Most Victims of Police Shootings in the USA are Armed with Deadly Weapons

The Washington Post is keeping a tally of people shot by the police in the USA this year. Their count is 558 so far. That sounds like a lot, and perhaps it is, even for a nation of 318 million people. But it should be kept in mind that the overwhelming majority of these cases involve people armed with deadly weapons, or things (like pellet guns) which could be mistaken for deadly weapons. Here is a random sample of some of the most recent cases:

Timothy Johnson, a 41-year-old man armed with a knife, was shot on July 28, 2015, in Manila, Ark. Manila police were responding to a report of a disturbance. Johnson approached an officer and refused to drop his knife.

Samuel Forgy, a 23-year-old white man armed with a knife, was shocked with a stun gun and shot on July 27, 2015, in an apartment building in Boulder, Colo. Forgy refused to drop his knife when Boulder City police officers responded to a report of a stabbing.

Timothy Milliken, a 56-year-old man armed with a knife, was shot on July 27, 2015, in a house in Irmo, S.C. Lexington County sheriff's deputies were called to a residence and found Milliken stabbing a family member with a knife.

An unidentified person, a man armed with a gun, was shot on July 27, 2015, in Houma, La. Officers from the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff's Office and the Houma Police Department were pursuing the man in his vehicle when he climbed out with the gun.

Khari Westly , a 33-year-old black man armed with a gun, was shot on July 26, 2015, in Shreveport, La. Shreveport police were called to investigate a report that Westly was holding two women hostage. When officers found him, he shot at police.

Zachary Hammond, a 19-year-old white man driving a vehicle, was shot on July 26, 2015, in Seneca, S.C. Hammond attempted to evade a traffic stop and allegedly drove his car toward a Seneca police officer.

Roger Braswell, a 50-year-old white man armed with a gun, was shot on July 25, 2015, in Decatur, Ga. Decatur County sheriff's deputies responded to a report of a suicidial man. When they arrived at Braswell's home, he met them at the back door, firing his gun.

An unidentified person, a 60-year-old white man, was shot on July 25, 2015, in New Orleans, La. The man struck four homes and a number of cars with his pickup truck before he allegedly climbed out and pointed the gun at New Orleans police officers. Witnesses dispute whether he was armed.

Earl Jackson, a 59-year-old black man armed with a gun, was shot on July 25, 2015, in Micanopy, Fla. When a Florida Highway patrolman stopped to investigate Jackson's disabled vehicle, he opened fire on the officer.

Bryan Keith Day, a 36-year-old man with a toy weapon, was shot on July 25, 2015, in Las Vegas, Nev. Day shot a Las Vegas Metropolitan police officer in the face with a pellet gun as the officer responded to a report of a robbery.

Lee Aaron Gerston, a 30-year-old man armed with a knife, was shocked with a stun gun and shot on July 24, 2015, in Pinnacle, N.C. Gerston robbed a tanning salon and stabbed another man. He was shot after Stokes County police used a stun gun on him and he refused to drop his knife.

An unidentified person, a man armed with a gun, was shot on July 24, 2015, in Studio City, Calif. Los Angeles Police responded to reports of a man firing a gun in Studio City. The man refused to drop his weapon when police ordered him to do so.

Derek Wolfsteller, an unarmed 31-year-old man, was shocked with a stun gun and shot on July 23, 2015, in a restaurant in Plymouth, Minn. A Plymouth police officer responding to a disturbance call at a fast-food restaurant shot Wolfsteller during a struggle. A week before the incident, Wolfsteller's grandparents had called Plymouth police for help dealing with a mental health crisis what Wolfsteller was experiencing.

Dontae L. Martin, a 34-year-old black man armed with a gun, was shot on July 23, 2015, in Dayton, Ohio. Martin pointed a gun at Montgomery County deputies who approached his crashed vehicle.


'Die Zeit' Correction Watch: 1 Error Secretly Corrected, 1 Still There

Holger-Daniel-pop-up-correction

UPDATE (31 July 2105): Both errors have been corrected as of now. 

