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 Tennesee Titans travel to Houston to take on the Texans.
Whenever one cites the endless number of studies to reference data that shows the disparate number of police shootings that involve black men, the people who are willing to hopscotch over dead black bodies to defend law enforcement always point to the lone study that disproves the myth of racism and police brutality. There is only one.
In 2016 celebrated Harvard economist Roland Fryer published An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force. Fryer’s reputation preceded him, prompting every news outlet in the world to report his findings which concluded that cops do not disproportionately kill black citizens. Even the New York Times ran a headline that said: “Surprising New Evidence Finds Bias in Police Use of Force But Not In Shootings.”
Since that day, conservatives and Blue Lives Matter proponents trot out Fryer’s findings every time they want to counter the narrative that police shoot black people more often. There was only one problem:
Fryer was wrong.
Although most trained economists, including myself, have dismissed the study for a number of reasons (it relied on a small sample size, it was not peer-reviewed, it doesn’t factor in that blacks are stopped by police at higher percentages) the biggest reason that Fryer’s study should have been printed on clown stationery is that he relied heavily on data from the Houston Police Department to determine if cops shot more black people, including whether the use of force was justified.
But in spite of the fact that Houston police have shot hundreds of people since 2010, here’s how many officers have been charged for an unjustified on-duty shooting:
That number includes the cops who shot unarmed Alan Pean.
In 2016, Pean was hospitalized at Houston’s St. Joseph Hospital for a possible bipolar disorder, according to the New York Times. Pean never saw a psychiatrist but the hospital gave him Flexoril, a muscle relaxant that can exacerbate psychotic episodes. As he became more delusional, his family asked if he could see a psychiatrist. While they waited, a nurse called two off-duty officers to Pean’s room.
The officers entered the room unannounced and closed the door behind them. No one can say what happened for sure, but we know one of the cops Tased Pean first. Then one of the officers pulled out a gun and fired a bullet into Pean’s chest.
Pean lived. The officers were never charged with a crime by the hospital or Houston’s law enforcement community. There was only one person who was ever charged with a crime in the incident but a grand jury eventually found insufficient evidence on the charge of “assault with a deadly weapon ...”
Pean lived. But like most of the 335 people who were shot by Houston police officers between 2010 and 2017, Pean received no justice.
When The Root analyzed the Houston Police Department’s officer-involved-shooting data, we found that nearly a third (31.5 percent) of the people shot by Houston police officers between 2010 and 2017 were listed as having no weapon at all. And despite Houston’s population being only 22 percent black, 40 percent of the unarmed victims of HPD shootings were black.
Fifty-two percent of all the people shot by Houston officers since 2010 were black. And while whites make up 25 percent of Houston’s population, they are only 10 percent of police shooting victims. A black person in Houston is nearly five times more likely than a white person to be shot by a Houston police officer.
Yet, the Houston Chronicle reports that the last time a police officer has even been charged for shooting someone on duty was in 2004.
And according to 2015 traffic stop data, black people in Houston were more likely than any other race to be stopped by police and more likely to be searched, even though cops were more likely to find white people in possession of something illegal in plain view.
So, of course, Roland Fryer would find that Houston’s police officers don’t disproportionately shoot black people because he relies on their own reporting.
But Houston’s law enforcement community will counter those arguments by explaining that they have more encounters with more black people because there tends to be more crime in black neighborhoods. They will say that if the black community wants to reduce crime, then they have to accept the fact that the police must stop and search more black citizens ...
Which brings us to Nashville.
A recent wide-ranging study of traffic stops by the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department by the Policing Project turns the above theory on its head. When the group’s researcher analyzed millions of data points from MNPD, they found a few startling statistics:
Nashville’s driving-age population is 58 percent white and 27 percent black, but in 2017, the per capita stop rate was 44 percent higher for black drivers than for white drivers.
“What this means is that while MNPD made approximately 433 stops for every 1,000 white residents of driving age,” the report notes, “it made 623 stops for every 1,000 black residents of driving age.”
And just in case you think that maybe black people are poor drivers, the study explains that the stop rate for black drivers was 68 percent higher than the white stop rate for non-moving violations. Even when they factored in crime rates in racially similar neighborhoods, black drivers were still 37 percent more likely than white drivers to be stopped for a non-moving violation.
But the bombshell of the report was that the researchers found that the heavy police patrols, traffic stops and searches had absolutely no effect on crime rates, writing:
Therefore, we next considered to what extent traffic stops are in fact an effective crime reduction tool. The theory, as we indicated at the outset, is that stops may act as a deterrent: when officers step up activity, would-be offenders decide it is too risky to try anything. Stops also may lead to arrests, taking would-be offenders off the street. However, the SCPL team found that:
Traffic stops do not appear to have a significant impact on long-term crime trends. As the number of traffic stops declined between 2012 and 2017, crime rates remained quite flat.
Traffic stops also do not appear to have any effect on crime in the short-term. This was some of the SCPL team’s most sophisticated and important analysis. As officers increase the number of stops in a particular area, crime does not necessarily fall as a result...
Finally, non-moving violation stops rarely lead to an arrest, or to the recovery of drugs or weapons. For every 1,000 non-moving violation stops, just over 2% (or 21) resulted in an arrest, or the recovery of drugs or other contraband.
The data is clear. Police stop black people more, leading to more encounters, leading to more arrests, more shootings and ultimately, more deaths.
According to Vice’s data on fatal and nonfatal shootings, and the Washington Post database, nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of the people shot by MNPD officers between 2010 and 2018 were black. Even though the city is only 15 percent black, Nashville’s black citizens are five times more likely than the city’s white residents to be shot by a police officer.
The number of fatalities includes Daniel Hambrick.
On July 26, Hambrick, who is black, was pulled over by officer Andrew Delke of the MNPD. Delke had mistaken Hambrick’s car for a white Impala that he had seen earlier that evening.
When Delke pulled Hambrick over, the 25-year-old jumped out of the car and ran, holding a gun in his hand. He did not aim the gun at the officer. But during the chase, the police video shows Delke chasing Hambrick for a bit before the officer stops, pauses and with no provocation, shoots Hambrick in the back.
Unlike Pean, Hambrick did not live.
After an investigation, prosecutors later determined that not only did Delke shoot Hambrick in the back, but the white Impala the officer was chasing hadn’t committed a moving violation. Delke was pulling the car over simply because he thought it looked suspicious. He was going to search it. He likely was going to log the stop as a non-moving violation. Nashville prosecutors eventually charged Delke with criminal homicide.
So, including Delke, how many cops have the forward-thinking Nashville Police Department charged with an on-duty killing?
This is why they kneel.