Tuesday Reading List: Even Numbers Lie

There are a few must read articles today. Jelani Cobb at the New Yorker interviews Alicia Garza, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, which is an actual organization whose name is sometimes used as a shorthand for the broader movement:

In the wake of Sterling and Castile’s deaths—which occurred within forty-eight hours of each other—it was possible to imagine that public opinion might become more sympathetic toward B.L.M.’s cause ... The following day, however, a sniper claimed five lives and fundamentally altered the dialogue around race, policing, and reform in ways we have yet to fully countenance. Conservative critics placed the blame for these deaths at the feet of Black Lives Matter—despite the sniper’s statement, and the evidence thus far, that he had worked alone. I spoke with Alicia Garza, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter, about the meaning of this week, the charges that her organization encourages violence against law enforcement, and the implications of Dallas for the future of the movement.

Cobb has been relentless in covering politics, police violence, and the movement that has emerged to fight it; his long-form piece on that movement from March is complicated and rich. The New York Times posted a counterintuitive article yesterday, suggesting that while most forms of police violence are disproportionately deployed on Black people, shootings do not fit that pattern. The problem is, the researchers only looked at a few cities:

To answer this, [Harvard economist Roland Fryer] focused on one city, Houston. The Police Department there let the researchers look at reports not only for shootings but also for arrests when lethal force might have been justified ... Mr. Fryer found that in such situations, officers in Houston were about 20 percent less likely to shoot if the suspects were black. This estimate was not precise, and firmer conclusions would require more data ... Such results may not be true in every city. The cities Mr. Fryer used to examine officer-involved shootings make up only about 4 percent of the nation’s population, and serve more black citizens than average. Moreover, the results do not mean that the general public’s perception of racism in policing is misguided. Lethal uses of force are exceedingly rare. There were 1.6 million arrests in Houston in the years Mr. Fryer studied. Officers fired their weapons 507 times. What is far more common are nonlethal uses of force.

Making extrapolations from a single city is dangerous. A recent study that looked at a larger data set found a completely different result:

A geographically-resolved, multi-level Bayesian model is used to analyze the data presented in the U.S. Police-Shooting Database (USPSD) in order to investigate the extent of racial bias in the shooting of American civilians by police officers in recent years. In contrast to previous work that relied on the FBI’s Supplemental Homicide Reports that were constructed from self-reported cases of police-involved homicide, this data set is less likely to be biased by police reporting practices ... The results provide evidence of a significant bias in the killing of unarmed black Americans relative to unarmed white Americans, in that the probability of being {black, unarmed, and shot by police} is about 3.49 times the probability of being {white, unarmed, and shot by police} on average. 

Dara Lind at Vox executed a thorough takedown of the Fryer study as well. Data from a national project to map police violence show the extraordinary deviations across municipalities:

The city-by-city variation is the result of cultural differences, local use of force policies, police contracts, state "police bills of rights," leadership, and more. You can play with the data above, which is both fun and informative! I'm a broken record on this, but visit Campaign Zero to go deeper on all of those issues.

Alyson Klein at Education Week looks at whether the presidential campaigns are sleeping on education policy:

Clinton is also behind the eight ball compared to other recent Democratic nominees. John Kerry, who got the party's nod in 2004, put out his K-12 plan in May of that year. (He was pushing for smaller high schools, and more challenging education standards.) And Al Gore, the Democratic nominee in 2000, had proposals out as early as May 1999 that called for spending more than $100 billion on early childhood education, teacher quality, and more ... Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, is also late to the dance compared to recent nominees. By this point of the game in 2012, GOP nominee Mitt Romney had outlined some big K-12 ideas, namely allowing federal money to follow students to the schools of their choice.

I care about dramatically improving public schooling outcomes in this country, I spend most of my time with other education policy types, and I don't even know anyone who will vote strictly on education in this election. Maybe the candidates are dragging their feet on their education platforms, or maybe the candidates realize that there is virtually no chance that anything substantive becomes an issue in this election.

Cynicism aside, Marilyn Rhames has some reflections and hope as contemporary "education reform" turns 25-years-old:

... education reform keeps vying for respect, appearing wiser than her years when she pushes back with the tenacity of a young adult with a freshly minted college degree, loads of student loan debt, and a dream just big enough to save the world. At 25, education reform is a quintessential millennial ... Personally, I see innovation in education without accountability as nothing more than an experiment, and no child deserves to be a guinea pig. We also don’t want rules and regulations to suck the life out of a school’s ability to be creative. These lofty goals pose a tension that serves to provide reformers with a healthy dose of checks and balances, lest the adults get all the checks and the kids get a zero balance. But, yeah, reform is just 25 years old…what 25-year-old isn’t still trying to find herself?

I hope we can all be so centered as we try to find ourselves. Have a great day!