Untangling Police-on-Black violence

The reasoning that goes on behind the shootings protested by Black Lives Matter seems shallow. Why does the story run so often along these lines: White policeman shoots unarmed Black person with the statistics skewing toward the South but by no means uncommon elsewhere?
The easy explanations are these: individual immorality, sometimes racism or some form of “hot-headedness”, or tragic but unconnected events. If that were the case, how do we account for the


I think a lot of people are looking at this issue as an individual issue. That this is about iindividual police officers, that there are some really bad apples out there and some pollice officers who are intentionaly racist and that’s what is creating the problem.

This research shows that this is a broader problem involving alll of society and the way it has treated black peoplle for centuries. It has all built up into a structural environment where people who are black are much more racially segregated and because of that face greater levels of disadvantage.”

BUSPH professor Michael Siegel (Boston U. School of Public Health)

copied from Newsweek 2/28/18

Abstract         (siegel study)


The objective of this study was to discern the relationship between state-level structural racism and Black-White disparities in police shootings of victims not known to be armed.


Using a Poisson regression, we evaluated the effect of structural racism on differences between states in Black-White disparities in fatal police shootings involving victims not known to be armed during the period from January 1, 2013 through June 30, 2017. We created a state racism index, which was comprised of five dimensions: (1) residential segregation; and gaps in (2) incarceration rates; (3) educational attainment; (4) economic indicators; and (5) employment status.


After controlling for numerous state-level factors and for the underlying rate of fatal shootings of black victims in each state, the state racism index was a significant predictor of the Black-White disparity in police shooting rates of victims not known to be armed (incidence rate ratio: 1.24; 95% confidence interval, 1.02-1.50). For every 10-point increase in the state racism index, the Black-White disparity ratio of police shooting rates of people not known to be armed increased by 24%.


These findings suggest that structural racism is an important predictor of the Black-White disparity in rates of police shootings of unarmed victims across states.

Continuing with Siegel in an interview with The Intercept:

In reality, the foundation for racialized police violence was laid by political and economic institutions created many decades ago, through mechanisms like Jim Crow-era redlining and so-called sundown town policies. “It’s not just about how individuals interact,” says Siegel, “but how society is structured.”

Further: “Southern states, contrary to popular perception, show less of a difference between black and white people in both fatal shootings and living conditions.” That blows my theory.

Southern states, contrary to popular perception, show less of a difference between black and white people in both fatal shootings and living conditions.

“It shows that this is not as simple as saying there’s more racism in the South,” says Siegel. “In parts of the Midwest, we have these highly segregated neighborhoods that police view in certain ways.”

And, concluding, “One of the most notable takeaways from the study is that it frames police violence not only as a criminal justice issue, but as a critical public health issue. “It’s pretty dramatic to think about what happened decades ago having a public health impact right now,” says Siegel. “Fatalities are health outcomes. This is really about racial disparities in health outcomes and the health and safety of an entire population. We really need to look at it as such.”

In just the same way other health issues reflect disparities engendered decades and centuries ago. Just looking a White people in the South, we see the effects of an autocratic society and the devastation of the Civil War. Looking at these issues as public health matters as opposed to law enforcement/criminal matters puts an entirely different light on them. In A Colony in a Nation, Chris Hayes notes: “The states of the Old Confederacy have the least amount of racial discrepancy in their incarceration rates [due to punitive nature of Southern justice].

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