An important 2018 study by Cesario, Johnson, and Terrill raised an unasked question: Why do cops shoot whites so much more than their murder rates would indicate?
Is there evidence of a Black–White disparity in death by police gunfire in the United States? This is commonly answered by comparing the odds of being fatally shot for Blacks and Whites, with odds benchmarked against each group’s population proportion. However, adjusting for population values has questionable assumptions given the context of deadly force decisions. We benchmark 2 years of fatal shooting data on 16 crime rate estimates. When adjusting for crime, we find no systematic evidence of anti-Black disparities in fatal shootings, fatal shootings of unarmed citizens, or fatal shootings involving misidentification of harmless objects. Multiverse analyses showed only one significant anti-Black disparity of 144 possible tests. Exposure to police given crime rate differences likely accounts for the higher per capita rate of fatal police shootings for Blacks, at least when analyzing all shootings. For unarmed shootings or misidentification shootings, data are too uncertain to be conclusive. …
… When fatal police shootings are benchmarked against crime data rather than population proportions, a different picture emerges. Figure 1 presents the odds of being fatally shot by police given homicide (left panel), violent crime (center panel), and weapons violation (right panel) rates for Blacks and Whites. When fatal shooting data are benchmarked against the number of murder/nonnegligent manslaughter reports and arrests, the odds ratio obtained when benchmarking against population proportions flips completely. The odds were 2.7 times higher for Whites to be killed by police gunfire relative to Blacks given each group’s SRS homicide reports, 2.6 times higher for Whites given each group’s SRS homicide arrests, 2.9 times higher for Whites given each group’s NIBRS homicide reports, 3.9 times higher for Whites given each group’s NIBRS homicide arrests, and 2.5 times higher for Whites given each group’s CDC death by assault data.
A similar pattern emerges when we benchmark fatal police shooting data by violent crime arrests, with Whites (mostly) more likely to be killed. Odds were 1.3 times higher for Whites to be killed given SRS violent crime arrests, 4.8 times higher for Whites given NIBRS violent crime reports (on the more severe definition), 2.7 times higher for Whites given NIBRS violent crime arrests (more severe definition), and 1.4 times higher for Whites given NIBRS violent crime reports (less severe definition). For NIBRS violent crime arrests (less severe definition), odds were 1.02 times higher
for Blacks. Regarding the NCVS data, according to the more severe violent crime definition, odds were 1.03 times higher for Whites, but according to the less severe definition odds were 1.2 times higher for Blacks.
Finally, a consistent anti-White pattern exists when benchmarking on weapons violation data. Here, given each group’s violation of weapons laws, odds were 1.5 times higher for Whites given SRS weapons violation arrests, 1.7 times higher for Whites given NIBRS incident reports, 1.6 times higher for Whites given NIBRS arrests, and 1.1 times higher for Whites given NCVS weapon reports.
In sum, in nearly every case, Whites were either more likely to be fatally shot by police or police showed no significant disparity in either direction. Although Blacks have greater odds of being fatally shot given population proportions, Whites overall were more likely to be fatally shot given each group’s involvement in those situations where the police may be more likely to use deadly force.
But now, from Retraction Watch:
The authors of a controversial paper on race and police shootings say they are retracting the article, which became a flashpoint in the debate over killings by police, and now amid protests following the murder of George Floyd.
The 2019 article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), titled “Officer characteristics and racial disparities in fatal officer-involved shootings,” found “no evidence of anti-Black or anti-Hispanic disparities across shootings, and White officers are not more likely to shoot minority civilians than non-White officers.” It has been cited 14 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, earning it a “hot paper” designation.
Joseph Cesario, a researcher at Michigan State University, told Retraction Watch that he and David Johnson, of the University of Maryland, College Park and a co-author, have submitted a request for retraction to PNAS. In the request, they write:
We were careless when describing the inferences that could be made from our data. This led to the misuse of our article to support the position that the probability of being shot by police did not differ between Black and White Americans (MacDonald, 2019). To be clear, our work does not speak to this issue and should not be used to support such statements. We accordingly issued a correction to rectify this statement (Johnson & Cesario, 2020).
Although our data and statistical approach were valid to estimate the question we actually tested (the race of civilians fatally shot by police), given continued misuse of the article (e.g., MacDonald, 2020) we felt the right decision was to retract the article rather than publish further corrections. We take full responsibility for not being careful enough with the inferences made in our original article, as this directly led to the misunderstanding of our research.
By the way, the name is “Mac Donald” with a space in the middle.
We appreciate the authors’ willingness to take this action. We hope readers and policymakers will now cease relying on this paper when considering the critical issue of racial bias in policing.
Or is it just some rare Italian surname?
Dr. Mummulo should retract his name and take full responsibility for not being careful enough with the inferences as this directly led to the misunderstanding of his name.