Harvard study: no racial differences in police shootings

Marlo Safi
Pennsylvania Campus Correspondent

  • Blacks were actually slightly less likely to be shot at by police officers, though they did face a higher amount of non-lethal force, such as tazing.
  • A recently released Harvard study suggests there’s no racial bias in police shootings.

    The study—which was released on Monday in the aftermath of the shooting deaths of two black males and five Dallas, Texas police officers—is said by the author to be “the most surprising result” of his career, according to Lifezette.

    "It is plausible that racial differences in lower level uses of force are simply a distraction..."   

    Roland G. Fryer Jr., the African American author of the study and a Harvard economics professor, examined shootings and use of force incidents in 10 major police department in Texas and Florida, as well as the Los Angeles Police Department.

    "In the most extreme use of force--officer involved shootings--we find no racial differences in either the raw data or when contextual factors are taken into account," the report's abstract states.

    "We cannot reject the null of no discrimination in officer-involved shootings," the study goes on to report, though it earlier warns that there are "several important caveats" with its results.

    "First, all but one dataset was provided by a select group of police departments. It is possible that these departments only supplied the data because they are either enlightened or were not concerned about what the analysis would reveal. In essence, this is equivalent to analyzing labor market discrimination on a set of firms willing to supply a researcher with their Human Resources data!"

    Blacks and whites were equally likely to have been carrying a weapon, and the study found police didn’t use racial bias to dictate whether or not they shot. The study did find, however, that police were more likely to use other forms of force, such as pepper spray, the use of hands, and pointing their weapons, on black civilians.

    "It is plausible that racial differences in lower level uses of force are simply a distraction and movements such as Black Lives Matter should seek solutions within their own communities rather than changing the behaviors of police and other external forces," the conclusion states. 

    Fryer, who was troubled by the shooting deaths of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray, launched the study to better understand what was really “going on when it comes to racial differences in police use of force”.

    After focusing on Houston specifically, Fryer also found that officers were nearly 24 percent less likely to shoot if the suspects were black as opposed to white. Examining the timing of the shootings and the number of bullets discharged revealed "no detectable racial differences."

    "You know, protesting is not my thing," Fryer said. "But data is my thing. So I decided that I was going to collect a bunch of data and try to understand what really is going on when it comes to racial differences in police use of force."

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    Marlo Safi

    Marlo Safi

    Pennsylvania Campus Correspondent

    Marlo Safi is a Pennsylvania Campus Correspondent, and reports liberal bias and abuse on campus for Campus Reform. She attends the University of Pittsburgh, where she studies Pre-Law, Psychology and Political Science and serves as a columnist for her student newspaper, The Pitt News.

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