the week in review
Jul 27-Jul 31, 2020
a look back at this week’s essays…
Asians in America, Part I:
Why Are They So Successful?
Let’s take a break from identity politics. Let’s talk about Asian-Americans!
Just kidding. But the facts are noteworthy.
Click here to read more.
Asians in America, Part II:
Why Are They So Successful?
On Monday, I talked about the amazing success Asian immigrants have had in America. In terms of wealth, health, education, and optimism, they outrank every other racial group, including White Americans.
Why is that? Why is it that Asian-Americans, themselves victims of bias and discrimination, have achieved so much?
Click here to read more.
How to Buy Gold Bullion Coins:
A Quick Guide for Beginners
Suddenly, everyone wants to buy gold!
I’ve been reading about gold for 40 years and writing about it for the last 20. During that time, gold’s popularity among investors has gone up and down in longish waves. Recently, the tide has been rising like a tsunami.
To answer all the questions I’ve been getting on gold, I’ve put together the following Q&A. It’s meant for tyros, but there may be information here that will surprise experienced coin buyers.
Click here to read more.
what I’m reading
Legado de Generaciones: Antología poética
I’m really enjoying this little paperback. I got it accidentally. It came in a box that held an expensive bottle of Flor de Caña, a Nicaraguan rum. I bought the expensive bottle because it came in a box designed by a Nicaraguan artist that I collect and represent: Augusto Silva Gomez.
A very surprising little book, it contains poems by 49 poets from 38 countries expressed in 16 languages. I have read only about half of them, but every one so far has been a gem – like this one, which I reproduce here in its English translation:
Some Days the Sea
The sea is never the same twice. Today
the waves open their lion’s mouths hungry
for the shore, and I feel the earth helpless.
Some days their foamy edges are lace
at my feet, the sea a sheet of green silk.
Sometimes the shore brings souvenirs
from a storm, I sift spoils of sea grass;
find a broken finger of coral, a torn fan,
examine a sponge’s hollow throat, watch
a man-of-war die a sapphire in the sand.
Some days there’s nothing but sand.
Quiet as snow, I walk, eyes on the wind
sometimes laden with silver-tasting salt,
sometimes still as the sun. Some days
the sun is a dollop of honey and raining
light on the sea glinting diamond dust,
sometimes there are only clouds, clouds –
sometimes solid as continents drifting
across the sky, other times wispy, white
roses that swirl into tigers, into cathedrals,
into hands, and I remember the days
I’m still a boy on this beach, wanting
to catch a seagull, cup a tiny silver fish,
build a perfect sand castle. Some days I am
a teenager blind to death even as I watch
waves seep into nothingness. Most days
I’m a man tired of being a man, sleeping
in the care of dusk’s slanted light, or a man
scared of being a man, seeing some god
in the moonlight streaming over the sea.
Some days I imagine myself walking
this shore with feet as worn as driftwood,
old and afraid of my body. Someday,
I suppose I’ll return someplace like waves
trickling through the sand, back to sea
without any memory of being, but if
I could choose eternity, it would be here:
between every grain of sand, in the cusp
of every wave and every seashell’s hollow.
recommended links from this week’s blog
* “The Best Stats You’ve Ever Seen” – Unless you are brain-dead, you will enjoy this TED Talk by Hans Rosling. LINK
* “Harvard vs. Asians”?
* How good are you at naming colors? Take this test and find out. (I got only 12 of 18!)
* Click here to read some of the latest Rancho Santana news.
* “A Progressive’s Guide to Political Correctness” – In this video, George Will helps progressives be more progressive.
* Tito Ortiz had a reputation for being a bad boy in mixed martial arts. He does a good job of changing my view on that in this short interview.
Unarmed African-Americans are killed by police almost every day all across the US. How can anyone explain this except as the result of egregious and systemic racism?
For most of my adult life, I believed that unarmed African-Americans were much more likely to be killed by cops than whites. And like many, I saw the gruesome murder of George Floyd on May 25 as another example of what I thought could only be attributed to racism. But when I started researching the data to write my June 5 blog post, I was shocked by what I found. It contradicted my assumptions.
Turns out there were 208 killings of unarmed people by police from 2016 to 2019. (That’s an average of 52 per year.) Of that 208, 62 (about 30%) were African-American and 100 (48%) were white. And the ratios were even more startling for 2019 alone. In that year, 41 unarmed people were killed by police in the US – and of that 41, 21 (51%) were white, 10 (25%) were Latino, and 9 (21%) were African-American. In other words, since 2016 at least, the risk of getting killed by police (if you are unarmed) has been less for African-Americans than for Latinos and whites.
Those were the facts. I could hardly believe it.
I’d had several personal experiences that convinced me that police racism was a real threat to African-Americans – and on an emotional level, I still feel that way. Perhaps because I felt that way, I asked several members of my family to guess how many unarmed African-Americans were killed by cops every year compared to whites. They gave me a range of answers that was very similar to the estimates that the three young African-American men gave in this video.
