Is It True That 'Getting Killed by Police Is a Leading Cause of Death for Young Black Men,' as the LA Times Claims?

Centuries from now, when archaeologists unearth the long-buried cities of the United States of America, they may find artifacts of what by then will be the forgotten craft of journalism. Just as we look today at the medical practices of antiquity and wonder how our forebears could have been so backward, those archaeologists of the future will marvel, as they sift through a newly unearthed newsroom amid the ruins New York, Washington, D.C., or Los Angeles, that American journalists were once burdened by such quaint notions as objectivity, fairness, and devotion to the truth. “Imagine,” they will say, “being so primitive as to present a news story without an agenda.”

Maybe some future historian, upon being presented with these archaeological discoveries, will draw the connection between the decline of American journalism and that of the country itself. And maybe that historian will look at a recent story in the Los Angeles Times as a luminous example of that very decline.

I refer you to the August 16 story that ran under the headline “Getting killed by police is a leading cause of death for young black men in America.” As is the intent, the headline is an attention-grabber. “My goodness,” the reader is expected to say, “those young black men must be getting a pretty raw deal from the police these days.” Most readers of course will not delve beyond the headline, but even those who do will not encounter anything resembling journalism as it was once practiced. Rather, they’ll find more than 1,400 words devoted to the racial-grievance agenda that drives so much of what appears in the Los Angeles Times.

And worse, not only is journalism itself perverted with the story, but so is science, for the story is presented as such on the page and was written by Amina Khan, who is billed on the paper’s website as a “science writer.” So, if you dare to quibble with any of the story’s details, or heaven forbid question its very premise, it makes you a “denier,” one to be cast out into the darkness with climate-change skeptics, believers in sex differences, and all the other benighted deplorables who are so sneered upon among our sophisticated betters in the media.

“About 1 in 1,000 black men and boys in America can expect to die at the hands of police,” Ms. Khan begins the story. “That makes them 2.5 times more likely than white men and boys to die during an encounter with cops.” Thus is “police violence” presented as some affliction that strikes with a cruel randomness unrelated to its victims’ behavior.

On its face, this is surely an ominous statistic, one that would cause the curious reader to search for the causes of the disparity. Alas, the curious reader will come away dissatisfied even after reading the entire story. Rather than present relevant and easily accessible information, the story goes on to quote the author of the academic study that revealed the disparity, along with other predictably like-minded academics. It also invokes the names of some of the more widely publicized victims of “police violence” of recent years, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and Freddie Gray. (It is worth noting, though the story fails to do so, that the officers involved in these deaths were either not charged with crimes or were acquitted. In a craven sop to the grievance mob, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill announced on Monday that Daniel Pantaleo, the NYPD officer implicated in Eric Garner’s 2014 death, would be fired.)

But the degree to which any individual officer might be criminally culpable or even morally questionable for committing an act of “police violence” goes unexamined in the story, as does, needless to say, the precipitating behavior exhibited by the so-called victims that brought them to the attention of the police in the first place. An examination of the role the suspect played in a fatal police encounter might lead one to question the purported “science” the Los Angeles Times hopes to see accepted as gospel.

So pervasive in black communities is the fear of police violence, we are told, that it is “a public health problem whose long-term harms radiate far beyond the original victim.” “It can have these toxic effects on communities,” says the study’s author, “in terms of both their physical and mental health.”

Rubbish.

Note the slippery language used in the news story and in the study it cites. Police violence is a leading cause of death for young black men in the United States, we are told, but the nowhere in the L.A. Times story do we learn precisely where on the list it falls and in what ratio to the others. So, since Ms. Kahn had no room in her 1,400 words for this information, I happily supply it here.

The Centers for Disease Control informs us that for black males of all ages, homicide is the fifth leading cause of death, at 4.9 percent of total deaths (data is for 2015, the most recent year on the CDC website). But for male blacks between 15 and 24 years of age, i.e., the prime-crime years, homicide is the leading cause, at almost half of total deaths.

Ms. Kahn’s own newspaper maintains a database of all homicide victims killed in Los Angeles County since 2000, and it includes data on the race of the victim and on whether the police were involved. Of the 15,896 homicide victims in the county recorded as of this writing, 5,411 were blacks killed by someone other than a police officer, and 212 were blacks killed by the police.

In other words, if Los Angeles County exemplifies the country as a whole, a black homicide victim is 25 times more likely to have been killed by someone other than a police officer. And we know that in the great majority of these cases the killer himself was also black. Do Amina Khan, her editors at the Los Angeles Times, and the purveyors of this study believe the mental health of black communities is corroded more by police violence than by the routine, daily violence committed by blacks themselves?

Even to ask the question is to deny the “science,” and we mustn’t have any of that.