So, my last rant was on the topic of Policing In America.

(TLDR: We need to take a calm and reasoned look at the facts, identify the underlying problem, and address that. Spewing hate and creating even broader divides between law enforcement and communities of color will not achieve a positive result. Sensationalist journalism only feeds corporate engines that make money off the click-bait and sets us against one another)

I thought about that a bit and realized that if I want people to look at the facts, I should provide some. When I started looking for them, I found a ton of interesting stuff. I decided to look at two major threats to our well-being (at least, they are high on our conversation list and frequently in the headlines).:

– Racially motivated police execution of citizens
– Islamic Terrorists attacking the U. S.

My research led me to the following conclusion:

The internet is bad for us, and is fragmenting and distracting us from the things we really need to pay attention to.

Information is easy to get to. Reliable information is a little tougher, since legitimate and illegitimate sources can be tougher to discern on the web. So we mostly don’t bother. We see what is in our Facebook feed or our one preferred “news” site and we don’t question. Since much of that is designed to inflame us, we get worked up over the issue of the day, and add a little hate to the fire.

The question it prompted for me was this: Are we focused on the things that need our attention? Or just on the Internet’s version of Bread and Circuses, things that keep us entertained and frothed up while the Empire does its thing. When I went looking, here’s what I found:

Policing: The Numbers:

750,340 Sworn law enforcement officers in the U. S. (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2008 [latest year available])

17,398 Law enforcement agencies in the U. S. (BJS again)

1128 people killed by police in 2015 (2016 numbers are similar to date.)

Race # Killed
[The Guardian]
% of those killed [2015] % of U. S. Population
[US Census Bureau 2015]
% of U. S. Homeless Population
[Natl Coalition for the Homeless]
% of homicide victims
[FBI 2014]
Native 13 1% 1.2% 8%
Asian/Pacific Islander 24 2% 6.0% Not Reported  —
Other/Unknown 26 2%  —  —  —
Hispanic/Latino 195 17% 17.6% 11% 13%
Black 306 27% 13.0% 40% 45%
White 564 50% 77.0% 41% 42%

deathinamerica

I then made a few assumptions (some reasonable, some dire; in all, I think this represents something close to the worst case scenario):

  1. Every one of these is a separate incident (there is no case where more than one person is killed)
  2. Every “other/unknown” is a non-white person (that makes the numbers exactly 50-50: 564 white deaths, 564 non-white deaths)
  3. Every death of a person of color was unjustified (not a single incident involved someone who actually posed a threat to the LEO or the public)
  4. Every death of a person of color was a result of racism
  5. Every department in which one of these incidents occurred suffers from a culture of racism (the actions were not rogue officers or anomalies in any way)
  6. Every one of these incidents occurred at a different department.
  7. 10 sworn officers were involved in perpetrating or covering up every single one of these unjustified deaths (the actual shooter, 1 or 2 other officers at the scene, 1 or 2 command officers who protect the department, and as many as 5 investigators who manipulate evidence to ‘make it look good.’)

With those assumptions, here’s what the numbers looked like:

564 of 17,398 agencies are culturally racist abusers of law enforcement power. (That’s 3%, which means 97% are not)

5,640 officers were involved in conducting or covering up these activities. (5,640 of 750,340, or ¾ of 1% of the law enforcement officers in the country.)

So, in the worst interpretation I can put on this data, 99.25% of American law enforcement officers and 97% of departments are not involved in racist execution of people of color.

Does institutional racism exist in America? Absolutely. Could we examine a lot of our government structures, including law enforcement, to bring awareness, and update our practices to meet our 21st-century human standards? Certainly. We could start with our approach to affordable housing. Black Americans are 13% of the population, and 40% of the homeless. Natives, 1% of the population and 8% of the homeless. Since mental health is a significant factor in homelessness (20-25%), perhaps we could address our mental health care.

Do we need to address inequities, and appropriate use of authority, especially by our police? Yes. Is that even one of the major impacts of institutional racism on Black Americans, much less the worst? Not even close. And you may have noticed that people of color make up a similar percentage of homicide victims – in fact, the distribution is almost identical among general homicides as among law enforcement deaths. Except nearly 30 times as many died from homicide (about 2/3 of those homicides were by firearm).

