Column: Ferguson reveals a growing gap in a black and white world

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A poll and a set of charts both say something important about the situation in Ferguson, Mo., and around the country. The poll shows the divide between black and white reaction to the shooting, and the charts map the different worlds most white and black Americans inhabit.

I wrote something about Ferguson last week and didn’t think I’d be doing it again this week, but the ongoing protests and the clumsy official handling of the protests keep bothering me. And more than that, what Ferguson says about race in America keeps clawing at my thoughts.

That’s not true for everyone, and the poll captures a divide that is both political and racial in who finds broader significance in the events in Missouri.

It’s the Pew Research poll that came out Monday. In it, 80 percent of black people said the case raises important issues about race. Thirty-seven percent of white people surveyed agreed, but 47 percent said race has been getting too much attention.

The responses broke along political as well as racial lines, but then politics follows clear racial lines. So you won’t be surprised that while 68 percent of Democrats thought the shooting raises important racial issues, only 22 percent of Republicans thought so.

How people view the case affects whether they see a need to address underlying causes and what those causes might be. If the shooting of Michael Brown was only an isolated interaction between a police officer and a young man he might have suspected of doing something wrong, then that’s pretty much the end of the story. The protests and news coverage seem misguided and excessive.

But there is a pattern of white police officers shooting and killing black men that goes beyond chance. The statistics on police stops in that area and many other cities show patterns that go not only beyond chance, but even beyond what would seem to be legitimate law-enforcement needs, as when the numbers show blacks and Latinos are stopped at higher rates, but are far less likely to be found with contraband, for instance, than white people who are stopped. Police seem to be more accurate in judging which white people to stop.

Those disparities often occur with police departments that don’t look like the communities they are policing. Nothing says police and communities have to be exactly the same complexion or ethnicity, but when they aren’t even close, that raises questions. They were far from being matched in Ferguson.

What flared up in Ferguson are pressures that are present beneath the surface in much of the U.S. Police-community interactions that go wrong are dramatic, but the pressure comes from disparities in multiple areas of life.

The New York Times has a feature called The Upshot, and last week included charts that measure how well white and black Americans are doing in a number of key economic categories.

What the charts show is that we haven’t been making progress on closing gaps for a long time. In some cases, we are moving backward, and the recession took a hammer to many of the gains black Americans had made since the civil-rights legislation of the 1960s.

Here are some of the facts.

In 1972, the jobless rate among African Americans was 2.04 times that among whites. In 2013, it was 2.02. And black unemployment rates are higher regardless of education.

Black people are underrepresented in high-income fields and overrepresented in low-paying jobs. The pay gap between black and white Americans has grown since 1980 and the wealth gap is much wider than the pay gap and growing.

There was a short window after civil-rights legislation in which black Americans made huge strides in education, employment and other areas. The window was closed by economic downturn, the racist war on drugs that further poisoned relationships between the police and the communities where they work, and the withdrawal of political support for advancing equality.

Ferguson brings all of that to mind for me, but apparently not for everyone, and the lines continue to diverge.

Comments

DocDoc 3 months ago

We are a country that believes in the rule of law and that the law ought to be color blind. Rioting and looting is against the law, but was allowed in Ferguson, because of race, we did not want to make it worse. The rioters and looters need to be in jail, while the facts of the shooting are tried in court, not the media.

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MyFamNews 3 months ago

Thanks, PeggyJoy. A compelling video. Some can only imagine those attitudes being part of every day life.

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PearlY 3 months ago

"there is a pattern of white police officers shooting and killing black men that goes beyond chance. "

Indeed, there is. It might possibly have to do with another statistic:

During the decade from 2003-2012, 535 law enforcement officers were feloniously killed on duty. About 46% of their killers were black even though blacks are only about 12.5% of the population. Conversely, whites are 72% of the population but comprised only 52% of the cop-killers. ("Whites" in both sets of statistics included Hispanics.)

