Q&A – Are We Missing Martin Luther King’s Point?

Today’s entry: I have heard that blacks are killed by cops more per capita (their population) than any other race. But I also see that blacks kill police at a higher rate (per capita) than any other race, and that ratio is actually higher. Is this true?

Bottom Line: The top cause of death for police officers for two years running has been murder. So far this year, 95 officers have died in the line of duty. That’s a 51% increase from this time a year ago. Those are facts. And as always, that I feel it is most important in this conversation. Every day is a potentially dangerous day and this year has proven to be far more dangerous than most for those who leave their families, put on a badge, and hit the streets not knowing what’s next. 

While the murder of George Floyd has largely been presented through the narrative of race, supported by known historical injustices against blacks in this country, we don’t actually know if race was a motivating factor in the murder of George Floyd. Perhaps we’ll learn more during the legal proceedings. We know that Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd and we know three other officers let it happen, everything else is an assumption. Likewise, I can answer your question and I've received many that are similar but what does it really accomplish? It wouldn’t justify the needless death of Floyd and it wouldn't ease perceived or real racial injustice.

Flipping the coin on the racial conversation, do we know if white police officers who are murdered by blacks are murdered because of race or simply because they’re police officers who happened to be white? With that said, here are the facts. Annually the FBI produces a report on line of duty deaths. The most recent is from 2019, and they found that 84% of victims were Hispanic/white and 13% were black.

So how does that compare to the racial composition of law enforcement generally? 77% of law enforcement is Hispanic/White, 13% is Black. Black officers were killed at a rate that’s equal to their representation on the force. Hispanic/White officers were 9% more likely to be killed than their representation on the force. Now, to the question of citizens who are killed by law enforcement. During conflicts that result in lethal force being used by law enforcement, 23% of the time the person is black. This compares to 12% of the population that’s black. This means that a black person is nearly twice as likely to be killed in conflict with police and likewise, police are nearly twice as likely to be killed by a black person, regardless of the race of the members of law enforcement. 

Now that you have the answers, I’ll revert back to where I started. Can we say that Hispanic or White officers are slightly more at risk of becoming victims than black officers? Yes. Can we say that disproportionately blacks have killed police officers? Yes. Can we say that blacks are far more likely to be on the receiving end of lethal force from law enforcement? Yes. What did we just accomplish? When it comes to matters of race, I’m consistently old-fashioned. MLK is frequently cited but based on my observations, seldom listen. Paraphrasing his most meaningful but under applied line. We should judge people by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. Conversations like these demonstrate how far we have to go as a society. 

Submit your questions using one of these methods. 

Email: brianmudd@iheartmedia.com

Twitter: @brianmuddradio

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Photo by: Getty Images

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