Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Gun Rights and Wrongs (Part 4)

Surveillance cameras and cell-phone cameras are ubiquitous. They have documented some cases of unjustified police killings of Black men.  I think this additional scrutiny is good!

      Part 4 - Aggressive Police Tactics
"Stop, Question (and Optionally Frisk)" has a disproportionate effect on Blacks, but it has been shown to save proportionately more Black than White lives.

We are in the midst of a technological revolution that will only accelerate, whether we like it or not. I happen to like it (mostly) but it does not matter what you or I think, it is happening and will continue to accelerate.

As a result, surveillance cameras and cell-phone cameras are ubiquitous. Hardly any event can happen in a public place without being captured by photos and videos.  

The graphic above depicts some of the locations under surveillance. 

The box with the red outline is a screen grab from an October 20, 2014, 9:57:33 PM Chicago police car dash cam. This video, which did not come to light for over a year (apparently due to political influence related to the re-election of Chicago Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel) shows a young Black man, apparently under the influence of some substance, walking down the middle of a two-lane roadway. 

He is blatantly ignoring requests from multiple police officers to give himself up. However, he is nearly a full lane from the nearest police officer or vehicle, and is walking straight down the roadway, neither towards nor away from the officers. There is no evidence that he threatened the officers with any weapon.

Then we see one of the officers riddle him with a barrage of bullets, resulting in his death. 

While I am sympathetic with the police officers, who apparently had been pursuing him for some time and were frustrated by his actions and attitude, there is no proper legal excuse for shooting him. (Even if it may be true that "the world will be better off without this kind of rebellious kid" the police must not take the law into their own hands. Even if you believe they should in some cases, the possibility of a video being taken and publicized and causing irreparable damage to the reputation of police and used as an excuse for riot and pillage, is why police caught doing so must be severely punished.)

Prior to the above incident, the media reported a series of fatal shootings of unarmed Black men, perhaps starting with wall-to-wall coverage of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, on August 9, 2014.

Fairly early in the reporting, a convenience store surveillance video was released showing that, prior to the police encounter that resulted in his death, Brown had stolen several packages of cigarillos and that he was a large man who shoved a relatively small store clerk who had tried to stop him from leaving the store. 

Unfortunately, there are no videos of Brown's encounter with Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. The best evidence, based on conflicting eyewitness reports, is that Officer Wilson used his police cruiser to block Brown and his friend, who were walking down the middle of the roadway. Brown then reached into the cruiser and struggled with Wilson, resulting in the discharge of Wilson's gun, with no one injured.  Brown fled, with Wilson in pursuit. During the pursuit, Brown stopped, turned towards Wilson, moved towards the officer, and was fatally shot.

The media reported conflicting accounts that Brown was shot while running away (false) or that he was facing Wilson and had his hands up and cried "don't shoot" just before he was shot (also false).
On March 4, 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice reported the conclusion of its own investigation and cleared Wilson of civil rights violations in the shooting. It found that witnesses who corroborated the officer's account were credible, and it was also supported by forensic evidence. Witnesses who had incriminated him were not credible, including some who admitted they had not directly seen the events. According to the evidence, Wilson shot Michael Brown in self-defense. [From Wikipedia]
The "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" narrative was selected as one of the most blatant "Four-Pinnochios" of 2015 by the  Washington Post.

As the above graphic indicates, the statistics are quite disturbing. Young (20-24 years old) Black men are nearly five times more likely to die in a gun homicide than a White man in the same age range! Over 90% of Black homicide victims were done in by Blacks (the figure for Whites killing Whites is over 80%). At its peak around 1993, about 180 young Black men per 100,000 died in gun homicides, while the figure for all young men was around 40, a ratio of 4.5. By 2011 gun death rates for young Black men had declined to 40 and for all young men to about 20, a ratio of 4. 

Another startling difference is that, while only about 34% of all gun deaths are ruled homicides, 82% of Black gun deaths are so ruled. That means only 18% of Black gun deaths are due to accident or suicide, while 66% of all gun deaths are so ruled. Either that, or officials are more likely to attribute Black deaths to homicide.

These statistics cry out that, if "Black lives matter" (which they certainly do, along with all human lives), the best way to save Black lives would be to reduce gun homicides. How to reduce gun homicides?


Starting in the 1990's in New York City, a "zero tolerance" policy was adopted and the controversial "stop, question, and optionally frisk" tactic was imposed in high crime areas. Police officers who suspected individuals walking or loitering in these areas were up to no good, were given the authority to stop and question them, and, if the questioning caused them to suspect a weapon, to frisk the suspect. 

These stops peaked at nearly 700,000 in 2011. Statistics from 2008 reveal that 53% of those stopped were Black, even though Blacks constitute only about 25% of the New York City demographic. Thus, Blacks were over twice as likely to be stopped as Whites. 

Opponents of the program were concerned by the racial disparity, and they were outraged when the statistics showed that less than 3% of the stops found contraband or weapons, and only 0.15% found guns. Does it make sense to target and inconvenience 500,000 people a year, nearly all of whom are totally innocent, to find just 750 guns? 

Proponents of "Stop, Question, and Optionally Frisk" point out that the racial disparity is due to the fact that Blacks are more likely to live in high crime areas. Furthermore, the low yield of guns, knives and other contraband is beside the point, because the purpose of the stops is not to seize guns or contraband, but to discourage criminals from illegally carrying these dangerous items. Furthermore, getting 750 illegal guns, along with 7,000 knives and 8,500 items of contraband off the streets of high crime areas is a valuable result.

I liken the stop program to the inconvenience those of us who fly have to put up with at airport security.  Millions are searched, and if no guns are found, that counts as success, because the purpose of airport security is not to seize guns, but to keep travelers from trying to bring them onto airplanes in the first place.

The so-called "Ferguson Effect", a reaction to well-publicized killings of unarmed Black men, has caused officials and individual police officers to become less aggressive in enforcing the law. Ironically, this has resulted in proportionately more Black deaths.

In 2013 a U. S. District Court Judge ruled the New York City "stop, question, and optionally frisk" tactic unconstitutional, and, in 2014, the newly-elected uber-Liberal Mayor curtailed the stops. 

In 2014, due to the furor over the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, and the deaths of other unarmed Black men at the hands of police, a phenomenon that has come to be called the "Ferguson Effect" occurred. Police officers, concerned about getting caught on video, became less aggressive. The results were tragic and predictable!

The above graphic reproduces a New York Daily News headline from June 2015 and a New York Times headline from December 2015. 

New York Daily NewsAs the number of stops fell in New York City, murders spiked 19.5%, and the number of shooting incidents went up 9%. I don't have the racial breakdown for the additional crime victims, but, sadly, we can be sure they are disproportionately Black.

New York TimesNationally, according to FBI Director Comey, the additional scrutiny and criticism of police officers has led to an increase in violent crime. Not said, but certainly true, the victims are disproportionately Black.

Ira Glickstein

Back to MAIN MENU 

Part 1 - The Problem. Is it too many restrictive gun LAWS, too many GUNS, or too many gun HOMICIDES?

Part 2 - New Technology. Might "UltraSmart" gun technology, that allows only Authorized Users to fire the gun, help address part of the problem?

Part 3 - Absolute Liability. Within the context of the Constitutional Second Amendment "right to bear arms", could gun owners, over time, voluntarily adopt "UltraSmart" guns, to mitigate the financial liability risks of owning conventional guns?

Part 4 - Aggressive Police Tactics. "Stop, Question (and Optionally Frisk)" has a disproportionate effect on Blacks, but it has been shown to save proportionately more Black than White lives.

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