In her opinion piece “Academic research on police shootings and race,” the author of the War on Cops concludes:
police officers are at greater risk from blacks than unarmed blacks are from police officers…. the per capita rate of officers being feloniously killed is 45 times higher than the rate at which unarmed black males are killed by cops. And an officer’s chance of getting killed by a black assailant is 18.5 times higher than the chance of an unarmed black getting killed by a cop.
This might seem like large numbers – overwhelming numbers even. These numbers, though, are little more than statistical misrepresentations designed to mislead MacDonald’s audience into thinking that police are endangered by black people. In order to back this claim, she uses techniques reminiscent of the eugenics movement and constructs a scenario in which the lives of black people are not worth as much as the lives of police officers.
Her work is being generated at one of the most conservative right-wing think tanks in the United States, the Manhattan Institute, which spearheaded such attacks on the black community as “the use of ‘broken windows’ or community policing—and management systems such as CompStat for nearly 30 years.” It is funded by the Thomas W. Smith Foundation, the Arthur N. Nupe Foundation and Randy P. Kendrick - three openly and ardently conservative sources. And she published her book The War On Cops through Encounter Books, a company that “draws its name from Encounter magazine, an Anglo-American literary journal founded in 1953…”
In addition to being designed through a collaboration between the alt-right and white pride, MacDonald is a guest blogger for the Washington Post, a frequent guest on FOX News programs and her misinformation has been absorbed and repeated, as intended, by conservative political pundits, conservative voters and racists alike – including Donald Trump himself. Her work is clearly part of a much larger agenda.
Political agendas often drive funding for formal research. Formal research is often generated with the goal of creating a veil of validity for a political claim or set of political claims. It can also be designed for diffusion through particular media channels. These media channels communicate the message to the target political audiences and encourages them to think and behave in certain predesignated ways.
In no way can the work of Heather MacDonald be considered formal research, but it follows the same pattern. Armed with conservative funding, a statistical base in eugenics and a proud white publisher, MacDonald has been working hard for the alt-right movement to prove that the lives of over 300 black people aren’t worth the lives of 13 police officers.
In hate speech thinly veiled as pseudo-academic language, MacDonald argues that inequality should not be measured by comparing the experiences of races against each other. In her line of reasoning, it is not relevant that black people are three times more likely to die at the hands of a police officer than a white person is. She argues that the number of black people killed by police should be a function of the number of black people accused of violent crimes.
Heather MacDonald writes, “The black violence crime rate would actually predict more than 26% of police victims would be black.”
Rest assured, this argument is as ridiculous when explored under its hood as it is at face value. For example, there are a number of false assumptions that must be accepted in order to even entertain her argument. Three of them can be described as follows:
Assumption one: A right-winged white woman publishing pseudo-academic research through a proud Anglo publication and eliciting racist stereotypes in the media has anything worth listening to when it comes to an opinion on state violence and\or the black experience.
Assumption two: It is OK for the police to kill people, especially black people, if they have been accused of a violent crime – or simply if they live in a community where violent crimes are committed.
Assumption three: Police are a community equivalent to a race of people. Blue is an identity. Blue Lives Matter.
From this base, MacDonald argues that the number of people killed by police is a function of violent crime, not state violence. Black death should be compared to blue death. And blue lives matter more than black lives. Here’s how:
As described, MacDonald asserts that the percentages of violent crime in a community should dictate how many people the police will kill in that community.
This is an invalid argument according to expert academic and community standards, and revolting according to the standards of human decency. But let’s entertain – ever so briefly –that there is a relationship between the violent crime rate and the police killings of black people. Additionally, let’s assume that this relationship is completely unrelated to state violence in general, and in relation to other target communities. Sure.
Looking at FBI statistics from 2014, of the approximately 1.2 million violent crimes were allegedly committed. That same year, approximately 390,000 arrests were made for violent crimes. 232,000 were white while 147,000 were black.
While it is extremely difficult to find information on the number of people killed by police broken down by racial demographics prior to 2015, using statistics from that year, MacDonald’s reason dictates that in exchange for apprehending under 150,000 allegedly violent criminals from the black community, more than 300 black people should be expected to be killed.
This argument is little more than statistical hate speech, but let’s entertain it long enough to ask if murder is, in fact, a fair exchange for violent crime?
What if the nation decided that the violent crime rate isn’t an adequate comparison, but there could be a fair exchange using an eye for an eye mentality. In other words, murder for murder is an acceptable exchange.
Of the 1.2 million violent crimes committed in the United States in 2014, approximately 14,200 of them were murder or non-negligent manslaughter. Of these, law enforcement officers were only able to apprehend approximately 10,500 potential offenders.
Using MacDonald’s reasoning, law enforcement officers should be able to kill at least 1,100 people in order to arrest 10,500 alleged murderers. As applied to the black community, MacDonald’s reasoning would dictate that over 300 people from the black community should then be expected to be killed in exchange for law enforcement officers’ efforts to apprehend approximately 4,200 alleged murder suspects.
There is one more condition, though. The people they are justified in killing do not have to be accused of murder, a violent crime or any crime at all. They do not have to be resisting arrest, they can be the victims of excessive force, and they can be children, the disabled, and unarmed community members.
Or perhaps, as MacDonald argues in the War on Cops, black lives should be compared to police officer lives. Only 13 police officers were killed by police in 2014 by black offenders, but 306 black people were killed by police officers that same year.
MacDonald is arguing that in a world where a war on cops actually exists, the lives of 306 black people are not worth the lives of 13 police officers.
She spins this with pseudo-academic language writing, “an officer’s chance of getting killed by a black assailant is 18.5 times higher than the chance of an unarmed black getting killed by a cop.”
This statement makes sense only if you accept that the lives of 13 officers are worth more than the lives of 306 black people – or that it takes over 24 black lives to equal 1 blue life.
Interestingly enough, MacDonald’s completely racist and ungrounded assertions lends more validity to the argument that the majority of law enforcement officers should be unarmed than it does to the idea that black lives don’t matter.
The best counterargument for MacDonald’s argument that a cop is 18.5 times more likely to kill a black person than a black person is to say: only if you believe that black lives are worth less numerically than others. It might be helpful to remind them that black people are people. They are not 3/5ths people. They are not 1/30th a police officer. They are people. Black people are people. Their lives matter. Black Lives Matter.