Monday, December 7, 2015

"All Lives Matter" vs "Black Lives Matter"

I was taken by the recent Trump event where a Black Lives Matter protester was roughed up. (See here.) As he was carried away, members of the crowd called out "All lives matter!" as some sort of argument against Black Lives Matter.

This refrain has been echoing across the media quite a bit, apparently without much thought. The idea of the All Lives Matter people is that Black lives shouldn't be singled out since everybody is important. The roughed up BLM protester might think their protest hypocritical.

I have my own point of view on racism in the United States. It's here. It's a problem. We have to deal with it. But that's not what caught my attention here.

The subtle shift from "Black lives matter" to "All lives matter" is a truly diabolical shift in perspective that is not being noticed enough.

First, let's consider the situation. Engineer that I am, I always go to numbers. The Guardian has provided a lovely database of statistics for a horrible collection of facts: police killing constituents. (See here.)

From this, we can determine that, so far in 2015, 775 armed people have been killed by police and 205 unarmed people have been killed by police. For the White, Black and Hispanic people, this breaks down into:

Event Total Wht Blck Hsp
armed people killed by police 775 397 185 125
unarmed people killed by police 205 91 68 32

Which works out to the following percentages:

Event % wht % blk % hsp
armed people killed by police 51.23 46.60 16.13
unarmed people killed by police 44.39 74.73 15.61

Now the population percentages of the USA for these three groups is %77.4 White, %13.2 Black and %17.4 Hispanic.

Given these percentages, we can derive expected numbers of police killings. This comes out to be:

Event Exp. Wht Exp. Blk Exp. Hsp White factor Black factor Hisp. Factor
armed people killed by police 600 102 135 0.66 1.81 0.93
unarmed people killed by police 159 27.1 35.7 0.57 2.51 0.90

Where it gets interesting is the ratio between the expected value and the actual value-- the factor column. From this, I conclude that Whites are under-represented, Blacks are over-represented and Hispanics come out pretty much on the money. The Hispanic statistics serve as a sort of control in this experiment. Black people are getting screwed.

Certainly there are other confounding factors: geography, poverty, etc. Statistics are slippery. If there is a correlation to wealth, perhaps there are enough rich Hispanics driving down the incidence of the police killings in their demographic. However, if that were the case, it would indicate that something was preferentially keeping Blacks in poverty more than Hispanics.

Which brings us back to the Trump incident in a predominately white crowd. The "Black lives matter" has an entire subtext that says: "Look, you f*$&*rs. We matter just as much as you do but you're killing us a lot more often." The "All lives matter" response denies that subtext and makes the (blatantly false) presumption that by someone saying "Black lives matter" implies that lives other than black lives are valued less.

The only rational response to that is pretty much: yes but so what? That has nothing to do with what was said. And the statistics shows pretty clearly that certain lives are valued more highly than other.

I'm very sensitive to how language is used and this is far from the most egregious example of subtly shifting the nature of the debate.

This is not the worst of this debate. Another mechanism is to bring up statistics that show Black on Black violence is far worse than police killings.

Again, the rational response: sure. Yes, non-police killings outnumber police killings. Thank God. Demographic on demographic killing outnumbers cross-demographic killings.  Does this surprise anyone?

But it has nothing to do with the problem at hand. Non-police violence cannot be compared to police violence. The police are the recognized officers of the state. They are our tax dollars and votes expressed locally. They are arbiter and authority in local disputes. Is the best argument supporting police is that they're not quite as bad a road rage?

Police should represent our best selves, not the hunkered down mentality of a soldier being fired on in a foreign land. We must make that happen.

I like how they do it in Canada with the Special Investigations Unit. The SIU is a civilian oversight agency that is called in to execute the investigation of any police circumstance involving death, serious injury or sexual assault.

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