Let me preface this post by saying that I quite like Die Zeit, the august German weekly newspaper. I have subscribed to Die Zeit for years, and have derived much pleasure and enlightenment from it, especially the Feuilleton. Sometimes I disagree with its editorial line, but who doesn't?

So it's in a spirit of amity and constructive criticism that I point out what I consider to be errors and ethical lapses in its reporting. Such as yesterday, when I tweeted Jochen Bittner and Sabine Rückert to complain about errors in articles about the United States criminal justice system, after there was no response to tweets I sent to the authors of the articles themselves.*

And now I can report a partial victory for accuracy!

Error Number One Secretly Corrected

After I pointed out a mistake in the story published yesterday on the website of Die Zeit, someone silently corrected that error. Instead of stating that 'most' persons killed by the police this year in the USA were not white, the article has been changed to: "663 people were [killed by police] this year ... compared to their percentage of the population, there were disproportionately many blacks and hispanics."

That is accurate. Of course the article fails to mention that the vast majority of those killed were armed, but we can debate whether that is necessary context. I think it is, others many not. And the author of the piece does note later that the prevalence of weapons in the USA is an important factor.

Of course, the article was silently corrected. I can find no indication on the website that this assertion has been changed -- not in a note at the bottom of the text (standard policy in the USA), or in the comments (there are 17 pages of them, so any notice here would be easily overlooked). Nor did the journalist in question or any of the editors I emailed respond to my request, except to secretly correct the mistake.

This does not conform to the standards used by the vast majority of U.S. newspapers, or to the Code of Ethics of the American Society of Professional Journalists:

– Respond quickly to questions about accuracy, clarity and fairness.

– Acknowledge mistakes and correct them promptly and prominently. Explain corrections and clarifications carefully and clearly.

But of course, Hamburg is not in the USA. However, Die Zeit has its own code of ethics which says basically the same thing (g) and adds (my translation): "It is unacceptable to silently correct mistakes in the content of an online article." (emphasis added)

It certainly looks like that's what happened here, doesn't it?

Error Number Two Still Out There

The second error I pointed to was the assertion in an August 2014 article called (my translation of the title) Saying Goodbye to the Dream of a Post-Racial Society (g) in which author Sebastian Moll asserted that 30% of the American population is black, and that 60% of the people in American prisons and jails are black. As I pointed out back on July 17th, both statics are way off. I tweeted Mr. Moll requesting he correct the piece, and received, as you might expect, no response. 

13 days later, this error stands uncorrected (g). I am going to start a 'Die Zeit Correction Watch'. Each day I'll check to see if this mistake has been corrected, and each day it hasn't, I will tweet Die Zeit editors and the story's author to politely remind them that there is a mistake on their website.

I'll start tomorrow. Just to make it interesting: For every day the article goes uncorrected after today, I will donate 1 Euro to the organization Reporters Without Borders, which advocates for the rights of journalists worldwide.

Wait, no, that sets the wrong incentive. Right now, I plan to donate 30 Euros to RWB. For every day this article goes uncorrected, I will reduce that amount by one euro. So if they correct it tomorrow, RWB gets 30 euros. After 15 days, 15 euros. After 30 days, if the mistake is still there, RWB gets bupkus. Zilch. Nada. Gaaar Nichts.

To make things fair, I will even count a silent correction as a correction, even though that violates Die Zeit's own policy.

Let the countdown begin!

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'Die Zeit' Prints Another Misleading Stat

An article just out in Die Zeit has yet another gigantic error. In a piece on police training in the USA by Frauke Steffens, she says: "663 people have been killed by police in the USA this year, the British Guardian found, and the majority were not white." ("663 Todesopfer waren es bereits in diesem Jahr, fand der britische Guardian auf diese Weise heraus – und die meisten davon waren nicht weiß.").

