Do Black Lives Matter?

In the aftermath of Ferguson, and after the death of Eric Garner in New York City, “Black Lives Matter” has become a rallying cry for protesters. The slogan’s overt accusation is that whites and so-called white institutions, such as police departments and government in general, don’t value the lives of black citizens.

Let’s first examine the claim that police officers don’t value black lives. The protesters would have us believe there is an epidemic of police killing blacks. Is there?

Do Black Lives Matter to Law Enforcement?

Reliable statistics on police shootings are hard to come by, as there is apparently no national database. Possibly the best statistics are kept by the Centers for Disease Controland Prevention (CDC), which tracks the number of deaths by “legal intervention”, i.e. killings by individuals who are legally authorized to use deadly force in the line of duty.

Between 1999 and 2007 (the most recent year for which the CDC’s online form allowed me to request data), there were 0.29 per 100,000 legal intervention killings of blacks. Over that same time period, there were 0.12 per 100,000 legal intervention killings of whites.

Another website able to obtain more recent CDC data found that between 1999 and 2011 there were 2,151 whites and 1,130 blacks killed by legal intervention.

Given these numbers, if you account for the higher national white population, blacks are indeed killed by cops at a higher rate than whites are, as much as three times higher. Is this because cops value black lives less? Or is there some other explanation?

A 2004 report by the federal Bureau of Justice (BJS) finds that “blacks were 12% of the adult population, but 38% of convicted felons.” The disparity grows when looking at convictions for violent crime (39% black), drug offenses (46% black), and illegal weapon possession (55% black) — felonies that are more likely to result in police confrontations involving deadly force.

Some try to claim that the higher per capita black convictions are due to police and prosecutor discrimination against blacks. That is simply not the case. Multiple studies over the last few decades have shown that “there has not been any noticeable disparity in black vs white crime statistics in black-controlled vs white-controlled cities (say Atlanta vs San Diego).” In fact, “in the largest counties, the rates of conviction for accused blacks was slightly less than the conviction rates for whites.” [ref]

Conviction rates aside, overall crime statistics show that the black per capita crime rate, particularly the commission of violent crimes and other crimes likely to result in deadly confrontations with police, is much higher than that of whites.

Between 1980 and 2008, the US Department of Justice reports that blacks committed 52.5% of homicides, compared to 45.3% for whites (including Hispanics). Taking population size into account, blacks murdered at a rate eight times higher than whites plus Hispanics. The rate of black murder victims is also much higher, six times that of whites, with blacks killing 93% of black homicide victims.

FBI statistics for 2011 also show a large homicide disparity, with blacks murdering at a rate 5.96 times higher than whites (again, including Hispanics). In every other crime category blacks had higher per capita rates than whites. Overall, the per capita rate of black crime was 2.35 times higher than white crime, with the largest differences occurring in crime categories that you would expect to be more likely to result in pursuit by and confrontation with police. Here is a table showing some of the 2011 FBI statistics:

Offense charged White Black
Total per 100K Total per 100K
Robbery 82,436 35,443 0.35 45,827 2.63
Murder and nonnegligent manslaughter 8,341 4,000 0.04 4,149 0.24
Weapons; carrying, possessing, etc. 117,820 68,453 0.68 47,515 2.73
Motor vehicle theft 50,902 32,575 0.33 17,250 0.99
Aggravated assault 305,220 194,981 1.95 102,597 5.89
Forcible rape 14,611 9,504 0.10 4,811 0.28
Stolen property; buying, receiving, possessing 71,727 47,434 0.47 23,191 1.33
Other assaults 952,421 625,330 6.25 304,083 17.46
TOTAL 9,499,725 6,578,133 65.78 2,697,539 154.91

More blacks (per capita) die as victims of “legal intervention” (at the hands of cops) than whites, simply because blacks are committing violent crimes at rates much higher than whites. The epidemic isn’t one of white police officers killing blacks, it is one of blacks committing crime.

Given the statistical facts we have reviewed (and more we don’t have time to review — none of the stats mentioned are anomalies), there is zero evidence of black lives not mattering to law enforcement.

On the contrary, law enforcement personnel — white cops, black cops, Hispanic cops, cops of all races — put their own lives on the line day in and day out to preserve black lives. And I’m sure that a look at police force deployment and expenditures would reveal that disproportionate numbers are dedicated to keeping the peace in black neighborhoods, due to their high crime rate.

