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Charles Blow, in the New York Times, writes about the “Privilege of ‘Arrest Without Incident’”. The purpose of the article is to highlight the fact that white people, when arrested, are not injured by the police whereas black people, in similar circumstances, are. I don’t know if Blow is right, but I do know he has utterly failed to establish any evidence for his contention.

The piece opens with a description of a white woman who was arrested by police without injury after leading them on a chase and shooting at people. Then, after admitting that “[e] very case is different,” Blow assembles his “evidence” that non-whites are disproportionately injured when being arrested. He cites the cases of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Antonio Martin and Jerame Reid. He sums up their experiences – which occurred in different states, under different circumstances involving different police officers – with the following analysis:

But none had the privilege of being “arrested without incident or injury.” They were all black, all killed by police officers. Brown was shot through the head. Garner was grabbed around the neck in a chokehold, tossed to the ground and held there, even as he pleaded that he couldn’t breathe; it was all caught on video. Rice was shot within two seconds of the police officers’ arrival on the scene. Crawford, Martin and Reid were also cut down by police bullets.

In the cases that have been heard so far by grand juries, the grand juries have refused to indict the officers.

Maybe one could argue that in some of those cases the officers were within their rights to respond with lethal force. Maybe. But shouldn’t the use of force have equal application? Shouldn’t it be color- and gender-blind? Shouldn’t more people, in equal measures, be taken in and not taken out?

Taking five cases of non-whites being shot, stringing them together, and then comparing them to one selected case of a white person not being shot and claiming it proves anything is ludicrous. What makes these cases representative of a larger trend? As far as I can tell, they are just six cases that have made the news recently and thus stand out in Charles Blow’s mind. Here are just a few pieces of data that we need to know before we can possible say anything concrete about whites vs. blacks and their propensity to be injured while being arrested:

  1. How many white people are shot while being arrested?
  2. How many black people are shot while being arrested?
  3. How many white people are not shot while being arrested?
  4. How many black people are not shot while being arrested?

Those numbers would at least be a start at something empirical, though there is a lot more information one would want to know about the circumstances in each case (beginning with the cause for each arrest) to be able to make useful comparisons.

Someone should have told Mr. Blow, long ago, that the plural of anecdote is not data.