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Disparity in Justifiable Homicides Does not Signify Institutional Racism

The Marshal project claims to be non-partisan. It admits that it is not neutral. In a recent report, it shows that more justifiable homicides are committed by whites against black attackers than the national average. The report implies that this is because of institutionalized racism.

Three things stand out from the report. It is obsessed with racial disparities, with the strong implication that they are caused by institutionalized racism, particularly white racism. It ignores previous research showing that the FBI statistics represent only a small fraction of justifiable homicides. And, it misrepresents the criteria for a homicide to be considered justifiable in the FBI reporting system. From

In almost 17 percent of cases when a black man was killed by a non-Hispanic white civilian over the last three decades, the killing was categorized as justifiable, which is the term used when a police officer or a civilian kills someone committing a crime or in self-defense. Overall, the police classify fewer than 2 percent of homicides committed by civilians as justifiable.

The disparity persists across different cities, different ages, different weapons and different relationships between killer and victim.

To understand the gaps, The Marshall Project obtained dozens of data sets from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and examined various combinations of killer and victim. Two types of “justifiable homicide” are noted: “felon killed by private citizen” or “felon killed by police officer.” (In a bit of circular logic, the person killed is presumptively classified as a felon, since the homicide could be justified only if a life was threatened, which is a crime.)

The use of quotes around “justifiable homicide” in the report is telling. It is possible that racism is a component in the disparity of the number of justifiable homicides where white people justifiably kill black people.  But racism works both ways. There are numerous “hate whitey” threads in current urban black culture. An obvious alternative is that black men are far more likely to commit crimes that justify homicide against them by white people than white men are to commit crimes that justify homicide against them by black people.

In 2012, there were 5.6 times as much violence committed by blacks against whites as compared to violence committed by whites against blacks. From

In 2012, blacks committed 560,600 acts of violence against whites, and whites committed 99,403 acts of violence against blacks, according to data from the National Crime Victimization Survey provided to the author:

The Marshall Project found that after adjustments, white on black homicides were found to be 4.7 times as likely to be justified as the average. That number is remarkable close the the disparity of black crime against white people.

Even after adjusting for the ages of the killer and victim, their relationship and the weapon used, the likelihood of a white-on-black-male case being called justifiable was still 4.7 times higher than in other cases.

The Marshall Project report is marred by using only FBI Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) on justifiable homicides. Justifiable homicides recorded by the FBI system are known to be a fraction of the justifiable homicides that occur. Both Clayton Cramer and Gary Kleck have found that FBI UCR reports only catch about 1/5 of justifiable homicides. The Marshal Project report minimizes this elephant in the room by admitting that:

For instance, Trayvon Martin’s death is listed as simply “other,” not as “justifiable,” though his killer was later tried and acquitted. That could mean that “justifiable” cases of all kinds are underreported.

Again, notice the quotes around “justifiable”, even though a jury found that the killing of Treyvon Martin was justifiable. This happened in spite of the heavy hand of the media, and significant political pressure to convict George Zimmerman long before the facts of the case were heard.

The FBI only accepts justified homicides that occur during the commission of another crime. The Marshal Project authors call that “a bit of circular logic”. They are wrong.  The FBI uses an extremely limited definition of justifiable homicide.    From the UCR Handbook04(PDF), page 17:

NOTE: Justifiable homicide, by definition, occurs in conjunction with other offenses. Therefore, the crime being committed when the justifiable homicide took place must be reported as a separate offense. Reporting agencies should take care to ensure that they do not classify a killing as justifiable or excusable solely on the claims of self-defense or on the action of a coroner, prosecutor, grand jury, or court.

The following scenario illustrates an incident known to law enforcement that reporting agencies would not consider Justifiable Homicide:

17. While playing cards, two men got into an argument. The first man attacked the second with a broken bottle. The second man pulled a gun and killed his attacker. The police arrested the shooter; he claimed self-defense.

The UCR even goes so far as to direct reporting agencies *not* to take into account the findings of coroners, prosecutors, grand juries or courts about whether a homicide is justifiable or not; only the FBI’s extremely limited definition is to be used. In contradiction to the reporting in the Marshal report, it is unlikely that someone who was justifiably killed in self defense will be recorded as committing a separate crime during the attack. There is no reason to do so. The attacker will not be charged. They are dead. This is likely a major reason why the FBI reports of justifiable homicide are so low.

If, however, the homicide occurs during an armed robbery, it is more likely to be recorded as justified. Blacks commit armed robbery at far higher rates than do whites.

In summary, the Marshal report ignores the possibility of black racism as a motive for a larger number of black attacks. It ignores the limits of the FBI Uniform Crime Reports of justified homicides.  It ignores the fact of much larger numbers of violent crime committed by blacks that would justify defensive homicides.

All of those factors do a better job of explaining the disparity of justifiable homicides of whites against blacks than do “institutional racism.”

©2017 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included. Link to Gun Watch


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