Suppose we were to remove law enforcement from high crime-rate black neighborhoods? Would fewer blacks die?

Do Black Lives Matter to Government?

Given the fact that government in the United States is behemoth, with so may aspects and agencies, I’m going to briefly look at just two areas of government involvement with blacks that I think are telling: educational spending and welfare assistance statistics.

A 2011 study of public education spending, based on U.S. Department of Education data, found that, adjusted for cost of living, public education expenditures for white and black students were approximately equal, with just one percent more spent on blacks than whites. Without adjusting for cost of living, spending for black public school students was five percent higher than for whites.

Given these public education spending figures, I have to conclude that the government’s public education system values black lives equal to, or perhaps slightly more than, white lives.

What about government welfare assistance? As of July 8th, 2014,there were 12,800,000 Americans on welfare. Of these, nearly 40% — just over 5 million — were black Americans. With a 2014 population of approximately 45 million, just over 11% of black Americans were on welfare, compared to about two percent of approximately 245 million white Americans.

With a welfare recipient rate five to six times higher than that of whites, it is clear that black lives matter to government, no? Certainly that’s the conclusion that so-called liberals and progressives would arrive at, while at the same time crowing about their largess and liberality (with other people’s money, of course). This is a big topic for another time, but I would argue that the more blacks — or whites, Hispanics or whoever — that are on welfare, the less their lives matter to society at large.

Do Black Lives Matter to Blacks?

We’ve already looked at the high crime rates among blacks, and we’ve found that over 90 percent of blacks murdered are murdered by blacks. This is indicative that perhaps black lives don’t matter enough to blacks. Other statistics point to the same conclusion.

For example, in 2012 there were 6,493,000 black children living in a single-parent home. Sixty-seven percent! The vast majority of these single parents are women, and “the lack of live-in fathers … is overwhelmingly a black problem.” [ref]  While I don’t doubt that most of these single parents are doing the best they can, and many I am sure are wonderful parents, it is no wonder that the crime rate among blacks is high.

How much do the lives of these black children matter to their missing parent (usually the father)? In practical terms: Not very much.

The preponderance of single black mothers is partly explained by the fact that black teenage girls are becoming pregnant and having children at a rate nearly twice as high as white teenage girls [ref]. The consequences of such a high rate of teenage motherhood are decidedly negative.

Studies find that “…even after accounting for the fact that teen mothers tend to be from disadvantaged backgrounds, teen parenthood is linked to greater welfare dependence soon after birth, and to poorer long-term educational outcomes, as well as instability in family structure. Moreover, research finds that children of teen mothers fare worse on cognitive and behavioral outcomes than their peers with older mothers.” [ref]

Again, it is no wonder that the crime rate among blacks is high, and that, consequently, the rate of blacks killed by law enforcement is also high, relative to that of whites.

The Final Analysis: Do Black Lives Matter?

Of course black lives matter. Just as white lives matter. Just as the lives of all people, regardless of race, matter. Frankly, it is preposterous to look at the value of a life through racially-tinted glasses of any shade.

From a faith-based perspective, all people, regardless of race or nationality, are children of God, and, at the most basic level, are loved and valued by Him. To God, we all matter.

Yet, at the same time, each individual’s value to those around him or her, to society generally, and to God in a practical measure, is totally dependent on his or her own efforts, accomplishments and contributions.

Remember the parable of the talents in Matthew, chapter 25? The master gave talents to each of his servants according to their ability. One who got five, utilized his five to garner another five. One who received two, gained another two. But a servant who was given one talent did nothing to increase it. Those who multiplied their talents were praised and rewarded, while the one who did nothing was rebuked, stripped of the talent he had, condemned and cast out.

This parable applies to all people, regardless of religion or race. Our lives matter only to the extent that we make them matter.

To the protesters using their “Black Lives Matter” slogan to claim that black lives don’t matter to law enforcement or government, I say: Where is the evidence? I see nothing substantial to support their claim. What I do see, with high crime rates, high rates of black-on-black violent crime and murder, high rates of teenage pregnancies, high rates of paternal abandonment, and high rates of welfare assistance, is that black lives don’t matter enough to blacks.