds that people of skin color are shot more frequently than white people. The reason for this inequality has been hotly debated for years, especially since an unarmed black teenager was shot nearly five years ago in Ferguson, Missouri.
There was a recurring theory that white cops tend to shoot black people for racial prejudice. Now, a new study calls this conclusion into question. Martin Kaste from NPR has more.
MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Since the Ferguson protests of 201
JOSEPH CESARIO: The race of a police officer was not predicted the race of the citizen shot dead. In other words, black officers were as likely to shoot black citizens as white officers.
BOX: Other studies have dealt with this issue, but it comes closest to a nationwide analysis. It also receives extra attention because it is published in a prestigious journal, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And that confuses Philip Atiba Goff.
PHILIP ATIBA GOFF: I'm a bit surprised that this has found its way into PNAS, considering what they actually found.
BOX: Goff is a prominent researcher on issues of race and criminal justice and the co-founder of the Center for Policing Equity. He applauds the authors for having entered new data and tried a new approach, but he does not think they can think of much.
GOFF: It does not really help us to understand how much police are responsible for racial disparities. And the things we're led to by doing that are things we already knew.
CASE: He says, for example, if the study is to invalidate the presumption that white bulls shoot at people for racist reasons, while black bulls do not, he says that's a straw man because no one in his field really does thinks.
GOFF: Racism is not something that white and black people can have. And no one's research suggests that this is the case. This is a really wild premise that is not based on any research that no serious scientist should vocalise and then publish.
CASE: But the lead author of the paper, David J. Johnson of the University of Maryland, says some scientists accept this assumption above all in his field of psychology. And he believes the same assumptions are made by the media.
DAVID J JOHNSON: I think you can see that in the coverage of individual shootings in which the officer's race is mentioned. And the reason they mention that is because it's perceived as relevant. So we checked this assumption for the first time.
BOX: Johnson endeavors to say that this study does not seek to deny the role of the breed. Instead, they try to narrow down where it affects the police. He says it also raises some questions about a common solution to biased policing, the urge to hire more minority officials, because if this study is true, hiring more black bulls will not mean that fewer black people will be shot. And that suits what implicit bias coaches say.
LORIE FRIDELL: People can have prejudices against their own demographic groups. Women can have prejudices about women. Blacks can have prejudices against blacks. It is wrong to assume that the white men have a problem of bias in policing.
CASE: Lorie Fridell is a criminologist and bias trainer. She says scientists have been wrestling with this question for decades, and this latest article is not about fixing things.
FRIDELL: The police lawyers will, of course, choose the studies that show no bias. And the other side will choose those who do. However, we have no definitive studies on this.
BOX: She thinks people should be more open that bias and demographics can play a role. And that's what the newspaper's authors and their critics seem to agree on.
The real question here is not whether race plays a role in police foundries, but when. Is it before in all those things that could lead to a shootout, like drug laws or racial profiles? Or does it depend on the color of the individual policeman holding the gun?
Martin Kaste, NPR News.
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