Manufacturing the Illusion of White Supremacy

Have you seen this story from NewsOne? (Nice touch with the air freshener.) If you search “truck,” “61,” “Minnesota” on Google, this is the first result returned. (I put “61” in there because I heard that was the age of the suspect.) The article, written by Bruce Wright, carries the headline “White Anti-Mask Driver Flees, Hits Minnesota Cop ‘Hanging’ From Truck With Hammer, And Isn’t Shot.” Is NewsOne suggesting the man should he have been shot? For those who are unfamiliar with this site, NewsOne is an explicitly black news channel with the tag line: “Latest news from a Black perspective with stories and opinions you won’t read anywhere else (but should).”

The opening paragraph sets the tone for the article: “In yet the latest evidence of police responses being predicated on the race of a suspect, a white driver who was shown on video fleeing from police, trapping an officer in his truck’s window and hitting the cop with a hammer was able to avoid being shot during his encounter with law enforcement in Minnesota on Wednesday.” Is this evidence for a claim of systemic racism? For objective observers, this is an anecdote. Anecdote for anecdote, show me a case of a police officer killing a black man in a particular way and I can show you a case of a police officer killing a white man in the same way. See Tony Timpa Can’t Breathe for example. Before you challenge me to provide more examples, here’s John McWhorter saving me time:

Can we be scientists? What does the totality of the evidence show? A wealth of empirical studies come to the same conclusion: there is no racial bias in police-civilian interactions when controlling for proportional criminal involvement and context. See my The Myth of Systemic Racism in Lethal Police-Civilian Encounters. (Here’s the FAR Podcast version with notes.) When I tell people this they either can’t hear it (most people and all progressives) or they are shocked (frequently shocked that I would even say such a thing). I have yet to meet anybody who knows this or who has tried to know it.

I have more shockers. First, there are many more white men shot by the police than black men.* In 2020, cops shot 457 white people. That same year, cops shot 241 black people. That’s almost twice as many whites shot than blacks. Did the media tell you that? No, I had to. That must be an unusual year, you say? COVID-19 had something to do with it? In 2017, 457 white people were shot by the police. Same year, 223 black people shot by the police. That’s more than twice the number of whites than blacks shot by the cops. It’s like this every year. So far this year? 50 whites shot by cops, 30 blacks. Where are the stories of whites dying at the hands of cops? Think race-hustling propaganda sites like NewsOne are going to share these facts? Not even the mainstream media will.

Race of Victims of Police Shooting, Multiple Years

What about proportionality? I answered that in the previous paragraph (see blog and podcast). But to summarize here, a wealth of studies finds that racial disparity in police shootings is explained by involvement in crime and contextual factors. Blacks are proportionally more likely to have interactions with the police because they are proportionally more likely to be involved in serious crime compared to whites. Still, as you can see in the statistics, around twice as many whites are killed by the police than are blacks. Studies finding any potential bias at all find that it actually works in the opposite direction (at least the scientists cannot explain overrepresentation of whites in police shootings based on their involvement in crime and contextual factors.) I know it seems counterintuitive that, controlling for relevant factors, police would be more likely to shoot white men. But that’s what empirical studies show.

While you’re scratching your head or thinking about an angry response, here’s a second shocker: the vast majority of police-civilian interactions, including dangerous ones, do not result in the police shooting or killing suspects. This is true for black and white suspects. There are approximately 200,000 police-civilian interactions annually. The vast majority of people walk away unscathed. Do you have any thoughts about why that’s true? Because most people follow the commands of officers and do not resist. Consider this: There are 42 million blacks in America. In 2020, 0.00057% of blacks died at the hands of police officers. A tiny amount of those were unarmed black men. Should they have died? Perhaps not in every instance. Does this prove America is a racist country? Not in the slightest.

The man in the truck in the NewsOne story was not shot because he was white. He was not shot because the circumstances did not allow or call for shooting him. It’s that simple. He was not shot like most black men are not shot. Disinformation about police shootings is used to fuel a moral panic about race. Manufacturing a moral panic is a tactic: the rational use of irrationality. It’s part of an organized propaganda campaign to create the illusion of white supremacy.

* * *

* Many Hispanics self-classify as white. Around one-quarter of Hispanics identify as black. In 2020, 169 Hispanics were shot by the police. The statistics do not assign these individuals to racial categories. But it’s possible that the gap between white and black victims of police shootings is even greater.

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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