Examining Courses Offered At Prager University Lesson 7—“Are The Police Racist?”
Written By: Anton Sawyer
This article is part of an ongoing series where I break down courses offered at PragerU and expose some of the misdirection they're peddling. Each course is readily available to everyone (the free stuff). I would love to sign up for their complete online courses, so if you would like to see me go in-depth to one of their official courses, then please “buy a coffee”. I will use those funds to “advance my education” through the “prestigious” University that is Prager.
Debunking Courses Offered At Prager University Lesson 7—“Are The Police Racist?”
Though I vehemently oppose every bit of information presented in this video, I have to admit that the presenter, Heather MacDonald (bestselling author and Thomas W Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute), is one of the most impressive deception artists I have ever seen PragerU send out when it comes to spinning a yarn.
Though her ability to deny the racism found in law enforcement is not based in any kind of reality, the way she presents her information, along with the use of statistics ad nauseum and overall ability to coherently present the information, makes her easily one of the most persuasive presenters they have. In fact, I would dare say that every single video that they do should be written by, or narrated by, her specifically. Now that’s out of the way …
In an attempt to maintain complete transparency, all research and statistical fact-checking for all articles can be found in the bibliography linked here.
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MacDonald and PragerU have artfully taken scientific studies that have credibility and morphed their verbiage and shaded numbers in such a way that you must not only look at the entire study but also cross-reference it with others that are more substantive. I can completely understand how if you are someone that isn’t as invested in fact-checking as I am—or even as much as the average politically aware person—that this course could easily convince someone of its authenticity and accuracy. I’m going to put out a warning that this article is heavy on statistics; I can only work with what I’m given.
With that being said, there was more research put into this piece than any other PragerU course that I’ve debunked so far. With this attention to detail I can promise that by the end of this piece, you will have received a master-class in deception.
Thankfully, we are both here now and can see what the numbers actually say.
To keep things clear, all statements made in the video will be in bold, and my responses will be in italics.
“Are The Police Racist?”
Yes, I have to comment on the title itself before any of the video’s contents begin due to it being a misdirection right off the bat. Are the police racist? Yes. Are firefighters racist? Yes. Are McDonald’s employees racist? Yes. ANY place of employment is going to employ people who hold on to racist ideologies. In every job I've ever held, there have always been at least few people who held some level of bigotry. By using this title, it sets a tone … some will see it as good, some as horrific.
Does the truth matter? Not to groups like Black Lives Matter. This is tragic for many reasons, not the least of which is that black lives matter are being lost as a result. When it comes to the subject of American police, blacks, and the use of deadly force, here is what we know. A recent “deadly force” study by Washington State University researcher Lois James found that police officers were LESS likely to shoot unarmed black suspects than unarmed white or Hispanic ones in simulated threat scenarios.
The key component to this study is that it’s based on SIMULATIONS. As we know, there is always the human element. We are born to make mistakes. This has been ingrained throughout our evolution into modern times and is the most effective tool we have as a species when it comes to personal growth and learning. In this same study, it showed that those results surprised Lois, given that the most real-life data available at the time of publication (2014), told quite a different story. She made it known that per the last comprehensive look at the racial makeup of justifiable and non-justifiable shootings—a 2001 study that used more than two decades of U.S. Bureau of Justice data—showed black suspects as being shot at more frequently than white suspects. “At the moment, there are no comprehensive statistics on whether the police do inappropriately shoot at black males more than they do at white males,” said James. “Although isolated incidents of black males being shot by the police are devastating and well documented, at the aggregate level we need to understand whether the police are shooting black unarmed males more than they are white unarmed males. And at the moment, nobody knows that.”
Harvard economics professor Royland Fryer analyzed more than 1,000 officer-involved shootings across the country. He concluded that there is ZERO evidence of racial bias in police shootings. In Houston, he found that blacks were 24% LESS likely than whites to be shot by officers even though the suspects were armed or violent.
