New additions today to the debate on racial influence in police use of deadly force.

A Harvard economist, who happens to be black, has analyzed data from six cities and four counties and concluded that, while there is evidence of racial bias in police use of force again black people, there’s no evidence of bias in use of lethal force, or shooting.


In shootings in these 10 cities involving officers, officers were more likely to fire their weapons without having first been attacked when the suspects were white. Black and white civilians involved in police shootings were equally likely to have been carrying a weapon. Both results undercut the idea of racial bias in police use of lethal force.

There are caveats and Vox notes some of them in a skeptical review. Among others:

The most revealing passage in the Times article is probably the one explaining what Fryer and his team didn’t include in their study:

It focused on what happens when police encounters occur, not how often they happen. Racial differences in how often police-civilian interactions occur reflect greater structural problems in society.

In other words, Fryer and company found that there weren’t big racial disparities in how often black and white suspects who’d already been stopped by police were killed. But they deliberately avoided the question of whether black citizens are more likely to be stopped to begin with (they are) and whether they’re more likely to be stopped without cause (yup).

Driving while black (or walking while black in certain neighborhoods) is still a cause for suspicion in many jurisdictions. It is cold comfort to black parents to be told that their children aren’t any more likely to be shot than white children after being stopped in the 10 jurisdictions studied, though they might be more likely to be pepper sprayed.


Data isn’t likely to overcome belief on those volatile questions in either direction. Yesterday, for example, some mythology about Philando Castile, the black man killed in Minnesota, reached our comments section. He was wanted for armed robbery, said one reader with great assurance based on right-wing websites. But he was NOT “wanted.” Snopes explains.  An  officer did stop him because he thought Castile resembled a suspect in a recent armed robbery.

Similarities between Castile and the robbery suspect?


Both were black. And, Castile had a “wide-set nose.”