With every police killing of a black man. With every instance of a white man or woman calling the police on a black person for being black. With each of these things, there are people looking at their version of the bigger picture and reminding us that, in the scheme of things, the numbers are not bad. They don’t say, “it’s not that bad” in a literal sense of course. Instead, they call for perspective amid the protests that often follow these racist acts. In other words, “I am truly angry for what happened but we ought not paint this as an epidemic”.
Some of these people go a step further by pointing out, among other things, that more black men die at the hands of other black men than at the hands of a white person, cop or not. In other words, “You’re crying racism but you’re killing your own! What do you call that”?
I have explored the numbers behind these statements and there is truth at the surface. For example, “In 2018, where the homicide victim was black, the suspected killer was black 88 percent of the time. From 1976 to 2005, 94 percent of black victims were killed by other African Americans.” As well, there are more than 800,000 police officers in the United States today and the average voice that labels cops as racist cannot cite more than a dozen black men who have died at the hands of a white police officer.
Again, these are surface truths. Here is another truth.
About 1 in 1,000 black men and boys in America can expect to die at the hands of police, according to a new analysis of deaths involving law enforcement officers. That makes them 2.5 times more likely than white men and boys to die during an encounter with cops.
This is what I call a statistic with an extra kicker. Inequity.
How about another truth?
There’s that inequity thing again.
Let’s roll through three more truths for good (accurate) measure.
- Blacks were 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites in 2010, even though their rate of marijuana usage was comparable.
- Federal prosecutors are twice as likely to charge African Americans with offenses that carry a mandatory minimum sentence than similarly situated whites.
- State prosecutors are also more likely to charge black rather than similar white defendants under habitual offender laws.
Inequity is like a record on repeat in this joint. And yes, I could list hundreds of other examples.
Before I go any further, allow me to state the purpose of my business.
My purpose: To offer a different lens on statistics.
People are not statistics.
When we qualify how many black men have died at the hands of cops, we are dehumanizing them— turning them into calculations. We are also missing the bigger issue afoot: Underlying inequity that informs and influences the acts and our reactions to them.
Inequity is the normal for blacks and African Americans. Less access to quality healthcare. Less access to quality education. Less access to good jobs. Less opportunities that would increase their access to these vital lifelines. What is more, there is a direct correlation between today’s inequity and the legalized slavery, segregation, and discrimination that was endorsed at worst and tolerated at best by white American’s for centuries.
Translation: White power paralyzed black people then and now, directly and indirectly.
To this, some would argue that the Civil Rights Act stripped away that power imbalance and that everyone is equal. These same voices would point to affirmative action, class action lawsuits, and other like things that prove power has equalized. Some would go so far as to say that they feel powerless in a society that makes them out to be the boogeyman, the reason for all that is wrong in the world. They would be dead wrong. Blacks and African American’s face inequity when compared to whites in nearly every statistic that measures life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Translation: Equity on paper has not led to equity in any meaningful way.
Some of you might be questioning what this has to do with the deaths of black men at the hands of white cops or the calling of police officers for people being black. I’m glad you asked.
When George Floyd dies by the kneeling knee of a white police officer, it is yet another reminder of the power that white people have over blacks and African American’s. What is more, reaction beyond the black community is often that of woke sorrow or skepticism disguised as inquiry into what actually happened. Very often, the woke people are whites who have the power to demand change but don’t activate it.
Translation: Whites have the power to kill blacks and to prevent the killings of blacks and yet blacks are still dying at the hands of whites.
If you are uncomfortable with my constant use of the terms black and white, good. I am not indifferent or cruel but we need to see what is going on in this country. Not the death of a dozen or so black men but the death of black men in a country that has long relegated the black experience to whatever scraps they can muster amid endless inequity. If you hear all of this and find it divisive, wake up. There is already a division and no amount of togetherness across race lines in the wake of Ahmaud Arbery’s death is going to change that. We need change that is going to prevent these deaths, not just an assurance this his murderer’s get their just desserts. This takes time, energy, and resources. Racial justice advocates realize this and begin efforts to illuminate and eradicate the issue. Such is when rationalists find the need to introduce statistics in an attempt to help us understand that while tragic, these are not common circumstances.
Guess what? Neither are military members dying in combat. Still, I have never heard someone question why we have national holidays and non-profit organizations focused on remembering and assisting our veterans. To be clear, I am retired Navy and I lost my entire Division to the 9/11 attacks. I have nothing but admiration for service members. This isn’t about that. It is about our tendency to be selective about what we question and what we accept. To which some would say, “Our service members literally put their lives on the line for this nation. Some of these black men who have been killed by white cops were criminals”.
To which I would say, “I know, I’ve done several deployments” and “You’re making my point”. You see black men killed by cops as black men who have put themselves in the situation. “If Eric Garner wasn’t selling cigarettes illegally…” blah blah blah blah blah. This is akin to saying that “If she didn’t wear such a short skirt, maybe she wouldn’t have been sexually assaulted”. Oops, we do say that.
Speaking of, I have heard people question why we are turning the #MeToo movement into a national level event when the overall percentage of men committing sexual assault and harassment is statistically low. Generally speaking, those questions come from men, white men in particular.
For those of you paying attention at home, power is the common link here. So when someone says that our response should be comparable to the scope of the issue, I, with my culture facilitation fedora firmly in place nod in agreement, roll up my verbal sleeves, and reply with the following:
“Right on, we should base our response on the issue. The whole issue. The inequity issue that puts black men in positions that have them in harms way with police officers at a higher rate than white men. The power issue that enables white men to find it acceptable to place their knee on the neck of black men for 526 seconds. The issue that has us citing statistics in an attempt to quell outrage while avoiding statistics that directly influence the acts that led to the outrage.”
This has me reflecting on a frequent ask I get to help organizations come up with the business case for diversity. Every time I get asked, I decline and my reasons are simple.
Reason 1: They didn’t need a business case to hire, reward, and promote their workforce in its current composition and yet someone has told them that they should be more diverse and inclusive. In response, they want statistics that would show favorable projections in a number of business categories. Otherwise, they may not invest in improving their diversity.
Reason 2: People are not statistics. They are humans. Flesh and flood.
Reason 3: The people who seek the business case are typically those in power whereas the people who would benefit from improved diversity and inclusion are not. I cannot continue to support this power imbalance.
Why do we need statistics to validate the importance of improving diversity and inclusion in the workplace?
Why do we need statistics to validate the horror and outrage associated with black men dying at the hands of white cops?
Why are we willing to look at one set of statistics and not countless others?
Because we have yet to humanize the black and African American experience. Instead, we treat them like statistics and thus we see their experiences through a lens of 1’s and 0’s where white’s are ones and blacks are the zero’s.