How Long?

If Black Adventists–and all Blacks, for that matter–are feeling increasingly nervous around police officers, that is unfortunate and I’m saddened by that. But, why might they be feeling that way (and I am only taking Hines at his word that they are)? Are police targeting them? Or, is there a political agenda driving an activist and media campaign that decries police-killing of ANY Black, regardless of criminality and threat to police and public safety? Are Blacks feeling threatened because they ARE threatened, or because they are scared by media, activists and politicians who are loudly proclaiming that they are? Will increased fear of police increase Black safety or decrease it? (I.e., will it increase compliance with police commands, or decrease it? Will it decrease police-community cooperation and thereby reduce police effectiveness in combatting crime, leading to increased victimization of Blacks?)

I see the emotion, and I agree that if my loved ones were killed by police, I would be upset and have many questions, especially if it seemed to me that it wasn’t necessary. But, in all of this emotion, there seems to be a lack of both data and perspective. I spent a few hours researching the subject in response to this blog post, using U.S. Census data, the 2015 Washington Post database on police-killings, and other sources (complete details/spreadsheet available upon request). Here are some facts that broadened my understanding of this issue.

In 2010, the U.S. population included approximately 223,553,265 Whites and 38,929,319 Blacks. There were 6568 White homicides and 6556 Black homicides. One can dismiss “black-on-black” crime if one wishes, but the fact is that a higher proportion of Blacks are being murdered than Whites, and many of these murders are perpetrated by Blacks. In fact, the homicide rate among Blacks is about 17 per 100,000 compared to about 3 for Whites. If policing effectiveness is reduced by the current climate of activism/protest, we may expect everyone to suffer at the hands of criminals, but the impact will likely be felt more by Blacks than by Whites, given the disparity in homicide rates. An increase in homicide rate would probably dwarf the small number of questionable killings by police.

In 2015 WaPo reported 494 Whites killed by police compared to 258 Blacks, or a rate (per 100,000) of 0.22 for Whites and 0.66 for Blacks. In other words, there were 13 times more Whites killed by homicide than by police, but 25 times more Blacks killed by homicide than by police. Focusing on police killings–most of which even the liberal WaPo agrees were justified–is missing a bigger problem, homicide, which policing is intended to reduce.

Some have suggested that this is a gun-related problem. There is no correlation between murder rate and % gun ownership (by state). Since most murders are committed using guns, guns are obviously involved, but the lack of correlation to gun ownership suggests that who owns the guns is the issue, not guns per se. (i.e., “guns don’t kill, people do”).

Others may think it is a regional issue, with racism in the South driving police violence there. But that doesn’t align with the facts. The rate of police killing of Blacks (per 100,000) was highest in the West (1.28), followed by the Midwest (0.75), the South (0.62) and then the Northeast (0.33). (The Northeast has a low rate of police killings overall, not just against Blacks). If you look at the disparity in the rate of police killing of Whites vs. Blacks, i.e., the rate of killing Blacks divided by the rate of killing Whites, the South has the lowest ratio. Thus, in the South, the chances of an individual Black being killed by police are 2.1 times higher than the chances of a White, while in the West a Black is 3.0 times more likely to be killed by police than a White, and in the Northeast 3.4 times more likely, and in the Midwest 4.4 times more likely.

Interestingly, the ratio of the rate of Black to White killings by police is lower in Red states than Blue states. In states that voted for Obama in 2012, individual Blacks are 3.8 times more likely than Whites to be killed by police, while in states that voted for Romney, the rate of police killing of Blacks is only 1.7 times higher than that of Whites. The overall murder rate was 4.79 in Red states vs. 4.36 in Blue states, so to the extent that is a reliable marker of crime rates, the disparity in police killing does not seem to be due to increased criminality in Blue states.

I’d like to finish by considering the statistics of motor vehicle deaths. Why are the small number of police killings causing such fear among Blacks (as alleged by Hines), yet Blacks seem unafraid of riding in automobiles? Sometimes headlines lead us to focus on the sensational rather than the highest impact. For example, terrorist bombings make people fearful of flying when, even with terrorism, the odds of dying in a car accident are much higher than being bombed out of the sky.

Consider for a moment motor vehicle deaths in 2013. There were 32,719 overall, dwarfing the number of police killings (most of which are justified). Consider the subset of children aged 0-12. In the 2009-2010 period, they averaged annually 298 deaths among Whites and 119 deaths among Blacks. Normalizing for Black and White child populations, this works out to a rate of 1.7 Black deaths (children 0-12 years) per 100,000 children, compared to 0.9 White children’s deaths per 100,000. While there are probably multiple causes of this disparity, why do we hear nothing about it? Does the Black Lives Matter movement only care about Blacks killed by police or do they also care about disparities in death rates by other causes? Will public fear and concern be aroused only if videos of Black children dying in car crashes are posted on social media?

Are innocent children killed through parental negligence not as useful politically as criminals (mostly) killed by police? One cause of higher children’s death rates is the failure to use restraining seats/devices. Among Whites, 26% of children (ages 0-12) who died in motor vehicle accidents were unrestrained, while among Blacks, the figure was 45% (in 2013). The rate of unrestrained children’s deaths (per 100,000) in motor vehicles was 0.24 for Whites compared to 0.77 for Blacks. Interestingly, those values are similar to the rates of police killings of Whites and Blacks, respectively, yet the activists and media are silent about the inequity.

Homicides, killings by police, and motor vehicle accidents (among other causes of death) are among many burdens that fall disproportionately upon Blacks. Incarceration rates also show large disparities, with 450 Whites incarcerated per 100,000, compared to 2306 Blacks. What are the causes? Many and complex, no doubt. But it isn’t obvious (at least to me) how blaming Whites alive today will lead society to solutions.

Perhaps the Adventist Church is already doing much to address these problems. Community Services helps reduce hunger and poverty in our communities. Our emphasis on healthful living and temperance directly address some of the underlying causes of crime. Our extensive educational system helps Black children as well as others (though rising costs squeeze poor families). Christian values taught in church, Pathfinders, and other programs help many members to love one another, help one another, and to develop an awareness of their personal responsibilities and accountabilities before God. My interest lies more in supporting these programs than in doing the 9 things an angry blogger thinks Whites need to do.


I fully agree that all lives matter; lso that Hands up = put one’s hands in the air. Notwithstanding these two points, discrimination against the black community is a reality and is evidenced in practices of many police personnel (among others).

The death of some recent victims would also suggest that whether hands up or face down, there is a switch being flipped to take police actions from 0 to 100 in what the author describes as the heat of the moment. Possibly due in part to the perception of the situation and also as Charles Scriven described the environment as “…a tinderbox of suspicion and resentment”.

What we do, whether a well-considered or reflexive action, is a few steps along the chain from what we think, how we speak etc. We know that the attitude and tone with which words are spoken can contribute to escalation or de-escalation. Coming to any situation with the mindset that “This is a bad dude” impacts subsequent actions.

Conversation, compassion, education provide some of the framework needed to bring about the far reaching changes needed to not just behavior, but thoughts, fears, speech and then actions. The change is worth it but will take a while to achieve. Can we resolutely pursue this goal using the path of non-violence and the lessons of leaders such as Dr. King? I choose to believe yes, as the steps from thoughts to character will determine our collective (near-term) destiny – a facet of our human problem.

That said, I hope that there is a way as we consider the next best moves from talking to doing – and together – Black, White, everyone.