Data on policing and race is complex and nuanced. Police killings of unarmed suspects are rare, according to the Washington Post, and they’ve been declining. Numbers peak at 95 for all races in 2015, declining to 32 for all races in 2021.
When it comes to police shootings of unarmed individuals, white suspects are shot more often than black suspects (by contrast, Asians are rarely shot by police compared to either group). Though more unarmed whites than blacks are killed by police, black suspects are indeed proportionally overrepresented. …
One might conclude that, perhaps, overrepresentation of black Americans as perpetrators of violent crime might be due to overpolicing of black communities. However, when we look at victims of homicide, most of which are the same race as the killers, we see the same pattern of black victims being overrepresented. This means the overpolicing hypothesis does not fit the data.
It is also worth noting that most young men of any ethnicity do not commit violent crimes. Race itself is not a determinant of violent crime. In one recent study, although racial composition of neighborhoods predicted violent crime, race no longer predicted violent crime once other community factors such as insufficient food, housing issues, air pollution and proportion of single-parent homes are controlled.
Studies largely find the same thing when it comes to excessive use of police force. In another recent study, we found that class issues, particularly communities experiencing higher levels of mental health issues among residents — not race — predicted reports of excessive police force (except for Latinos, who reported less police force). To be fair, studies on this do vary in conclusion. However, in my view the weight of evidence suggests that class, not race, predicts excessive police force.
We found that higher levels of mental health problems among community residents predicted reports of excessive police force. This is probably because police are likely coming into contact with mentally ill residents who may escalate an encounter that began over something trivial. Other studies also suggest the chronically mentally ill more often experience physical force during police encounters. The mentally ill may struggle to respond to aggressive police commands. Thus, relatively minor encounters initially may intensify into dangerous situations. Better police training with mental illness may help. …
Though often ostensibly speaking on behalf of minority groups, progressive theories on race have often made practical situations worse. The most obvious cost to low-income neighborhoods has been in delegitimizing or even defunding police and the predictable surge in crime that created. Evidence does suggests (sic) that the George Floyd protests and riots were associated with increased resignations of police officers as well as decreased policing in high-crime neighborhoods. These in turn, were associated with increased violent crime.
There are more subtle, harmful impacts as well. Informing people that they are at ever-present danger from police can be traumatizing. Research has long demonstrated that convincing people they are victims causes them to perceive injustice where it may not actually occur.