Huckabee right, but oh, so wrong on loss of life by race

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Mike Huckabee
Former governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee was interviewed on Fox News last Saturday, July 9, 2016.  He made a comment designed to diminish the seriousness of the  repeated shootings by police of black men in America: “More white people have been shot by police officers this past year than minorities.”

In absolute numbers Huckabee is right, of course.  But since minorities in general and blacks in particular are much fewer in number than whites, Huckabee’s analysis adds nothing of value to the discussion.   The real question is the extent to which minorities, and more particularly, blacks, are killed in relationship to whites (who are the baseline, “protected,” and best-treated group).

We did not have far to look in researching the most appropriate response to Mr. Huckabee’s statement.

Since Huckabee’s source of information was the Washington Post’s coverage of police shootings, we decided to start there.  And there is were we stopped. The Washington Post itself responded to Huckabee’s assertion and clarified both the data and the only logical conclusions to be drawn.

Here is what the Washington Post said about Huckabee’s claims (we quote extensively):

“In 2015, Post researchers identified 990 fatal shootings, more than the twice the number recorded in a single year by the federal government. Through this database, Post journalists were able to take an extensive and analytical look at the trends and effects of police shootings.

“Huckabee appears to have cited the Post’s findings that of the 990 people shot in 2015, 948 people were male, 494 were white and 258 were black. So using raw numbers, Huckabee’s claim is accurate.

“But as we often warn readers, criminal justice trends generally are calculated by rate, rather than raw numbers. A per capita calculation of crime gives a more accurate representation of the risk of certain crimes to a community, rather than raw numbers.

“In this case, looking at crimes simply as the raw number of white people affected vs. the number of minorities affected is misleading. By definition, there are fewer minorities.

“When adjusting for the population where the shootings took place, the results were different. The Post reported on the 2015 data:

“Over the past year, The Post found that the vast majority of those shot and killed by police were armed and half of them were white. Still, police killed blacks at three times the rate of whites when adjusted for the populations where these shootings occurred. And although black men represent 6 percent of the U.S. population, they made up nearly 40 percent of those who were killed while unarmed.

“So, even though more whites were killed by police in 2015 by sheer numbers, blacks were three times as likely to be killed by police. Blacks comprise 12 percent of the U.S. population; black men represent 6 percent.

“Moreover, the trends in the first six months of 2016 mirrored the trends from 2015. Black people were shot at 2.5 times the rate of white people. About half of the sheer number of people fatally shot by police in 2016 were white, and about half were minorities. .

“Speaking of context, The Post also found that regardless of race, about a quarter of people killed in police shootings in 2015 displayed signs of mental illness.”

This was surprising to us as previous research indicated the figure was much lower. But according to the Post:

“This trend has remained the same this year. Also in 2016, more officers have been shot and killed in the line of duty than last year, and more officers have been prosecuted for questionable shootings, The Post reported.”

When the Post challenged Huckabee’s camp on its inaccurate use of  the paper’s data, Huckabee blamed the Post:

““It’s not me that needs to be ‘fact checked.’ It’s the Post — I only said exactly what YOU reported. My comments were 100 percent factual.”

We can see that they were not. Giving numbers without context is at best  disingenuous, and worse, downright dishonest.

So, yes, more whites were killed by police than minorities or blacks, but when viewed as a percentage of the population, blacks, who make up only  12 percent of the population, are killed at a far, far greater rate than whites.

The Washington Post story was posted by Michelle Ye Hee Lee on July 11.  It can be read in its entirety online at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2016/07/11/huckabees-claim-that-more-white-people-were-shot-in-2015-than-minorities/.