Are Most Killings Really Interracial?

Are Most Killings Really Interracial?
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Over the past two years, names like Trayvon Martin and Ferguson, Missouri have grabbed headlines, while an emailer keeps sending me news clips where a black campus officer killed a white student at the University of South Alabama. It begs the question of whether we are seeing a significant number of interracial killings or whether these incidents are relatively rare, thus leading to a high volume of media coverage.

To determine this, I looked at the FBI data on killings for 2011, focusing on the race of the perpetrator and the race of the victim. And here's what I found.

There were 2,640 African Americans murdered that year. In 2,447 cases, the perpetrator was African American. In 193 cases, a white perpetrator killed an African American. That means in 92.69 percent of all cases, the killing was intraracial (within a race), not interracial (between races).

That supports the argument former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was saying on NBC's Meet the Press, when he claimed that such killings were the exception, rather than the rule. He got in a shouting match with Georgetown Professor Michael Eric Dyson, an MSNBC contributor.

"White police officers wouldn't be there if you weren't killing each other," Giuliani argued in his exchange with Dyson, who claimed that the former GOP Presidential candidate had "the defensive mechanism of white supremacy at work," according to the Washington Post.

So I decided to look at cases where there is a white victim. In 448 cases, the perpetrator is black. In 2,630 cases, a white perpetrator kills a white victim. So in 85.45 percent of all cases where there is a white victim, there is a white killer. That's something Giuliani forgot to mention.

I ran these numbers in a 2x2 contingency table. Murders are significantly more likely to be intraracial, not interracial. White-on-white killings and black-on-black killings are nearly twice as likely to occur than a random model projects, at relatively similar levels.

Kevin D. Williamson of National Review Online adds "If you believe that black lives matter, then you should be working for school reform, economic growth, and -- yes -- more effective law-enforcement and crime-prevention measures to protect black communities, which suffer an enormously disproportionate share of crime and violence."

Actually, what the data shows is that there is plenty of white-on-white violence, with rates pretty similar to black-on-black killing levels. Thankfully, crime levels are down overall since the 1980s. But we're actually seeing an increase in white-on-white violence, especially in Stand Your Ground states, according to research by Chandler B. McClellan and Erdal Tekin, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

"Our results indicate that Stand Your Ground laws are associated with a significant increase in the number of homicides among whites, especially white males. According to our estimates, between 4.4 and 7.4 additional white males are killed each month as a result of these laws. We find no evidence to suggest that these laws increase homicides among blacks. Our results are robust to a number of specifications and unlikely to be driven entirely by the killings of assailants."

Pundits are quick to respond to Ferguson protesters by claiming that black-on-black violence is worse. They're right on that matter, but ignore white-on-white violence, nearly as high, and growing, despite overall drops in the national crime level.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at

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