Debunking Myths About Racialized Police Brutality in America
Issue   |   Wed, 02/04/2015 - 00:35

Today, people are far too quick to allege racism, and even quicker to mistake disparate impact for it. From graffiti in Ferguson saying, “The only good cop is a dead cop” to unsanctioned protests in New York City where protesters chanted, “What do we want? Dead cops!” the police have been the most recent to fall victim to such allegations. But what evidence is there to suggest they are racist?  Even in times of anguish, it is important to use sound reasoning; below you will find the first of a series of articles in which I will attempt to inject such reason into common talking points that have emerged on the issue.

In recent months, “every 28 hours” has become a rallying cry of the Black Lives Matter movement and other related campaigns. But what exactly do these groups claim to happen every 28 hours?

While many people claim that every 28 hours a cop kills a black person, others, such as Columbia University professor and news pundit Marc Lamont Hill, have claimed that the police shoot an unarmed black person every 28 hours. But, like the “Hands up, don’t shoot” mantra, evidence and reason have debunked these “28 hours” myths. Politifact rated them “false” while the Washington Post awarded them their lowest grade possible: “four Pinocchios,” which it uses to identify a “whopper” of a lie. Marc Lamont Hill has even taken to Twitter to apologize, claiming he “misspoke.”

This claim and its variants originated from a report called “Operation Ghetto Storm” by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, which profiled the “extrajudicial killing of at least 313 black people in 2012, or one every 28 hours.” Yet Operation Ghetto Storm is not an accurate representation of the facts, much less an unbiased, academic study. It seems to have been compiled by a single volunteer researcher and was largely derived from news clips, which can be remarkably misleading — just consider CNN’s coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing. Furthermore, while the report itself has many discrepancies, the slogans above only distort it more.

Firstly, in its definition of “extrajudicial killings,” Operation Ghetto Storm includes people killed by police officers as well as by security guards and vigilantes who claimed self-defense. The “28 hours” slogan fails to mention either security guards or vigilantes. Thus, when the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement claims on its website that “in 2012, police summarily executed more than 313 black people — one every 28 hours,” it is deceiving the public and undermining its own cause.

Secondly, many of the report’s victims were killed as a result of accidents. One such victim was Adaisha Miller, who was killed at a birthday party when she hugged an off-duty police officer from behind and inadvertently triggered his firearm. Several more were killed in automobile accidents, such as Stephanie Melson, a teacher and mother of three, who was run over by a car driven by a suspect fleeing arrest. Moreover, the report includes the death of Monae Turnage, who was accidentally shot by two of her friends, on the grounds that she was shot using an off-duty officer’s stolen firearm. These hardly fit the “killer cop” narrative, yet the report holds the police just as responsible.

Thirdly, it seems that less than half of the report’s victims were unarmed, yet the 28-hour calculation factors in all 313 deaths — a fact that prompted Marc Lamont Hill to apologize for the statements he made on national television. But that fact alone does not suffice to show the inaccuracy of Hill’s claim. The report’s definition of “unarmed” is also ambiguous: Of the 136 victims it classified as “unarmed,” nine were killed while allegedly attempting to run over an officer with a car. Cars kill more people than guns do each year, so can these cases really be considered unarmed? Other victims, such as Stephon Watts and Milton Hall, were armed with knives, yet the report classified both of them as “unarmed.” Another, Rudy Eugene — the “Miami Zombie” — “was shot to death by Miami police as he crouched over Ronald Poppo’s limp body, naked and growling, chewing off chunks of the man’s face.” The term “unarmed” is often used to imply that the police used excessive force, but these cases make it clear that one can still present a threat without a firearm.

Therefore, it is lying to claim that the police killed a black person every 28 hours, and much more so to say that the police shot an unarmed black man every 28 hours. The Operation Ghetto Storm report was not a study, but rather a contrived narrative, tailored to fit a predetermined conclusion. A true academic study would not have included such misleading cases, which served only to distort the truth and support a disingenuous narrative about the police. While, anecdotally, black males appear more often to be killed by police than their white counterparts, hyperbole and sensationalism certainly do not constitute proof.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/04/2015 - 07:00

If your version of "debunking myths" simplistically entails a numbers game that itself is derived from (cherry-picked) anecdote, then I'm embarrassed and ashamed that you'll be graduating with an Amherst degree.

C '12 (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/04/2015 - 07:06

If your idea of "debunking myths" about racial inequality is founded on a simplistic numbers game based on (cherry-picked) anecdotes, then I'm embarrassed and ashamed that you and I will both hold degrees from Amherst at the end of this year.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/04/2015 - 19:15


Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/04/2015 - 19:50

First and foremost, to argue on your own terms, your opening paragraph is as misleading as the "28 hours" claim you tear apart through the rest of the piece. The video showing protestors calling for dead cops has been proven to be doctored (although that didn't stop local FOX News stations from reporting on it). Furthermore, your focus on graffiti calling for dead cops detracts from the thousands of peaceful protestors who do not damage property who want to have a real, intelligent dialogue about racism in America. Just as you wouldn't want the Republican Party represented by the KKK (I assume), we don't want our groups represented by the few openly destructive people among us.

