Progressives Overstate Police Killings, Fueling Opposition to Cops on Campus

Why are progressives so angry at the police, to the point where a significant minority of them want to abolish the police? Because they vastly overstate the number of police shootings of unarmed black people, often by a factor of 40 or more—exaggerating police killings by around 4,000 percent. That leads some of them to falsely believe that police are literally hunting black people, when police are not doing anything of the sort.

As researcher Zach Goldberg notes, “A recent nationally representative survey commissioned by Skeptic Mag asked respondents to estimate the number of unarmed blacks killed by police in 2019. Overall, 44% of liberals guessed 1,000 or more.” But “the actual figure is 27,” according “to the Mapping Police Violence database,” which includes killings by off-duty cops and non-shooting deaths. Moreover, “the average liberal respondent also thought that a clear majority of people killed by police in 2019 were black (in actuality, roughly a quarter were).”

In 2019, 9 unarmed black people were shot and killed by police while on duty, compared with 19 whites, in a country of over 330 million people. A study by the black Harvard economist Roland Fryer found that race is not a significant factor in police shootings.

Yet progressive journalists constantly leave the impression with some readers that police are routinely killing unarmed black men. As a result, some progressives come to believe that the police are literally hunting black men. Kim Crockett, who is the general counsel of a midwestern think-tank, encountered that delusion when she wrote about a police shooting by a cop who legitimately feared for his own life: “I mentioned to a relative that I was writing about Ferguson, saying I was disturbed that our country was being rocked by a movement based on a false narrative. As if on cue, she responded angrily, ‘Look, I don’t remember the details but all I know is there are millions of black people being hunted down and murdered by the police.’ She then accused me of ‘white privilege,’ quickly shutting down the conversation.”

Crockett was writing about the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The media, such as CNN, had widely disseminated the false claim that Brown was murdered after saying “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot.” That false claim triggered rioting, looting, and arson in cities such as Ferguson.

But later, the media quietly repudiated that claim, admitting that “‘Hands up, don’t shoot’ was built on a lie.” The Washington Post reluctantly reported in 2015 that Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson “was justified in shooting Brown,” according to the Civil Rights Division of the Obama Justice Department. “It was reasonable for police Officer Darren Wilson to be afraid of Michael Brown in their encounter last summer, a Justice Department investigation concluded,” admitted the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The Civil Rights Division’s report detailed how both physical evidence and “credible” witnesses supported Officer Wilson’s version of the incident. On page 82, the report noted that “the shots fired” by Wilson after Michael “Brown turned around were in self-defense.” Indeed, “several of” the mostly black “witnesses stated that they would have … responded” as the police officer did.

But the false narrative of police hunting and killing black people is the dominant one on college campuses, and that has resulted in a very hostile attitude toward the police by college students:

A whopping 94 percent of Democratic college students surveyed recently responded that they support defunding the police, according to a recent online College Fix poll of 1,500 college students nationwide.

What’s more, 61 percent of Democratic college students polled responded that rioting and looting are legitimate forms of protest against racial discrimination and police brutality in America today, the results show.

At Cornell, student government members expelled peers who opposed disarming the police. At many universities, left-wing student groups now advocate abolishing the police in general, or banning police from campus.

Contrary to what some progressives may think, blacks are not in special danger from whites. As a black attorney noted in the National Review, “Between 2012 and 2015, blacks committed 85.5 percent of all black-white interracial violent victimizations…That works out to 540,360 felonious assaults on whites. Whites committed 14.4 percent of all interracial violent victimizations.” Thus, “blacks aren’t being ‘hunted’ by whites.”


Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Liberty Unyielding on February 23, 2021 and is crossposted here with permission.

Image: Nathan Dumlao, Public Domain

Hans Bader

Hans Bader

Hans Bader is a senior attorney at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

One thought on “Progressives Overstate Police Killings, Fueling Opposition to Cops on Campus”

  1. This is why the absolutist view of free speech — that ALL speech must be defended — is so terribly important.

    After all, Chicago officials really weren’t worried about a Nazi rally in a park — their concern was that if thew Nazis could so it, the Cook County Republican Party might want to do so as well….

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