Giuliani, whose political identity until recently centered on his response to the terrorist attacks in New York on that day, called it “a terrible, terrible overreaction to what’s been created as a almost hysterical reaction” to “some incidents of police wrongdoing.”
He then offered some statistics to suggest downplaying even those incidents.
“As the president pointed out, and as we all know, I think logically, 99 percent, if not more of the police contact with the public is appropriate,” Giuliani said. “Either no use of force, or in many, many cases, a use of force to save their lives."
“After all,” he continued, “more police officers are shot and killed — shot and killed by blacks than police officers shoot and kill African Americans. The unarmed shootings, which are the ones that are troublesome, there are only nine of them against blacks. Twenty against whites in 2019. So that will give you a sense. Meanwhile, there were 9,000 murders of blacks, 7,500 of which were black-on-black.”
Each of these claims is wildly misleading, explicitly false or both.
Giuliani’s claim about the shooting deaths of unarmed blacks at the hands of police uses since-updated data compiled by The Washington Post. Our database of police shootings indicates that there were 55 incidents in which police shot and killed unarmed individuals in 2019. Twenty-five were white and 14 black. As we’ve reported, that’s not representative of the population of the United States. Black Americans are more likely to be shot and killed by police when unarmed than are whites.
But that's also not every instance of police killing black Americans. Another 20 incidents in our database involved people who may or may not have been armed. And, of course, there are numerous incidents in which those killed by police were armed, some with firearms and some with vehicles, knives, clubs or even toys.
Of the 1,002 deaths at the hands of police logged in our database for 2019, 250 — nearly a quarter — were of black people. That’s about twice the density of non-Hispanic blacks in the overall population.
Now we can compare that figure with the number of police killed by black people over the same period. The FBI compiles data on the number of felonious deaths of police and demographic information about those responsible.
In 2019, there were 48 police officers who died in the line of duty during “felonious incidents.” Each is documented; some involved things such as car accidents during confrontations with suspects. In other words, this also doesn’t reflect Giuliani’s assertions about how many police are “shot and killed,” but, for the sake of argument, let’s use that number.
It’s already clear that Giuliani’s wrong. Even if all 48 of those deaths were attributable to black suspects, it’s well below the 250 deaths of blacks at the hands of police. The FBI data, though, indicate that 15 of the 49 identified suspects involved in those deaths were black — a figure comparable to the number of black people killed by police who were known to have been unarmed.
It may be the case that Giuliani was trying to claim that more black Americans died at the hands of other black people than at the hands of police. That’s obviously true; there are far more black people in the country than police officers.
This is also a problematic bit of cherry-picking which Giuliani’s engaged in previously. In 2014, he complained about the focus on black people being killed by police, saying that he found it “very disappointing that we are not discussing the fact that 93 percent of blacks are killed by other blacks."
What this obscures is that most murders happen at the hands of people known to the victim. In 2018, there were 14,123 murder victims catalogued by the FBI. Of the 7,131 for which the perpetrator was known, 5,739 were killed by someone they knew, including 1,809 killed by members of their own family.
As we pointed out in 2015 when then-candidate Donald Trump shared inaccurate numbers making the same point as Giuliani offered Tuesday on Fox News, there’s a reason that most black murder victims are killed by black people (89 percent of black murder victims were killed by black perpetrators in 2018). It’s the same reason that most white people are killed by white people (81 percent of white victims in 2018): Our families and neighborhoods tend to be primarily constituted of people who are of the same race as ourselves. If you’re most likely to be killed by someone you know or a family member, the odds are high you’re going to be killed by someone who shares your race.
Regardless, that’s irrelevant to the point at hand. Even if every black person not killed by police was killed by another black person, how does that address questions about those occasions when police kill black people? Giuliani’s barely veiled suggestion, as it was in 2014, was that black people need to worry about themselves and not about the police.
No one disputes that murder is wrong and that reducing murder broadly is a goal worth attaining. What one should dispute is that we might wave away killings at the hands of police simply because deaths under other circumstances are more common. And we should of course reject out of hand the idea that police are more at risk from black people than vice versa. That is entirely and demonstrably untrue.
A point which Henry failed to make.