My main criticism of this piece, however, is that it misses the forest for the trees. Make all the fuss you want about the hard facts and the academic rigor of the research that led to the "28 hours" claim, but all you'll be doing is splitting hairs. No matter how many extrajudicial killings took place, it will not negate the fact that trust in police in communities of color has been eroded to the point of disintegration. It's not just the killings, but patterns of incarceration ( page 5) and disrespect towards these communities routinely displayed by both police and the criminal justice system as a whole that have led to this point. When people are afraid of walking around their own neighborhoods for fear of being targeted by police, something has gone awry. Rather than bicker about the specifics of facts and figures, we should recognize the truth that exists above those figures and work towards a world where all races feel equally protected by those who are hired to protect them.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/04/2015 - 20:00

Ah, the party of small government always happy to defend the armed wing of the state.

Out of curiosity Lucido, what's your plan? Do you think the policy proposals of the Republican Party will end the racial hierarchy in America, where white households have a median wealth 13 times that of black households? Do you think the GOP is going to end the overpolicing of minority neighborhoods? The kind of overpolicing that leads to there being 50% more arrest warrants issued in Ferguson, Missouri, than there are residents. Is the GOP going to propose that fines and fees instituted by the state be proportional to income, so as to not create a class of low income people permanently indebted to the US? Is the Good Ol' Party going to do anything to fight the racial disparities of society, or is it just going to close its eyes and pretend they don't exist or wait for them to go away on their own?

I mean this all very seriously. Ask yourself those questions. Are the answers satisfactory?

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/04/2015 - 21:04

I'm happy to see the school is open to allowing students to voice opinions that conflict with their agenda. Also, the article is spot on!

David Zhang (not verified) says:
Thu, 02/05/2015 - 21:24

I suggest you read Arlene Eisen's response to the Washington Post's fact check article.

JF (not verified) says:
Sun, 02/08/2015 - 01:09

Let's put to one side your careless and farcical (driving a car makes one armed?) interrogation of the fact in question—let's rather deal with your choice of attacking the grounds of *one* statistic to "debunk myths" about police brutality against blacks. ProPublica has published a report ( that shows young black men are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than their white peers. What's more, police departments are often not required to report in detail the number of people they have killed in the course of "protecting and serving," so these numbers only serve as a lower bound on the true number of police killings of blacks. This is a truly pathetic attempt at discrediting movements for ending injustice. It is lying to say that facts about racism are anecdotal, plain and simple. The report I cite constitutes proof, as do the deaths of Aiyana Jones, Akai Gurley, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, and countless countless other black people.

Your obfuscations, frankly, disgust me. I'm not sure what you have to gain in promoting racist state-sponsored violence, but look around—your interventions only make this college more uncomfortable, less safe for your black and brown peers who face, whose family members face such violence in their everyday lives.

Robert Lucido (not verified) says:
Sun, 02/08/2015 - 16:36

You anticipated my next article! The upcoming edition's will center upon claims derived from the Pro Publica findings. I urge you to read exactly what Pro Publica claims, what they misstate, and they have been forced to recount. I assure you that the report is quite flawed as well.

As to the personal attacks, I'm quite used to them so they don't bother me. I just wanted to thank you for reading, and ask that you continue to do so as this series develops into a more comprehensive analysis of these polarizing and important issues. The series will conclude with a piece quite critical of aspects of the Police, but in order to do so, I felt it was very important to have a clearer understanding of the facts.

JF (not verified) says:
Fri, 02/13/2015 - 13:40

I suppose it's just distressing to me that the only "facts" that you are willing to consider are focused purely on numbers, which are hard to come by, considering how poorly the number of killings committed by police are reported. It's distressing because your unwillingness to respond to the facts of human life—human life savagely stolen, from people who had just been going about their daily lives—seems to me to signal that you simply don't care about these lives. If you truly care about their deaths, you must look at the root causes of them—not *just* the intense militarization of police, or whatever you intend to argue in the future, but the racial violence that comes with that militarization of the police. I can't say I'm looking forward to your future articles—please, please be aware of the effects of your callous language and unconsidered thought. I still don't understand why it is you would want to deny that police violence disproportionately affects black and brown people.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Sun, 02/08/2015 - 16:41

Are you fucking kidding me

Thomas Matthew (not verified) says:
Fri, 02/13/2015 - 07:51

And possibly the dullest tool in the shed.