Those of you taking a breath to talk about ‘black-on-black crime’ – take a break. I don’t give a rat’s patoot what color the shooter was. I care that blacks make up 13% of the population and 45% of the gun deaths. I care that this is the same percentage whether it’s cops or criminals shooting. Which means there is a problem with the way that black Americans are exposed to the risk of violence. So quit yelling at the cops AND the protesters. Spend your time finding the reason for that inordinate risk. FIX IT.

Terrorists: The Numbers

In 2001, 2,982 Americans died as a result of terrorism in the United States. That’s as many as died in the United Kingdom between 1970 and 2007 (mostly because of the IRA). In that same 37-year period, 3,292 Americans died – so all but 1,000 of them were basically September 11. With 9/11 removed, it’s an average of about 27/year. Let’s assume (not necessarily correctly) that this has ramped up in recent years, and that in that 37-year period, 2/3 of the deaths happened after 2001. 6 years, 666 deaths. That would be 111/year.

In 2014 15,809 Americans died as a result of homicide. 10,945 of those were committed with firearms. So you are – seriously! – just about 100 times more likely to be shot by an American criminal than a terrorist (Islamist or otherwise). [98-1/2 times more likely, to be precise]

Something to think about

In 2014, 2,626,418 people died in the United States.

614,348 from heart disease

591,699 from various forms of cancer (note that this number is artificial. “Cancer” is a catchall term for numerous illnesses resulting from varying sources including viruses, inappropriate immune responses, and external agents. So technically, cancer isn’t even ‘a thing’ and deaths by cancer should be reported either by the specific cancer, or at least the cancers should be broken out by what we know about their cause – asbestos-caused cancer is a different thing than cervical cancer caused by a virus, is a different thing than a spontaneous brain tumor, and if we want to understand anything about how those things affect us, we ought to pay attention to the differences – especially totally avoidable ones like those caused by asbestos or smoking, for example.)

251,000 from medical errors

133,103 from stroke

You read that right – the third leading cause of death in this country is medical screw-ups. Doctors kill 222 times as many innocent Americans as police officers. And that’s not even among “all Americans” – because not “all Americans” even have access to medical care. [Note: and like police officers, this number is meaningless without the context of how many lives are saved. It doesn’t mean doctors are incompetent, any more than 500 deaths means law enforcement officers are murderous racists. It means there is something to examine, and that something is killing 200 times more people than the thing we are wound up about.]

33,804 people were killed in traffic accidents. Now, sometimes, stuff happens – black ice, tire blows out, things you just can’t predict. So let’s assume that 1 of every 10 traffic crashes is truly an accident. No – let’s be generous and assume that half of them are just unavoidable. That’s still 16,902 traffic deaths a year, or 15 times as many deaths as by police shooting, slightly more than by homicide, and 150 times more likely than being killed by a terrorist.

By the way, when officers enforce traffic laws (traffic enforcement has repeatedly been shown to reduce unsafe driving, reducing the number of traffic accidents), they make traffic stops, right? And traffic stops are the primary circumstance in which police officers are fatally shot (because felons who don’t want to go back to jail do still drive, and police don’t know who they are pulling over til they get to the window). Ironic, isn’t it?

After looking into all of this, I decided that:

– If Black Lives Matter (and I believe they do) then it’s time to quit throwing things at police officers, and turn my attention to housing, mental health, and creating safe environments (that means safe from homicide and safe from racism – it all goes together, really).
– I need to pay more attention to how our insurance and pharmaceutical companies manipulate the medical care I receive, and how the people who oversee medical malpractice respond to deaths from medical error and reports of inappropriate care by physicians (not just ‘how they handle someone’s one-time mistake’ but what their standards are overall for the people in whose hands our lives are placed. Do they allow someone with repeated reports of inappropriately touching patients to continue to practice? If someone has repeated DUIs do they put in place requirements for treatment or measures to ensure they are not drunk at work?)
– I want to support my 97.25% of law enforcement in rooting out the .75%, examining their departments and philosophies for things that might be creating inordinate impacts on people of color – and stepping up traffic enforcement (along with efforts to rescind licenses for repeat offenders, a process which exists in theory but seems to happen less often than it should. How many times have you read of a drunk driving death where the individual has 5, 6, 7 prior offenses?).

What I am not going to do is let my thinking be done by sensationalist headlines from profiteers who make money by getting me worked up, and politicians who benefit from getting me focused on symptoms rather than the actual, complex, expensive, long-term problems I should be holding them accountable for solving.

What will you do?