An Epidemic of Police Violence?

If you didn’t know better, you would think that we are experiencing an epidemic of police violence against black men. And, strangely, Minnesota seems to be epicenter of the phenomenon.

The Star Tribune keeps a running toll of deaths resulting from police encounters in Minnesota. For the period 2000 to 2021, the total is 207, of whom 54% were white and 27% were black. Of course, suspect behavior has a lot to do with the likelihood of a fatal encounter with law enforcement. This is evident from the fact that only 3% of those killed by police have been women.

This total of 207 includes many cases–I assume a substantial majority–where the killing was in obvious self-defense, or for other reasons there was no real question about its propriety. Still, even if we take the raw total of 207 deaths, it represents by my calculation around 0.0002 of all deaths in Minnesota during that time period. It seems remarkable that such a tiny number of occurrences have come to play such a major role in our public life.

If there is an epidemic going on, it is perhaps an epidemic of resisting arrest. Daunte Wright, like George Floyd and many others, chose to wrestle with police officers rather than be peacefully arrested. Moreover, as in most cases, including Floyd’s, Wright’s contentious police encounter was consistent with a history of violence.

We learn from the Daily Mail–not the local press–that in addition to the previously-reported weapons violation and fleeing from police officers, Wright was also wanted for attempted armed robbery. He held a gun (probably the same one he brandished on Facebook) to a woman who had been kind enough to give him and a friend a place to stay for the night, and tried to steal her rent money. That outstanding warrant, which could have led to a substantial penitentiary term, likely explains why Wright chose to fight with police officers rather than be taken into custody.

While most people who are killed by police officers are white, it is true that blacks are involved in such encounters at a rate that exceeds their percentage of the population. (Asians, conversely, are statistically unlikely to die in police encounters.) Heather Mac Donald reviews the data and explains why this is true. Along the way, she definitively debunks the myths that are currently driving so much of our political discourse:

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