Although I will be arguing that there is systemic racial bias within police forces, I first want to make clear that I am not calling police officers racist.
The phrases “systemic racism” and “systematic racism,” though easy to confuse, are wholly different things.
Systematic means that something is “done according to a system,” and so systematic racism is something akin to Apartheid or the Holocaust, a planned form of racism coming all the way from the top. Systemic means, “of, or relating to, an entire system” which, in this case, means the policing systems of the United States.
Thus, systemic racism means that there is inherent racism in the system itself, even if absolutely none of the members of the system intend to be racist. This inherent racism manifests itself in a subtle, yet dangerous way: a predisposition in police officers to target black and brown citizens more than white citizens.
Few police officers purposefully do this; once again, the fact that the police system has racial bias doesn’t mean that the police officers are racist. What it does mean is that black individuals are more likely to be stopped, arrested or shot at than white individuals, and that this is fairly uniform across all police districts in the nation.
This isn’t an emotional or anecdotal argument, but a statistical one: blacks are more likely to be the target of police action than whites, even when taking into account that the crime rate is higher among blacks than whites.
My opponent will probably be citing Harvard economist Roland Fryer’s July 2016 study on police shootings, which seems to indicate racial parity in terms of police shootings. There are two problems with this approach: first, this was only one study and some of its methodology seemed flawed (it relies on accurate self-reporting by police officers), but second, the study indicated significantly higher levels of police use of force in all forms except shooting.
That is, the Fryer study indicated that blacks were 16 percent more likely to be handcuffed, 18 percent more likely to be pushed to the ground, 24 percent more likely to have a weapon pointed at them and 25 percent more likely to be pepper sprayed or hit with a baton.
Still this is only one study. Another study, conducted by U.C. Davis anthropologist Cody Ross, looked into how race affected police’s propensity to shoot by examining the difference in likelihood of being shot while armed and while unarmed across race.
The author found that unarmed blacks are 3.49 times more likely to be shot than unarmed whites. Moreover, the author found that while armed blacks are 2.79 times more likely to be shot by police, armed whites are 3.33 times more likely to be shot while armed than while unarmed. Although statistical data cannot imply causation, this result would support officers being more careful with white suspects.
More subtly, blacks are more likely to be stopped and searched by police officers. In a report by the San Francisco district attorney’s office, it was found that black individuals accounted for 42 percent of all non-consent searches following stops, though they comprised just 15 percent of stops overall.
Moreover, blacks had the lowest ‘hit rate’ during searches, meaning whites searched without consent were more likely to be found with contraband.
A DOJ report on policing in Ferguson, MO, indicated that “African Americans are more than twice as likely as white drivers to be searched during vehicle stops even after controlling for non-race based variables, such as the reason the vehicle stop was initiated, but are found in possession of contraband 26 percent less often than white drivers.”
These sentiments are repeated in reports from Chicago, IL, the state of Illinois itself, Greensboro, NC and New York, NY. Space requirements mean I must end here, but there are many, many studies that back up the basic premise here: police are more likely to act, or to overreact, if a suspect is black rather than white.