Tuesday, June 23, 2020

What the Data Do and Don't Say about Policing and Race

By Jonathan H. Adler - June 23, 2020 at 10:50PM

Harvard economics professor Roland Fryer had an interesting Wall Street Journal op-ed summarizing his research on race and policing. It begins:

I have led two starkly different lives—that of a Southern black boy who grew up without a mother and knows what it's like to swallow the bitter pill of police brutality, and that of an economics nerd who believes in the power of data to inform effective policy.

In 2015, after watching Walter Scott get gunned down, on video, by a North Charleston, S.C., police officer, I set out on a mission to quantify racial differences in police use of force. To my dismay, this work has been widely misrepresented and misused by people on both sides of the ideological aisle. It has been wrongly cited as evidence that there is no racism in policing, that football players have no right to kneel during the national anthem, and that the police should shoot black people more often.

As for what his research shows, Fryer claims the following:

  • "There are large racial differences in police use of nonlethal force."
  • "Compliance by civilians doesn't eliminate racial differences in police use of force."
  • "We didn't find racial differences in officer-involved shootings."

Some conservatives like to point to this last finding to rebut claims of racial disparities in policing without noting Fryer's other findings from the same research suggest just the opposite, nor do they note the limitations of Fryer's research (which he himself is quick to acknowledge).

The above is largely based on this study. Fryer also notes research by Phillip Atiba Goff et al. and Ted R. Miller et al. reaching larger similar conclusions. Later in the op-ed he also discusses the paper Eugene posted about here.

This is obviously not the last word on this important subject, but it's an interesting contribution to our understanding of racial disparities in policing.


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