I suspect that if a survey were done across the US asking this question, the great majority of responses – coming from every ethnic group – would overwhelmingly mirror those guesses. And yet, this widely held belief is not true. Unarmed whites have by far the greatest chance of being killed by police – twice the chances of unarmed African-Americans.
After I published my June 5 essay, a good friend wrote to say that she, too, found it hard to believe that my numbers were accurate. She asked for the source of the data. I presume she assumed it came from Fox News or some right-wing think tank. In fact, it came from The Washington Post, the left-leaning newspaper that had started tracking police killings in 2016 to document its own convictions about racial bias among the police, and especially the white police.
And another good friend, a very bright, Harvard educated man, sent me this email:
I often wondered about this, in particular given that the data you cited appeared to be referring to an absolute number – i.e., not adjusted for share of population. So I did a bit of easy digging and found that, as reflected in the attached chart, while whites are indeed shot by police about twice as much in raw numbers each year, when adjusted for the percentage of population of each group, blacks are killed by police more than three times as much, and that number seems to be growing rather quickly over the last three years.
He supplied this chart:
|Shot to death by Police||whites||457||399||370|
|Ratio white to black||2.05||1.91||1.57|
|Ratio white to black||5.79||5.68||5.69|
|Percentage of Population||whites||0.00018%||0.00016%||0.00015%|
|Shot to death by Police||blacks||0.00052%||0.00048%||0.00053%|
|Ratio black to white shot to death||2.83||2.98||3.62|
|by police as a percent of population|
This was my response to him:
Thanks for sending that chart. I thought it was interesting.
The chart tracks the total number of blacks and whites shot to death by police, while I was quoting data on unarmed people.
One thing we can conclude from comparing this data to the data I cited is that the chances of getting shot to death by police if you are carrying a gun is about 10 times greater than if you aren’t. However, whichever data you look at, the idea of comparing these deaths to an entire population, however sensible it seems when you first hear it, is specious.
Let me explain.
As I’m sure you know, when you are analyzing data through a ratio (or percentage), it’s essential to use the correct fractions. We agree on the numerators: the number of people shot to death by police. But my proposition is that you are using the wrong denominators.
For the right denominators, you have to choose numbers that reflect the question you are trying to answer – which, in this case, is whether these data might reflect racial bias on the part of the police.
To answer that question, you can’t use the entire population of each group as your denominator. You have to use the number of people killed by police while being pursued and/or arrested for violent crimes, because that is when 99% of police killings occur.
Does that make sense?
If so, we must look to arrest records for those numbers. And when we do, we find that among all those arrested for and convicted of violent crimes, approximately half are African-Americans.
If you can see the logic in this, you will agree that since African-Americans are arrested and convicted for 50% of the violent crimes, the “right” ratio (the ratio that would indicate that there is zero bias against African-Americans) would be 1:1. In other words, the same number of African-Americans killed by cops should be roughly equal to the number of whites killed by cops.
But, in fact, roughly twice as many whites as African-Americans are killed by cops. So if the goal of the analysis is to find out if there is anti-black bias in police killings, the data says there is not.
This conclusion had already been reached in 2016 when The Washington Post started tracking police killings – to verify its assumption (the one so many of us shared) that African-Americans are more likely than whites to be shot and killed by cops. In that year, Harvard University economist Roland G. Fryer Jr., Ph.D., who is African-American, examined more than 1000 shootings in 10 major police departments and found “no racial differences in either the raw data or when contextual factors are taken into account.”
Fryer did find that African-Americans are more likely than whites to experience other types of force by the police, including being handcuffed without arrest, pepper-sprayed, or pushed to the ground. But as to the risk of being killed by a cop? Whether the individual is armed or unarmed, the chances of getting shot are twice as high for whites as for African-Americans.
I am sure that seems absurd to you. It seems absurd to me.
One possible explanation might be due to what some social scientists call implicit bias. This is the idea that beneath one’s pronounced views on race and racism, there is an unconscious bias that determines subconscious and emotional reactions.
To test that theory, studies called implicit association tests (IATs) have been performed using a variety of psychological methods, from questionnaires to simulations where biological responses are measured against images of African-Americans and whites in a variety of circumstances.
One such study explored whether implicit bias predicted police decisions to shoot. The researchers found that officers were less likely to erroneously shoot African-American suspects, and were slower to shoot when faced with African-American suspects as compared with white suspects.
That was one study. Other IAT studies have come to different conclusions. And meta studies that looked at all of these IAT studies found that when it comes to the use of lethal force, it is impossible to conclude that anti-black biases exist.
We are talking, here, strictly about police killings. We are not talking about other possible expressions of bias, such as how suspects are questioned and handled in non-lethal situations. My personal view, based on my own experience, is that African-Americans – not all African-Americans, but young black men – are likely to be viewed by police as more dangerous than whites and are therefore treated with less respect, more dominance, and greater fear than whites. That is a serious issue that I will tackle some day in the future.
But as to the assumption that African-Americans are more likely to be killed by police, the data says otherwise. In fact, it says quite the opposite. So that should be good news to anyone that, like me, has long believed the myth that the mainstream media and left-leaning academics and think tanks continue to propagate.
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For a look back at the stock market, click here.