The death of George Floyd recorded on video triggered protests in several countries against racial profiling and police brutality. There are calls for governments to reduce funding for police operations, and police officers are portrayed as being dangerous to Black citizens.
In 2018, in the United States, 6,318 Black Americans were killed by a white person in 5% of all cases, in contrast to 3,308 white people who were killed by a white person. Since Black people make up 14.3% of the population, the numbers show that a Black citizen is 10 times more at risk of being killed than a white citizen. In 2019, police officers on the job killed 236 Black people and 376 white people. With respect to the total, there is therefore a disproportionate number of Black people killed by police, although in the vast majority of cases the victim was armed and confronted police officers. In cases where the victim was unarmed, 15 Black people and 25 white people were killed. In comparison, in 2019, a total of 48 police officers were killed in the line of duty.
These figures lead us to two conclusions. American society is violent. Its homicide rate is 5.4 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, while highly industrialized countries like Canada (1.7 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants), France (1.4 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants), the United Kingdom (1.2 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants) or Australia (0.9 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants) have significantly lower homicide rates. In addition, the violence in American society disproportionately affects African Americans, which can be explained by historical factors like slavery and racist laws, segregation, social inequality and an absurd degree of poverty for such a rich country. The real issue today is inequality and poverty that result in an excess of violence in the Black community. To this dire situation one must add other factors like widely available firearms, the lack of available medical and psychiatric care for a segment of the population, and an overabundance of illegal drugs which lead to more than 46,000 overdose deaths annually.
New York and Chicago
The police are now seen as being part of the problem, and attempts are being made to limit their role. However, many criminological studies show that police presence acts as a buffer against violence. The miracle in New York, where 2,605 annual homicides in 1990 dropped to about 400 today, has been attributed to improvements in police work, for example, the use of information technology in real time (CompStat) and more intelligent, more proactive policing. One of the operational objectives of the police force in New York was to reduce antisocial behavior (i.e., homelessness, panhandling and public use of syringes), and to try to remove firearms from the street. Other objectives included zero tolerance for even minor offenses, interrogations and searches, or “stop and frisk,” and plain-clothed officers. There were, of course, law enforcement errors and challenges linked to racial profiling carried out by officers, but it must be acknowledged that the current state of affairs is clearly better than it was before in that great city of New York for white and Black people, for the poor and the rich, but, also for the homeless, the addicts and the dealers. Everyone is safer.
Chicago, that other great American city, has never been able to reduce violence in a significant way. Around 2015, there was a notable rise in violence when the city ended its “stop and frisk” practices, deemed to be discriminatory by the courts.
There were close to 500 homicides in 2019 in Chicago, 10 times more than in Montreal, but recent numbers show a new increase. On May 31, there were 18 homicides in Chicago over a 24-hour period, setting a record. Last weekend, in that city alone, 63 people were shot, including a 1-year-old child and, another, 10 years old, who were killed by stray bullets.
In the wake of recent protests aimed at law enforcement, some municipal governments have decided to reduce the workforce in police departments. The mayor of New York has just disbanded the plain-clothes anti-crime unit of 600 officers that fought street crime and worked to disarm criminals. There has already been a 400% increase in shootings since then. We can also expect a withdrawal of officers from at-risk areas and hesitation by officers to intervene in potentially dangerous situations. One cannot ask an officer to make a dangerous arrest of a potentially armed gang member, for example, if he risks being confronted by a crowd of onlookers, being accused of racism and of using force, and of being fired, etc. A police officer will simply look the other way and move along. This was initially labeled as the Ferguson effect, but this will now be the Floyd effect, that is, an explosion of violence following nonintervention by police in certain hot zones. And one can already predict it is Black people who will pay the price. The only one who will benefit from all this urban disorder will be the man in the White House, who will wield the specter of chaos to get himself reelected.