Interestingly, PragerU hinges one of their arguments on this report done by Fryer, given the fact that he has come out many times to speak of how his research has been bastardized. He's stated, "In 2015, after watching Walter Scott get gunned down, on video, by a North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer, I set out on a mission to quantify racial differences in police use of force. To my dismay, this work has been widely misrepresented and misused by people on both sides of the ideological aisle. It has been wrongly cited as evidence ... " He continued, "There are large racial differences in police use of nonlethal force. My research team analyzed nearly five million police encounters from New York City. We found that when police reported the incidents, they were 53% more likely to use physical force on a black civilian than a white one. In a separate, nationally representative dataset asking civilians about their experiences with police, we found the use of physical force on blacks to be 350% as likely. This is true of every level of nonlethal force, from officers putting their hands on civilians to striking them with batons. We controlled for every variable available in myriad ways. That reduced the racial disparities by 66%, but blacks were still significantly more likely to endure police force."
Does the truth matter?
Given the information I’ve provided already, it’s clear that it doesn’t matter to the author and/or narrator of this “course.”
An analysis of the Washington Post’s Police Shooting Database and of Federal Crime Statistics reveals that fully 12% of all whites and Hispanics who die by homicide are killed by cops. By contrast, only 4% of black homicide victims are killed by cops. But isn’t it a sign of bias that blacks make up 26% of police-shooting victims, but only 13% of the national population? It is not, and common sense suggests why. Police shootings occur more frequently where officers confront armed or violently resisting suspects. Those suspects are disproportionately black. According to the most recent study by the Department of Justice, although blacks were about only 15% of the population in the 75 largest counties in the US, they were charged with 62% of all robberies, 57% of murders, and 45% of assaults. In New York City, blacks commit over three-quarters of all shootings, though they are only 23% of the city’s population. Whites, by contrast, commit under 2% of all shootings in the city, though they are 34% of the population. New York’s crime disparities are repeated in virtually every racially diverse city in America.
To those who don't frequent the bibliography for my fact-checking, there’s something I need to point out about the statistics mentioned in this section. MacDonald has taken two completely contradictory facts from the same study and then morphed them into separated narratives to justify her assertions.
Let me explain.
All the data from the Department of Justice that MacDonald is claiming proves that black people are a larger cause (percentage-wise) of robberies, murders, and assaults was also the basis for the Washington State University study done by Lois James running the simulations in the first place. Because the simulation outcomes were so vastly different than the real-life numbers pertaining to black people being shot by the cops, this became the reason James was so surprised. In a nutshell, this means that MacDonald took two completely different results from the same source, and then when it benefited her to show that the police were less likely to shoot an unarmed black suspect, she used that part of the study (simulations). Then, when it benefited her to show a racist slant which helped her narrative (i.e. the involvement of black people with robberies, murders, etc.) she used that part of the study (the real world numbers of the DOJ). It’s pretty sad when you have used sub-sections of self-debunked research to make your point.
Another phrase I want to focus on when it comes to this section is “racially diverse.”
You’re going to notice that a lot of the upcoming statistics are from cities like Chicago and New York City. In fact, most of the negative statistics used throughout this entire video use racially diverse cities as their examples. This is important because when you have a racially diverse city, the numbers are going to be skewed against minorities. Let’s see what happens when you look at places that aren’t as racially diverse. A place that was easily one of the whitest I’ve ever lived in: Wyoming.
While attending high school, there were two black students out of a student body of a little over 1,000. The entirety of the town of where I lived, Rock Springs, had less than 100 black people city-wide. Keeping this in mind, it wasn't until 2021 that Wyoming elected its FIRST black sheriff in the state’s history. Yes, Wyoming was granted statehood in 1890; it has taken over 130 years for the predominantly white state to elect a black sheriff. Also, it must be noted that while sheriff Aaron Appelhans is more than qualified for the job, many constituents feel that he was hired as a cover-up. This stems from a deputy's fatal shooting of an unarmed, mentally ill man named Robbie Ramirez during a traffic stop in 2019. This stoked fierce backlash that carried over into 2020's protests over racial injustice and police brutality. So, as you continue with me on the journey through the rest of this miasma, keep that in the back of your mind.