What this works out to, if I've done the math correctly, is that there is a nearly six times higher chance of death for a police officer who faces off against a black person than against a white person. (Average age by race, rates of urbanization by race, and maybe other factors might change that a little, but probably not much.)

While we can argue, and it is true, that the chance of death in EITHER case is extremely low, given that "facing off" is something police officers do every day, many times a day, it is unrealistic to expect that police officers have not internalized this excess risk in some way that may affect their performance of their duties.

In that sense, they are doing no different than blacks do when they perceive a greater risk to themselves in dealing with police officers than whites have to face. In fact, it appears that blacks do indeed face three times the risk of death that whites do in face-offs with cops, based on arrest-related homicide death statistics.

If blacks face three times the risk but cops face six times the risk in their mutual face-offs, that suggests to me that cops are actually bending over backwards (and perhaps sometimes into their graves) to be restrained in dealing with blacks.

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NewInWW 3 months ago

Your analysis utterly ignores the rate at which police "face off" with whites and blacks; that is what percentage of each population has "faced off" with the police.

Until those numbers are known, you've simply played with numbers in an attempt to prove that the frequent police killings of blacks are somehow justified.

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barracuda 3 months ago

Check this THIS link out. It is from another posting....... I thought it worthy to post here too.

I just find it interesting that the media plays so this type of thing up so much!

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namvet60 3 months ago

Great link but not many will check it out due to the fact it doesn't fit into there forced and scripted rhetoric.

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NewInWW 3 months ago

Did you read the follow up news article on the Wagner shooting that said that "gunfire was exchanged"?

Unless "exchange" means something different in Texas, it sounds as if the dead man was armed, making this instance - at least on its face - very different than the Ferguson shooting.

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PearlY 3 months ago

NewInWW, your hatred of anyone who disagrees with you seems to render you incapable of understanding anything we say. How else could you so wildly fail to grasp the difference between a possible explanation for something and a justification of it? The fact, and it is a fact, that police face a statistically greater risk from blacks than from whites can't justify the shooting of any particular individual, because it says nothing about the risk from that individual.
But there I go again, engaging with someone whose hatred always shortcircuits hks brain.

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NewInWW 3 months ago

You're claimed "fact" that "police face a statistically greater risk from blacks than from whites" is nonsense because you assume, with no proof whatsover, that the police "face-off" with blacks and whites at the same rate.

If only 1/6th of the white population has, as you characterized them, "face-offs" with the police, your statistics flip and it becomes more dangerous for a police officer to "face-off" with a white than it is with a black. And if the police are more likely to have "face-offs" with blacks (as seems likely) your claimed fact is even less true, and it becomes even more statistically dangerous for the police to "face-off" with whites.

For the record, I don't hate people who disagree with me, I dislike "analyses" that twist data to support a preconceived position - one of your specialties.

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PearlY 3 months ago

As Philip of Macedon said to the Spartans, "If." You have presented no data that police interact with whites significantly less than they do with blacks.

However, IF your speculations were correct, then the same analysis would suggest that black protestors, the AG, and others (including the editorial writer) are vastly overplaying the statistical risk to blacks in facing the police. Those statistics would necessarily flip as well. Remember that this thread started with the claim by the editorial writer that the rate of shootings of blacks by white police went "beyond chance."

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NewInWW 3 months ago

Your usual misdirection.

You tortured incomplete data to reach your absurd conclusion that "cops are actually bending over backwards (and perhaps sometimes into their graves) to be restrained in dealing with blacks." No member of the black community would likely agree with you.

Now you're suggesting that police interacting with blacks out of proportion to their numbers (my contention) somehow demonstrates that there is no racial component to the number of black deaths at the hands of police.

Contrary to your nonsensical assertion, I'd suggest that blacks being stopped and all to often killed by police out of proportion to their numbers perfectly suggests a racial issue.

You were looking at the data from the police side trying to determine how dangerous it was for an officer to stop a black versus a white. In that case the number of stops is relevant.

