When a Democrat running for the U.S. Senate claimed that America was plagued by a “frightening” level of deaths of unarmed young black Americans at the hands of police officers, The Washington Post swung into action to gather the facts.
The results of its fact-checking infuriated one side in the debate over whether America’s law enforcement officers are killing citizens they are sworn to protect.
Last month, Beto O’Rourke, who is seeking to unseat Republican Ted Cruz in Texas, issued a broad condemnation of police officers.
“Black men, unarmed, black teenagers, unarmed, and black children, unarmed, are being killed at a frightening level right now, including by members of law enforcement without accountability and without justice,” O’Rourke said during an interview in which he also offered support for NFL players who protest during the national anthem.
His comments were shared NowThis on Twitter and went viral.
‘I can think of nothing more American.’ — Beto O'Rourke — the man taking on Ted Cruz — brilliantly explains why NFL players kneeling during the anthem is not disrespectful pic.twitter.com/bEqOAYpxEL
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) August 21, 2018
The issue of police killings of unarmed black teens emerged in Texas last month during the trial of Roy Oliver, a white former police officer who was convicted of murder for shooting unarmed black teen Jordan Edwards to death in 2017, according to CNN. Oliver was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
The Post decided to fact-check O’Rourke’s claim, after first trying to decide whether O’Rourke meant police were killing young black men at an alarming rate or whether black men were being killed at an alarming rate, and police shootings were simply one part of the overall issue.
As for the second interpretation, The Post found evidence in its database that more than 70 percent of homicide victims in America’s largest cities were black.
That’s not a new report. The Chicago Tribune, which tracks the city’s homicides, has noted that the vast preponderance of both victims and accused killers are black.
However, The Post found that there is no basis to hang that on police.
“If you drill down and look at the data for unarmed black children killed by police, there is virtually no support for the idea that this happens at a frightening level,” The Post reported.
The Post’s own database of crimes from 2015 through August in which the victims were unarmed “shows no black children were fatally shot by police in that period.”
It found that three unarmed black teens were killed by police in that period, while six teens who were either white or Hispanic were killed in the same time frame.
The Post, however, refrained from rating O’Roourke’s statement as false, saying that “whether O’Rouke’s statement qualifies as Pinocchio or Geppetto-worthy depends on how you hear it. There have been virtually no shootings of unarmed black children by police in the past five years. But hundreds of black children have been homicide victims.”
That conclusion was attacked by Katherine Kreuger writing on Splinter News.
“Right, so, the ‘frightening’ part is NOT that police officers are gunning down literal children in our streets. In fact — ‘shoving glasses up nose, sniveling wildly’ — that’s actually statistically quite rare, you see!! As if the very idea that police are killing anyone, particularly children, in our streets AT ALL is not ‘frightening’ enough,” she wrote.
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