Dallas and dueling statistics

About 40 people from the Illinois NAACP and Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police gathered in Bloomington on May 10, 2016, to advance the dialogue between law enforcement and black leaders.
About 40 people from the Illinois NAACP and Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police gathered in Bloomington on May 10, 2016, to advance the dialogue between law enforcement and black leaders.

THE FEW DAYS AFTER the shooting of police officers in Dallas on July 7, followed by the Baton Rouge shooting ten days later, were unlike any I’ve had as association executive director. We were flooded with media calls, and our Board of Officers and other members stepped up to offer their perspectives. President Steven Casstevens issued a statement of solidarity with our brothers and sisters in law enforcement throughout the country, with the reminder that “we must continue to build trust [in our communities], most often out of the spotlight and out of the news.”

What struck me more than anything was the flood of statistics pouring out. Actually, not so much the stats, but how people were spinning them. It felt to law enforcement that reporters and critics were eager to spread a negative narrative that the police target black people. We know that’s not true, but it’s hard to battle this tsunami of oft-repeated falsehoods.

The New York Times and Washington Post published data with evidence to support what we believe.

From the New York Times (July 12, 2016), citing a new study by Roland G. Fryer Jr., professor of economics at Harvard, who examined more than 1,000 shootings in 10 major police departments, in Texas, Florida and California: “[W]hen it comes to the most lethal form of force — police shootings — the study finds no racial bias.”

From the Washington Post (July 11, 2016): “In 2015, the Washington Post launched a real-time database to track fatal police shootings, and the project continues this year. As of Sunday [July 10, 2016], 1,502 people have been shot and killed by on-duty police officers since Jan. 1, 2015. Of them, 732 were white, and 381 were black (and 382 were of another or unknown race).”

Those are facts, and make good talking points:

  • The New York Times found no racial bias in police shootings in a recent study.
  • Cops shoot and kill many more whites than blacks, and nearly all of these shootings are justified.

To those arguments, some immediately say “Yes but…” and then cite other data. The biggest trouble with all of this is that a presentation of dueling data is not going to fix anything. It’s why the Illinois Chiefs’ association has been proactive the past two years in reaching out to the Illinois NAACP and building relationships. We’ve met in Evanston, Bloomington and Springfield, and the conversations have been good. We are learning to trust each other. Watch the Weekly Bulletin and other communications for how we will build upon these conversations.

Chief Terrence Cunningham of Massachusetts, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said in a webinar for members July 18 that to a certain extent, facts and data no longer matter because the national discussion has become so emotional. Dueling data drives people to their corners, he said, and if that happens we’ll never get to the middle where the real conversations have to happen.

In Illinois, we’re making some positive steps. We are having the right conversations, candid discussions, and we have to continue:

  • Reaching out and building relationships.
  • Implementing programs on community policing and procedural justice. (These are not new concepts, but they still seem new to non-law enforcement community leaders with whom we collaborate.)
  • Letting NAACP and other community leaders know, unequivocally, that we’re interested in building trust and relationships and keeping all of our citizens safe.

That’s what it will take for police to be a source of healing in the communities we serve and protect. What do we all want? Good relationships between police and communities, and we in law enforcement are in this for the long haul.

Raw

This is a day when cliches don’t work. They aren’t enough.

I got a one-sentence note from a black friend yesterday who said, “We are in a crisis again.” He was referring to the deaths of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Minnesota.

That was before the Dallas shootings last night. Five police officers killed in the line of duty.

I watched video online yesterday and again this morning, and on the news last light.

I think it’s OK just to be raw for awhile. Overreactions, quick reactions, and public “statements” don’t relieve the swirling pain.