When looking at the number of deaths at police hands over a population, the number of stops is irrelevant to determining the risk of being killed by the police.

As for "data that police interact with whites significantly less than they do with blacks" try a Google search on "New York stop and frisk race" and see what you get.

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PearlY 3 months ago

You don't think it's "torturing data" to evaluate nation-wide statistics about interactions based on data out of one city about one particular type of interaction?

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NewInWW 3 months ago

No, I don't; particularly when it confirms what black citizens tell us is their everyday experience, what I see and read in the media and my own observations.

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PearlY 3 months ago

Oh, well, of course anecdotal data is the best kind of all.

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NewInWW 2 months, 4 weeks ago

I guess - in addition to faulty "analyses" of data - you're also incapable of telling the difference between testing actual data against real life experience and assuming one's experience (which you're happy to cite in other cases) is "data."

I was doing the former; you rely on the latter to an extraordinary degree when it suits your narrative.

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downhillracer 3 months ago

It never ceases to amaze me how the most closed-minded, and prejudicial of folks shriek "oh, the hatred of your opposition" when any logical and well formed argument stands in the way of their ingrained, perhaps inbred and willful ignorance of the facts-at-hand. The statistical analysis the Pearly (white) one continues to reference is riddled with cherry-picked nuances to startle anyone interested to the honest representation of data.

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pdywgn 3 months ago

Every time a Police Officer goes on duty it is similar to a random number generater. No two will have a career with exactly the same calls and most will survive their career with out having to use lethal force or being killed in the line of duty. It's kind of like playing a slot machine with each shift you walk into a crazy casino and sit down at the machine. Picture each call as a spin of the wheels and every spin involves at leat one gun. (The Officers). Every call is different and once in a while there is a horrendous jackpot. It is impossible to break that down to statistics by race and come to the conclusion that an individual officer with no past complaints, etc. was acting out of some sort of rascial bias because one day he had to use force that was likely to kill or seriously injure in order to save his own life or others. These statistics are useless since they continually try to cover the entire countries population into a neat little package to draw a completely bogus conclusion. They would have to do the study with much smaller demographics. If the study was done in Newport News Virginia with a population base of 85%ish black what would the Black on White or White on Black look like? Would the statistics from there be identical to Eastern Oregon and Washington?

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barracuda 2 months, 4 weeks ago

NewinWW........ Here is another example of a innocent man killed by the police.

John Winkler was killed with very little news fanfare....

No riots...... No looting....... No fires......... No continual TV coverage....... No Sharpton/Jackson encouraging demonstrations ......... No NAACP......

There other cases of killings by police...... I have read a few on the internet, but very few have mass crowds being encouraged to "demonstrate/riot" etc.

The biggest difference is: the news coverage.........

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NewInWW 2 months, 4 weeks ago

If you really think the difference between this case, the Texas case you've cited and Ferguson is the news coverage, you've already made up your mind and nothing I say could change it.

Let's just say that your perception of the impact of race in America - particularly in how the police interact with the citizens of this country - is quite different than mine.

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barracuda 2 months, 4 weeks ago

I would guess there are more white police officers than there are other races. that will change the ratio too.

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barracuda 2 months, 4 weeks ago

Here is another example of the difference in coverage!

John Winkler was shot the police. Although by accident, it was barely even mentioned (by comparison) in news coverage. Where is the riots? Where is the fires, looting, and violence? Where are the Al Sharpton's and Jesse Jackson's? The President?

It seems that violence only comes AFTER the news starts to "cover" the story....

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barracuda 2 months, 4 weeks ago

The first line should have read: John Winkler was shot by the police. Sorry for the typo........

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barracuda 2 months, 3 weeks ago

More evidence that shows how everybody is wanting to rush to judgment on this case..... News outlets are prompting a quick story.... Just for the sensationalism and to prompt judgment before the fact are out, and it is responsible for some of the violence that is occurring.

Please Read this addition to the ever unfolding story.

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