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Twisted Statistics In The Guardian Again

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As we know The Guardian, like much of the press, is produced by the arts graduates. Well, those who didn’t graduate into a career as a barista that is. Sadly it seems to be those without sufficient numeracy to survive at Starbucks that write the news for us.

For example, there’s a difference between the number of something and the rate of it. It’s a distinction which is really rather important. 100 people dying of lightning strikes is the number. 100 out of 65 million, 0.00015%m is the rate. To the families of those 100 the number is the important, erm, number, to society as a whole it’s that rate which is.

So it is with those killed by the police:

Trump twists stats on police brutality: ‘more white people’ are killed

He’s not twisted anything, he’s stated a fact.

In fact, studies have found that Black Americans are up to 3.5 times as likely to be killed by law enforcement

That is also true because that is the rate.

Donald Trump, in an interview aired Tuesday, pivoted when asked a question about the police killing of George Floyd, a Black American, which has sparked major national protests, to point out that white people also get killed by law enforcement in the US.

This is indeed true and it shows that the problem is with the police, not specifically race in either society or the police. We can go on and at least examine whether race is also a problem – that rate thing – but that the police top people with near impunity is indeed a problem whatever the skin colour of those dropped.

Then Herridge followed with: “Why are African Americans still dying at the hands of law enforcement?”

The president immediately pivoted.

“And so are white people. So are white people,” Trump said in response. “What a terrible question to ask. So are white people. More white people by the way. More white people.”

It’s true, more white people are killed by the police than black people are.

The Guardian’s investigative project The Counted in 2015-2016 that set out to record all people in the US killed by police showed that Black people in America were more than twice as likely to be killed by the police than white people.

That’s also true. The rate for blacks is higher than for whites.

We can even cross check this – always a useful thing to do with numbers. Blacks are some 13 to 14% of the US population. If the risk is more than 2 – say 2.5 – then that portion times risk will give us less of a total number than the 87% (this is to ignore Latino etc) times the lower risk. Both statements are true, more whites get killed by police, the black rate is higher.

Numbers, eh? Difficult things, obviously.

And yes, this is important too. Read back in the Guardian and other papers about Covid-19 deaths. We had a couple of weeks there where it switched from the death rate to the total number of deaths – without the little note pointing out that the US has a very much larger population than most other countries.

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7 COMMENTS

  1. The most important thing that gets neglected (as you have here Tim) is that it is black MEN who are killed by the police.
    Therefore it isn’t 13-14% of the population, it’s 6% odd.

    I am not smart enough to work out what that makes the rate, so i’ll leave that to the experts here…………….

  2. Making a bit of a leap there Tim, assuming that the number of men killed by the Police represents a problem. Unfortunately, the Police will be forced to kill some very bad men in the course of protecting the rest of us. Some cases may not be justified, but to assume that none of them are is absurd.

  3. Addolff – looking only at black MEN roughly doubles the rate, but since it’s also almost all white MEN that rate would also double, so this distinction doesn’t really matter.

  4. @ Adolff
    Is it a black thing or is it a men thing to be killed by police?
    Well, it’s both.
    Just as most police killed by black men are male so are most black people killed by police male and most white people killed by police male (and most of those killing police black males).
    I don’t have the numbers at my fingertips because everyone (except The Guardian and AOC) knows that most black men are killed by black men, most police killers are black men BUT it is only the proportion of people killed by the police that puts black men top.
    It is undoubtedly true that if you don’t want to be killed by police you should appear to be a white woman (preferably a grandmother if you cannot pass for a dolly bird) and I strongly believe that there are some racists in the USA’s police forces. But one can make those points while telling the truth. There is no need to twist statistics.

  5. Also note, that the rate per arrest in fact is lower (around 3 in 10,000) than it is for whites (around 4 in 10,000), so the rate of killings from circumstances likely to lead to such killings, in fact is better for those identified as Black. Which rate you chose matters as well.

    That Black men are subject to arrest at a much higher rate than Whites is a different issue, and at first glance appears to be almost entirely a cultural issue rather than a race one. It does appear to be true that black men commit crimes as defined by the current law, at much higher rates than other groups in the population. However if you divide that population by cultural attributes not skin colour, and a segment of the white population has similar arrest rates to many (but not all) blacks.

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