Who kills the police?

By Abraham H. Miller

Put “race of people shooting police” into Google and you will get page after page of the opposite results: the race or ethnicity of people shot by police.

This is obviously no accident.  The media narrative is that police shoot people, mostly minorities, without justification.

The question of who shoots the police is one that the larger society is generally afraid to ask.  To ask that question might shed a different light on whom the police shoot because it would put the question into a larger context about criminality.

For the “defund the police” crowd and the progressive minions of distributive and restorative justice, it would undermine an empowering narrative that has enabled them to shackle the police while letting criminals run free without bail and being rewarded with pleas to lower offenses.null

For as long as the police and the “system” can be viewed as victimizing minorities, these minorities can be viewed as victims and not criminals.


The data on who kills police are tracked by the FBI in its Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted program (LEOK).  Year-to-year aggregations appear difficult to obtain, and the data I found are from 1980 to 2013, as compiled from LEOK by the Washington Post.

During this period, there were 2,269 officers killed in what is described as felonious incidents, which are deaths in the line of duty occurring from criminal acts.  There were 2,896 offenders.  Of the people who killed police, 52% were white, and 41% were black.null

The Post article concluded from this that whites were more likely to kill police than are blacks.  This observation, regrettably, shows either a commitment to a phony narrative or why journalist students have a difficult time getting through a basic course in statistics.

Consider that whites were approximately 70% of the population during this period, while blacks were approximately 12%.  White people were 18% less likely to kill a police officer than their distribution in the population, while black people were 29% more likely to kill a police officer than their distribution in the population.  Put another way, black people were almost 2.5 times more likely to kill a police officer than would be expected from their distribution in the population.

Police officers are not ignorant of who kills them.  Police funerals are attended by officers from departments across state lines, and police are well acquainted with officers being memorialized.null


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Moreover, it is not white supremacists calling for killing cops.  “Off the pigs” goes back to the Black Panther days of the 1960s.  In 2015, protesters in St. Paul, Minnesota were holding a Black Lives Matter banner and chanting, “Pigs in a blanket, fry ’em like bacon.”  You did not need a degree in criminal justice to understand what they meant, albeit the obvious meaning was subsequently denied by BLM spokespersons and major media outlets.

In the wake of Minneapolis police officer Kim Porter shooting Daunte Wright, one protester carried a pig’s head on a spike.  None of his fellow protesters found this obscene. 

If that message wasn’t clear, the firebombing of a police union hall in Portland and the rioters in Washington, D.C. chanting “burn the precinct to the ground” should have clarified it.null

We are taught not to think in terms of collective guilt when it comes to identity groups, but when it comes to the police, the tragic behavior of some police is interpreted as representing all police.

Like lynchings in the Jim Crow South, if one police officer is at fault, then all are not only equally culpable but also legitimate targets of revenge.  How else does one explain the assassinations of police sitting in patrol cars hundreds of miles from the scene of any protest?

So if you’re a cop and you encounter a black person, your radar is going to start buzzing in a way that it won’t if you encounter a white person.

According to Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJDP for 2019) statistics for all ages, blacks are responsible for 37% of all violent crimes, 60% of all murders, 53% of all burglaries, and 42% of all illegal weapons possessions, even though they are about 12% of the population.null

Contrast that with Asians, who are six percent of the population and 1.6 percent of the crime rate.  Moreover, Asians have a 5% higher poverty rate than blacks.

Obviously, the causes of criminal behavior are complex, controversial, and highly dependent on environmental and opportunistic factors.  In addition, criminal justice statistics are based on arrests, and arrests can be subject to discretion and reflection of police bias.

But cops on the street are not there to deal with root causes.  Their perceptions of any situation are based not only on individual experience but also on the shared experiences of other officers.  Consequently, cops, like the rest of us, make judgments honed from experience and perceptions of how society works.

To expect anything else is to expect police not to be human beings.  Bromides about professionalism and training pale in comparison to gut instincts about survival.

If you stop someone whose demographic characteristics suggest a disproportionate involvement in criminal activities and illegal weapons possession, as well as a likelihood of killing you, your mindset is going to be influenced by that perception.null

In a world where we have been made increasingly sensitive to identity and identity issues, how could it be otherwise?  After all, in university sensitivity sessions, if we see each other for our common humanity instead of our racial differences, we are racists by absurd definition.

The conflict between minority communities and the police is untenable and unacceptable.  Police need to be made aware of policing bias, and minority communities need to be made aware that vilifying the police, resisting arrest, and killing officers will enhance the likelihood of tragedies on both sides.

Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati, and a distinguished fellow with the Haym Solomon Center.


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