Bernie Sanders and Black Crime Myths

"The reality is four times as many blacks get arrested for marijuana. Truth is that far more blacks get stopped for traffic violations. The truth is that sentencing for blacks is higher than for whites.

We need fundamental police reform, clearly, clearly, when we talk about a criminal justice system. I would hope that we could all agree that we are sick and tired of seeing videos on television of unarmed people, often African-Americans, shot by police officers."

This is the all too familiar narrative that Bernie (((Sanders))) pushed during last night's Democratic debate. Since this is topical again, I think it is worth taking a quick look at the evidence.


The claim that Blacks and Whites use drugs at roughly equal rates is based on self-reporting. There is a serious problem with this: Blacks are more likely than Whites to lie about using drugs. How do we know? Well, criminologists sometimes conduct studies in which they run biological tests on people’s hair, blood, urine, etc., to test what drugs they have recently taken and then compare that to what drugs they claim they have recently taken. Such studies consistently find that Blacks are more likely than Whites to lie and claim that they have not used a drug that they really have used (Page et al. 2009, Falk et al. 1992, Feucht, Stephens, and Walker, 1994, and Fedrich and Johnson 2005). In fact, as reviewed in Ellis, Beaver, and Wright's Handbook of Crime Correlates, most studies based on self-reported criminal history suggest that Blacks are not more likely than Whites to commit crime in general. And, as will be seen below, that is certainly false.


Moreover, Blacks do lots of stupid shit, compared to White drug users, that makes them more likely to be arrested. To quote one study comparing Black and White drug users: “African Americans are nearly twice as likely to buy outdoors (0.31 versus 0.14), three times more likely to buy from a stranger (0.30 versus 0.09), and significantly more likely to buy away from their homes (0.61 versus 0.48).” (Ramchand , Pacula, and Iguchi MY 2006). Similarly, a report issued by the Justice Department found that Black drug users use drugs more often than White drug users, use more dangerous drugs than White drug users, and are more likely to use drugs in areas with high crime rates (Lagan 1995). All 6 of these differences will make Black drug users more likely to get arrested than White drug users. Given all this, there is no good reason to suppose that Black drug arrest rates reflect racism. It is far more likely that they reflect Black drug users' dishonesty as well as the reckless manner in which they use drugs.


The argument about sentencing is also dumb, and for a similar reason. When a criminal is sentenced for a crime there are more relevant factors than just the crime he just committed. Other variables, such as how he presents himself in the courtroom, and the likelihood that he will commit another crime in the future, also play a role. If we hold these things constant, we see that Blacks and Whites get the same sentences for the same crimes.

This was the finding of Beaver et al. (2013). In this study, researchers compared criminal’s sentencing time after controlling for their verbal IQ and their self-reported history of violence. They found that holding these variables constant completely eliminated the racial cap in sentencing.

Police "Brutality"

The idea that there is a war against Black males being waged by the police neglects one glaringly obvious fact: Black males do more than their fair share of crime and, as a result, are more likely to get shot by cops.


FBI data suggests that Blacks account for roughly half of murder offenders, 38% of all violent criminals, and 29% of all persons arrested (2014, Crime in the United States, Table 43). Given this, if we had a just police force which only killed criminals who posed a serious danger to society, and if such criminals whether White or Black were equally likely to be killed by police, then we would expect somewhere between 29% and 38% of those killed by police to be Black.

There are various sources on police killings. Which one is best is a matter of controversy. But it doesn’t really matter, because they all show basically the same thing. To begin with, the Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan analyzed UCR data and found that 32% of those killed by police were Black (Mullainathan 2015). Similarly, the sociologist Peter Moskos analyzed data from the website, which claims to be “The most accurate, most comprehensive and always up-to-date list of people killed by U.S. law enforcement officers.” The site basically aggregates all news stories in the country about someone being killed by a cop. The site is supposed to offer a rigorous alternative to biased and lazy statistics released by the government. Using this data set, Moskos found that 30% of those killed by police in 2013-2015 were Black (Moskos 2015). A third source we can use is the CDC’s Compressed Mortality Database. This database’s focus isn’t on crime but, rather, the causes of American deaths. However, one such cause is being killed by law enforcement (excluding legal execution). Using this data, we can see that the CDC estimates Blacks to have been 27% of those killed by police between 1999 and 2014 (Compressed Mortality Database). Thus, across multiple data sources, we see that, if anything, Blacks make up a lower proportion of those killed by police than what we would expect given their crime rates. In light of this, there is no good reason to think that the police are running around unjustly killing Blacks.


Thus, if we look at the relevant evidence instead of (((leftist))) talking points, it becomes clear that Black people's problem isn't police; it's Black people.