Defund the Police?

This post is a response to an article from the New York Times that was published on June 7, 2020, titled “Minneapolis Will Dismantle Its Police Force, Council Members Pledge

So Minneapolis has decided to dismantle its police department due to accusations that police are, as Kandace Montgomery says, “hunting black people” (source).

The protestors say that they’ve been warning city officials for years that Minneapolis would “become the next Ferguson” (source). But now that the mayor (who wanted to reform the police department) has been shouted down by a mob, and the city council has acquiesced to the demands of the angry but loud few to entirely abolish the city’s police department, some of the protestors are actually backpedaling, saying that when they chanted that they wanted to “defund the police,” they didn’t actually mean that literally; they just meant that they wanted to make some changes to the police department. Some of the protestors are now expressing concerns that their communities will not be protected from criminals. “If they want to disband the police,” said one, “they need to come up with ways and methods to keep our people safe” (source).

It’s made clear in the source article that some protesters want to abolish the police department entirely and replace it with something else, and others want to reduce the police department’s funding (while simultaneously demanding that police be better trained to deal with people of colour). None of them can point to any specific procedures or policies that they disagree with in the police departments; they don’t even know what they would want to see put in place instead of a police department. All they can agree on is that they don’t want the police to hunt down and execute black people. But is that what the police do?

According to Statista, approximately 2x more white people have been killed by police than have black people every year for the past three years (source). According to Wikipedia, though, only 12.7% of the American population is black, and 73% is white (source). The population of the United States is 330,885,824 (source). So that means there are approximately 42,022,500 black people living in the USA, and 241,546,651 white people.

If I take the mean of 2017-2019 police-associated killings in the USA, 409 white people get killed per year, and 222 black people get killed. This means that of the entire white population and black population, they get killed by the police at the following rates:

  • Black:….0.00052828841692%
  • White:0.000169325469141%

So we can see that police are killing black people at a higher rate proportionally than white people. Is this because police are hunting down black people? Well, I doubt it; if that were the case, I think the disparity would be a whole lot higher. Is it because the police who kill black people are racist? That’s technically possible, but I’m quite certain that any officer who had a record of killing only black people would be investigated. I think we need to go into the numbers a bit more.

According to the Washington Post, the majority of black people killed by the police are young men between the ages of 20-40 (source). Of all the people killed by the police, 60% had a gun, and those who didn’t have a gun usually had a knife or other weapon (source).

We can also consider the fact that according to the National Gang Center, 35% of gang members are young black men, and 11% are young white men (source). Interesting; there seems to be an overlap here. Most of the black people killed by police were young men, and most of the black people in gangs are young men. The most recent numbers for gang membership in the USA that I can find is on Wikipedia, which says that in 2011, approximately 1.4 million people were in gangs in the USA (source). Based on those numbers, and given the percentages listed above, I calculate 490,000 black gang members and 154,000 white gang members.

Now of the black population in the USA, I’m going to assume that 50% of them are male. That means that 21,000,000 black males live in the USA. These are the people proportionally most at risk of being shot by police. This demographic also has a rate of gang membership of 2.3% (calculated by dividing 490k by 21m). Breaking it down further, only 40% of the population is between the ages of 20-40, of whom 50% are male, meaning that only 20% of the black population in America are young black males (source). This means that there are 8.4m young black men living in America. Again dividing 490k by 8.4m, this tells us that that 5.83% of young black men are gang members, meaning that out of every 100 young black men – the demographic which is proportionally most likely to get killed during contact with police – nearly six of them are in a gang.

Based on these numbers, is it crazy to theorize that police interactions with gang members might account for the discrepancy between black people killed by police and white people killed by police?

I believe police brutality exists. I believe some people should never have been given a badge. I believe some people power-trip as soon as they think nobody is watching. I wholeheartedly believe in mandating body-cams. I believe that giving police more training, post-trauma counselling, and pre-hire screening can only be a good thing. But I absolutely do not believe that abolishing, defunding, or dismantling police departments is the answer to a statistically very small number of innocent people killed by the police, especially since this whole thing is a reaction to the murder of a man by a power-tripping police officer who was immediately fired, who was immediately charged with a crime, and who the entire country – including other police officers! – unanimously condemned.

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