Those Pesky Statistics

I once gave a talk in New Zealand in which I said that, thanks to the inefficiency of the police and the leniency of the courts in Britain, a burglar spent on average three days in prison; in which case the question was not why there were so many burglars, but why there were so few.

To this question a clever lawyer in the audience immediately said, “They’re not very good at arithmetic.”

Neither, I suppose, are the rioters in the United States. It is true, of course, that the death of George Floyd at the hands, or rather the knee, of the policeman called Chauvin was horrible, and perhaps even worse (for it implied something more than mere individual psychopathy) was the fact that three of Chauvin’s colleagues were watching. The picture of the policeman with his knee on the victim’s neck, his hand in his pocket and the look of a triumphant big-game hunter on his face, is not easily forgotten. Chauvin’s defense attorney, I imagine, will not find it easy to say much in extenuation. Admirable Evasions: Ho... Theodore Dalrymple Best Price: $12.26 Buy New $13.35 (as of 11:00 EST - Details)

But proportion is necessary in all things, especially in anger and outrage. It is easy to indulge in these emotions for their own sake, because they are pleasurable and soon cease to be sincere.

To the citizens of most Western countries, the numbers of people killed by the American police are rather surprising, to say the least, but so are the numbers of police killed.

Roughly speaking, a policeman in the United States is about fifty times more likely to be killed than to kill, and this is without taking into consideration that the majority of the killings by the police are at least prima facie justified by self-defense or the interruption or prevention of a serious crime. Let us exclude only half of those killings on these grounds (probably a gross underestimate): This means that a policeman is 100 times more likely to be killed than to kill. Life at the Bottom: Th... Theodore Dalrymple Best Price: $4.57 Buy New $8.83 (as of 07:45 EST - Details)

Let us also suppose that the police are killed by black and white in the same proportion as blacks and whites commit homicide in general (again, a generous, that is to say a conservative, assumption). This means that a policeman is about fifteen times more likely to be killed by a black man than to kill a black man, and again this is not to take into account the fact that many of the police killings would be at least prima facie justified.

A black man is about thirty times more likely to be killed by another black man than to be killed by a policeman (and some of the police are themselves black, of course). A white man is only fifteen times more likely to be killed by someone of any race than to be killed by a policeman. Are the police biased against whites?

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