Why They Kneel: Are White Cops Worse?

Illustration for article titled Why They Kneel: Are White Cops Worse?
Image: The Root/FMG

To examine the injustice and inequality that prompted some NFL players to protest during the national anthem, each week, for the remainder of the NFL season, The Root will explore the data behind racial disparities in the two cities represented in the National Football League’s premiere matchup—Monday Night Football.


Tonight, the New Orleans Saints travel to Charlotte, N.C., to take on the New Orleans Saints.

Are cops racist or are they just dangerous? Do all cops present an existential threat to black civilians, or is it just white cops?

By now, it is impossible to argue about that police don’t disproportionately shoot and kill more black people; you’ve likely heard all the convoluted reasons why this continues to happen.

Black people commit more crime. It’s implicit bias. Cops need more de-escalation training. Black people have a magnetic attraction to bullets. Something, something ... implicit bias. Plus, you know how sometimes you mistake your wallet or cell phone for a gun?

That part, too.

Every relevant, peer-reviewed examination proves that fact that police violence is particularly harmful towards black people. But is this just a result of crime rates, socioeconomics or lack of police training? Can it simply be a byproduct of racism? Furthermore, while the narrative of white police officers shooting black men and women is ubiquitous, is it even true?


Tonight’s NFL matchup between the Panthers and the Saints present us with the rare opportunity to juxtapose two cities with very different populations. Comparing police data from Charlotte’s slightly higher white population to New Orleans’ majority black citizenry may finally provide the answer to this question:

Are white cops worse?

Spoiler alert: In Charlotte, N.C., white cops are nearly twice as likely to shoot a citizen than a black police officer.


Although Charlotte is about 43 percent white and 35 percent black, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department is 74 percent white, 17 percent African American, 4 percent Hispanic, 2 percent Asian and less than 1 percent Native American, according to the city’s data.

Using the CMPD’s officer-involved shooting database and the police department’s employee demographics breakdown, we combined the city’s demographic datasets for officers and for victims of polices shootings. Although the city doesn’t combine the statistics, we used the case numbers to match the race, years of service and the race of the victim for every police shooting in the Queen City for the last 13 years.


Here’s what we found:

  • White police officers shoot more: 81.3 percent of the 107 officer-involved shootings between 2005 and Nov. 27, 2018, was committed by a white police officer, compared to 10 percent that was committed by black officers.
  • Charlotte’s white cops shoot more black people: 67 percent of shooting victims of white officers were black, which was 13 percentage points higher than the black victims shot by black officers.
  • Experience seems to have little to do with police shootings: White CMPD officers involved in on-duty shootings average 8.35 years on the force, while black officers who shot citizens averaged about six and a half years on the job.
  • White officers violate policy more often: Of the eight cops who committed officer-involved shootings were deemed to have violated department policy, only one was black.
  • As usual, it’s worse when you’re black: White police officers in Charlotte are 1.83 times more likely to shoot a civilian, and four times more likely to shoot a black civilian.

Are Cops in The Big Easy Easier on Blacks?

New Orleans is blackity-black, so, of course, cops aren’t racist, right?

The city of New Orleans is 60 percent black, 30 percent white and is one of the rare cities whose demographics is reflected in the makeup of the city’s police department, which is 57 percent black and 37 percent white, according to the Advocate.


New Orleans’ Police Department’s data is much different than Charlotte’s. The city reports every single use of force, from grabbing an arm to firing a weapon. It doesn’t single out officer-involved shootings, so instead, we only looked at occasions where police discharged a firearm and level 4 incidents, described in the NOPD manual as “serious uses of force” including:

1. All uses of lethal force by an NOPD officer

2. All critical firearm discharges by an NOPD officer

3. All uses of force by an NOPD officer resulting in serious physical injury or requiring hospitalization

4. All neck holds

5. All uses of force by an NOPD officer resulting in a loss of consciousness

6. All canine bites

7. More than two applications of a Taser or conducted electrical weapon on an individual during a single interaction

8. Any strike, blow, kick, CEW application, or similar use of force against a handcuffed subject

9. Any vehicle pursuit resulting in death, serious physical injury or injuries requiring hospitalization.


Still, the city’s white cops are slightly overrepresented in the number of police shootings. Here’s what we found when we looked at the most serious uses of force between 2016 and 2018:

  • White cops used force disproportionately: 41 percent of the cops who committed the most serious uses of force were white, even though they only are only 37 percent of the NOPD.
  • Disproportionately, black officer use force less often: Black cops make up 57 percent of the force but committed a disproportionately lower percentage (48 percent) of the Level 4 offenses.
  • White Cops used more force on black civilians: 91 percent of the people who received level 4 force from white cops were black, compared to 77 percent for black cops, which is still a high number.
  • White people don’t have to worry: Even in a majority black city with a majority black police force, police were still five times more likely to use the highest level of force on black New Orleanians.

While one shouldn’t draw psychological and sociological conclusions from data, when you look at the statistics from Charlotte and New Orleans, the answer is unavoidable: All things being equal, the two factors that best predict whether a cop in New Orleans or Charlotte will use deadly force on a civilian are the race of the citizen and the race of the officer.


There may be other factors, but in Charlotte, the factor of race is even a better predictor than whether or not the suspect was intoxicated or even if the civilian had a weapon.

So I’m not saying that white cops are more dangerous, more racist or worse than cops of any other ethnicity ...


The numbers say it loud and clear.

This is why they kneel.

World-renowned wypipologist. Getter and doer of "it." Never reneged, never will. Last real negus alive.



...I’m kinda surprised you had to ask, even if rhetorically.