Janaya Khan, a Black Lives Matter activist, created a video for Fusion explaining why she wants to abolish the police. At the beginning of the video, she mocks critics who believe abolishing the police would lead to chaos, claiming that it is about ‘transformative justice’ and a need for ‘non-prison’ and ‘non-police-based strategies’ for dealing with ‘crisis and violence in our communities.’
Afterward, she claims that the supply of prisons creates a demand for prisoners. However, anyone who has passed an economics course understands that her claim is completely backwards. She also injects identity politics into the debate by saying transgender, black, Native, and Latinx people largely fill prisons. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the prison population in the United States is 58.5% white (including white Hispanics/Latinos), 37.7% black, 2.2% Native American, and 1.6% Asian. Hispanics/Latinos of any race comprise 32.9% of the prison population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the racial makeup of the country is 76.6% white, 13.4% black/African American, 5.8% Asian, and 1.3% American Indian or Alaskan Native.
At first glance, it appears that Khan’s claim of the police being racist has credibility. Americans who are white and Asian have lower incarceration rates than blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans. However, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, African Americans accounted for 52.5% of all homicides in the United States from 1980 to 2008, suggesting that blacks are more likely to be incarcerated due to their higher rate of violent crime. In fact, majority-black cities that have minimized proactive policing have experienced a significant increase in the city homicide rate.
For example, blacks and African Americans account for 63.7% of Baltimore’s population. In 2014, according to city-data, the city’s homicide rate was 33.8 murders per 100,000 people (national average was 4.9 murders per 100,000 people). Following the Freddie Gray shooting in 2015, Baltimore police officers significantly reduced proactive policing. As a result, the city’s homicide rate spiked to 57.8 murders per 100,000 residents in 2017 (national average was 5.7 murders per 100,000 people).
Unequal group outcomes do not necessarily equate to discrimination. For instance, men and women make up nearly the same proportion of the total population, but according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, males make up 93.0% of the prison population. Yet, nobody is insisting that males face institutional discrimination; most people recognize that men are more likely than women to commit violent crime.
Later in the video, based on her inaccurate view of supply and demand, Khan claims police are incentivized to manufacture criminals. However, as inferred with the data above, the only people who create criminals are criminals. For the rest of the video, Khan discusses the divestment of funding from police and reinvestment in ‘community models.’ She concludes by suggesting that police officers should be replaced with ‘rapid response justice teams’ (whatever that means).
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