In fact, the very article Steffens cited to and linked to says otherwise. 318 shooting victims were white, 174 black, and so on. It says so right here, right in the very same article she cited. Now theoretically you could count up the number of all other victims and it would be somewhat higher than number of whites. But it seems to me the most reliable way of counting these statistics would be to leave out the 55 killings in the other/unknown category, since we do not know what race they are. That leaves us with the following total:

318 white

290 all other races

Which means even taken on its own terms, the statement is incorrect. But in any event, the average reader, confronted with the statement in the article, would not correctly conclude that whites were the category with by far the highest number of police shootings. It might also be relevant for readers to know that over 80% of those shooting victims were armed with a deadly weapon at the time of the confrontation.

I have tweeted to Ms. Steffens to correct the error, but in my experience, the response will be silence, and the error will stand.

The glaring error I pointed out in another Die Zeit article still stands


'Other People's Indians' and Germany's Minority-Filled Prisons

In one of his essays from the 1976 book Emperor of the Earth: Modes of Eccentric Vision, Czeslaw Milosz reminisces about the 19th-century American novelist Thomas Mayne Reid. Reid wrote Western novels which became popular after they were translated into Russian, and is probably still more famous in Eastern Europe than in the USA. Milosz noted a curious fact: Reid's novels contained matter-of-fact scenes in which European Americans slaughtered and multilated American Indians and vice-versa -- but when it came to the fate of Montezuma at the hands of the perfidious Papist conquistadores, Mayne penned a gushing tribute to the nobility of the hapless Aztecs. Milosz notes in an aside: 'as often happens, Reid loved Indians, but only “their” Indians.'

'Other peoples' Indians': The tendency to attribute poor integration of minorities in other countries exclusively to the majority's racism, but the poor integration of minorities in your country to deficiencies among the minorities. And the OPI effect is alive and well. Let's take an example. Here's a graph of the percentage of foreigners (adapted from statista) among the prison populations in a variety of European countries:

Untitled

Switzerland tops the list with a whopping 74.2%. Yes, you read that right: 74.2% of the people in Swiss prisons are not Swiss. Germany is nowhere near as skewed; only 27.9% of its prisoners are foreigners. But keep in mind that German only counts foreign nationals in its prisons. If you are of Turkish or Moroccan ancestry but have a German passport, you are not included.

If you define an ethnic minority in Germany the way most legal systems do -- someone whose external appearance is different from the native population and who has been the victim of discrimination by the majority native population -- then the number of ethnic minorities in German prisons, I am sure, would be at least 50%. There are no reliable statistics I have yet seen to prove this, because Germany doesn't keep them (see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil). But I've visited many German criminal courts, talked to cops, prosecutors and defense lawyers, and been to German prisons. Everybody recognizes the vast over-representation of ethnic minorities in German prisons as an everyday fact of life that only the most reality-resistant Green Party ideologue would ever contest. I am happy to be corrected on this, but nobody has so far succeeded.*

So, Germany's prisons are filled with a disproportionate number of ethnic minorities, just as America's prisons are. Now is where things get interesting. Why is that the case? Here is the explanation you will find in the average German newspaper:

  • Blacks and certain other minorities are over-represented in American prisons. It is inconceivable that this could be the product of higher rates of violent crime among American blacks. The reason for this over-representation must be discrimination in the American justice system. [Illogical but frequent further conclusion:] Therefore, America is an irredeemably racist society.
  • Ethnic minorities are over-represented in German prisons. Since there is no racial discrimination within the German criminal justice system, which is staffed by honorable professionals, these conviction rates reflect reality: minorities commit crimes that get you in prison more frequently than ethnic Germans commit them. This is because minorities tragically fail to adapt properly to German society, despite the noble efforts we Germans make to help them. [Illogical but frequent further conclusion:] The fact of their crime rates must be concealed and obfuscated as much as possible, since it could feed into right-wing stereotypes of 'criminal' immigrants.

I could find dozens of examples to back up these narratives, but since we all know that, I'll just skip it. I will point to an interesting counter-example, though, from Focus of all places: in an article about German prisons, the author notes (g) quotes an expert and a study showing that German judges gave noticeably longer sentences for the same crime when the offender had a Turkish name rather than a German one. But that's still the exception.

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