CLAIM: CBS News says “Black Americans are more likely to die at the hands of law enforcement than White people.”
VERDICT: Unclear. One study suggests that there is no racial bias in police shootings. And there is more to the story.
On Tuesday, CBS News released an interview with President Donald Trump in which Catherine Herridge asked a provocative question — a version of the “systemic racism” question that journalists cannot seem to stop asking:
The president is correct: more white people are shot by police than black people.
In an writeup by Grace Segers, CBS News acknowledged that fact, but then suggested the president was wrong anyway, because there are more white people. Other data, CBS claimed, show “Black Americans are more likely to die at the hands of law enforcement than White people.”
But the analysis does not end there, as Scott Adams observed last month (describing an analytical “funnel” on the issue). The problem might be that black Americans encounter police more often.
After all, Harvard economist Roland Fryer Jr. — who happens to be African American — found in 2016 that police are more likely to shoot white suspects than black suspects, if there is any racial bias in such shootings. (He recently updated that finding — see below.)
Even then, however, there is more to the story. Fryer also found that aside from shootings, police are more likely to mistreat black and Latino suspects in non-lethal ways.
And last month, he wrote in the Wall Street Journal that even when black and Latino suspects did not resist arrest — a common feature in many controversial cases — “Black civilians who were recorded as compliant by police were 21% more likely to suffer police aggression than compliant whites” (emphasis added).
Fryer also updated his 2016 research to note that there appeared to be no racial bias in police shootings.
That is good news, but it does not resolve the question of racial bias in law enforcement.
While more white people are shot, that may simply be because there are more white Americans.
And while a disproportionate number of black people are shot, that may be because they encounter police more often.
And we do not know whether that is because black people commit more crimes, or because of racial bias by police.
We simply do not know enough.
What we do know is that the number of unarmed black Americans shot by police is very small, falling to single digits last year. That is good news.
The only other thing that seems evident is what Trump told Herridge: “What a terrible question to ask.”
On a sensitive topic where data serve to confuse rather than clarify, questions that presume bad faith create more heat than light.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). His new book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.