By SHAWN FLEETWOOD
The Ferguson effect has been widely criticized by scholars and activists. The editorial staff has opted to leave this article on our website as a reflection of what the writer was thinking at a particular moment in time.
Ever since the death of George Floyd, groups such as Black Lives Matter have continued to promote the narrative that there is a nationwide epidemic of police shooting innocent Black Americans. BLM and other politicians and activists have even called to defund the police. While these groups and individuals claim that this is to the benefit of Black lives, little do they realize that continuing to perpetuate these narratives and policies is hurting Black Americans the most.
Known as the “Ferguson Effect,” police disengage from proactive policing tactics out of fear of being labeled as racist. A 2016 study by the National Institute of Justice found that in 56 of America’s large cities there was a 17 percent increase in homicide from 2014 to 2015. One of the main plausible explanations for this increase was the Ferguson Effect.
The Ferguson Effect most clearly impacts police officers. According to a survey by Pew Research, following recent high-profile fatal encounters between Black suspects and police officers, 76 percent of officers said they’re more reluctant to use force when appropriate and 72 percent of officers said they are more reluctant to stop and question suspicious individuals. The survey was conducted from May to August 2016.
If police are afraid to do their jobs because of outside denigration and aren’t given the resources they need to crack down on crime, Black Americans pay the highest price. There is no better example of this than in New York City. Following the death of George Floyd, the New York City Council slashed $1 billion from the New York Police Department’s budget. Coupled with the city’s recent bail reform laws and the disbanding of the NYPD’s plainclothes anti-crime unit, the results have been catastrophic.
In the month of June, New York City saw shooting incidents involving Black victims increase 177 percent from the same time period in 2019. In addition, the majority of victims killed in these shootings have been Black. No other racial group has been victimized by the increase in violence in New York City at anywhere near the same rate Black people have been since violent crime began surging in the city in mid-May, which only accelerated in the weeks following George Floyd’s police-custody death in Minneapolis.
And yet, when analyzing the data, the accusations of a nationwide epidemic of police shooting innocent Black Americans don’t hold weight. Currently, there are roughly 250 million white Americans in the country, versus roughly 44 million Black Americans. According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), police make roughly 10 million arrests each year. Roughly seven million of those arrested are white and roughly three million are Black.
Out of that number, in 2019, there were 999 fatal police shootings, according to The Washington Post. Of those 999 shootings, 14 of them were of unarmed Black suspects, while 25 of them were of unarmed white suspects. When analyzing these cases, at least eight of the Black suspects were fleeing from the police, assaulting the officer, or resisting arrest. Likewise, of the 25 unarmed white suspects, 18 of them were fleeing from the police, assaulting the officer, or resisting arrest. Further details regarding these individual cases can be found in The Washington Post’s database.
Even then, some have argued that there is racial bias against Black Americans regarding police shootings because they represent roughly 13 percent of the U.S. population, while accounting for roughly 25 percent of all police shootings. However, these disparities are explained by the fact that Black people account for a disproportionate percentage of major crimes. For instance, in 2018, Black criminals committed roughly 54 percent of robberies, 53 percent of murders, and 34 percent of assaults, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). While violent crime does not give the police the automatic right to kill suspects, it increases the chance of an encounter between the police and perpetrators turning deadly.
This is evidenced in a study released by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which found that white officers were no more likely than Black or Hispanic officers to shoot minority suspects, and that it is a racial group’s rate of violent crime that determines police shootings, not the race of the officer. The study also went on to note that the more frequently officers encounter violent suspects from any given racial group, the higher chance there is that members of that racial group will be shot by a police officer.
More often than not, the majority of victims of these crimes are Black Americans. According to the FBI, the majority of homicide victims in the U.S. are Black. For instance, of the 14,123 murders in 2018, 7,407 were Black, compared to 6,088 who were white.
Further demonization of the police will only result in more of our brothers and sisters lying dead in the streets. At a time when 81 percent of Black Americans favor the same or a greater police presence in their communities, people who continue to berate the police with these grotesque smears are harming the very people they claim to care about.