The real problem facing inner-city black communities today is not the police, but criminals. In 2014, over 6,000 blacks were murdered, more than all white and Hispanic homicide victims combined. Who is killing them? Not the police, and not white civilians, but other blacks. In fact, a police officer is 18 ½ times more likely to be killed by a black male than an unarmed black male is to be killed by a police officer. If the police ended all use of lethal force tomorrow, it would have a negligible impact on the black death-by-homicide rate. In Chicago, through just the first six-and-a-half months of 2016, over 2,300 people were shot. That’s a shooting an hour during some weekends. The vast majority of victims were black. During this same period, the Chicago police shot 12 people, all armed and dangerous. That’s one-half of one percent of all shootings.
These numbers, while accurate, are missing one crucial element: context from the percentage of same-race violent crimes.
Between 1980-2008, the U.S. Department of Justice found that 84% of white victims were killed by white offenders and 93% of black victims were killed by black offenders. In 2018, the FBI reported that 81% of white victims were killed by white offenders, and 89% of black victims were killed by black offenders. In 2017, the FBI reported almost identical figures—80% of white victims were killed by white offenders, and 88% of black victims were killed by black offenders. Not to mention, I really wouldn’t want to live in a world where cops are the number one leader in homicides towards ANY group. Given that police carry weapons and are on the front lines and consistently dealing with life-threatening situations, I would anticipate that the number one cause of police being killed would be due to a violent act/weapon.
Does the truth matter?
At this point, I think this question has turned into absurd hyperbole.
If it does, here’s a truth worth pondering; there is no government agency more dedicated to the proposition that black lives matter than the police. The proactive policing revolution that began in the mid-1990s has dramatically brought down the inner-city murder rate and saved tens of thousands of black lives. Unfortunately, that crime decline is now in jeopardy. As I write in my book, “The War on Cops,” police officers are backing off of proactive policing in black neighborhoods thanks to the false narrative that police officers are infected with homicidal bias. As a result, violent crime is going up, in cities with large black populations, homicides in 2015 rose anywhere from 54% in Washington, D.C., to 90% in Cleveland. Overall, in the nation’s 56 largest cities, homicides in 2015 rose 17%, a nearly unprecedented one-year spike. Many law-abiding residents of high-crime areas beg the police to maintain order—precisely the type of policing that the ACLU, progressive politicians, and the Obama Justice Department denounce as racist. This is tragic because when the police refrain from proactive policing, black lives are lost. Lost because of a myth. The best research and data reach this conclusion: there is no evidence that police are killing blacks just because they are black. You now have the truth. Does it matter? I’m Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute for Prager University. –End credits.
The 1990s crime bill that's referenced, along with the other information about police being proactive in communities, is lacking a lot of context. In a 2020 study published by Brookings Institute, they looked at the law and the numbers, but also added the needed context to show that this crime bill was not all roses. "Did the 1994 crime bill help decrease the rate of violent crime? Probably, although the rate had begun to decline before the bill went into effect. Did the bill contribute to the expansion of incarceration? Again, probably so, although the bulk of the growth occurred in the fifteen years before the bill was enacted and has fallen significantly for nearly fifteen years."
The study continues showing that though polls hold that over 80% of black people want more police presence, not less, oftentimes surveys don’t ask the right type of questions about policing—questions that would get at complexity and nuance. Police respond more slowly to calls for service in black communities. Ambulance services responding in black communities compared to white communities are several minutes slower. In addition, the violent crime clearance rate is unacceptably low (law enforcement agencies consider crimes solved when they are “cleared” by arrests). To most black people, it seems that police care less for their communities, for their deceased loved ones, and their own lives. So, when black people say “more policing,” they mean better than what they have and similar to what predominately white communities receive.
And there we are. A look at one of the most racist pieces of deception I have ever witnessed. Watching the course again, without looking at any of the counter-arguments, MacDonald is truly exceptional. She doesn’t use a lot of “fire and brimstone;” her power comes from her ability to manipulate numbers. Though it goes without saying, I was making a joke when I said that MacDonald should write all of the PragerU courses. As sick as it makes me write this, it’s easy to see how someone who has no bigotry at first (but is easily persuaded), could go into watching this one way and then come out with some new form of racism that they never knew they once had.
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