Harvard study finds black people die as a result of police pulling back after brutality protests

'My estimates show that we lost a thousand more lives, most of them black as well, because of an increase in homicides,' said Harvard's Roland Fryer

Published: June 2, 2020 2:54pm

Updated: June 3, 2020 10:47am

An upcoming study by Harvard economists found that many more black Americans die as a result of police drawdowns following high-profile, police brutality protests.

Police become skittish following viral, racially-charged police misconduct investigations, leading to reluctance to protect black neighborhoods, according to the to-be-released academic paper by Harvard economist Roland Fryer and co-author Tanaya Devi, reported on by The Wall Street Journal's Jason Riley. The study found that homicides and felonies spike immediately after the reported events in question, crime that hits black communities the hardest.

"When police were investigated following incidents of deadly force that had gone viral, police activity declined and violent crime spiked. It happened in Ferguson, Mo., after Michael Brown was shot by an officer. It happened in Chicago after a cop gunned down Laquan McDonald. And it occurred in Baltimore after Freddie Gray died in police custody," Riley wrote.

"In Chicago, there was a 90% drop in police-civilian contacts immediately after the announcement of an investigation, and Baltimore literally went to zero after a probe was announced there, he said. "In cities where these contacts fell the most, homicides increased the most. Sadly, the decision to launch department-wide state and federal inquiries into the deaths of Brown, McDonald and Gray resulted in numerous additional deaths. ... What happens, he said, is that police effectively pull back. They don’t stop doing their jobs, but they become less proactive and curb their interactions with civilians."

Fryer told Riley that it wasn't the investigations themselves that are the problem so much as the circumstances under which they are launched. Fryer and Devi's research reportedly found that "investigations that weren’t prompted by well-publicized events resulted in little change in police behavior and violent crime." 

“But when I look at cities in which the investigation was preceded by a viral event,” Fryer told Riley, “homicide goes up considerably. Total crime goes up considerably. ... My estimates show that we lost a thousand more lives, most of them black as well, because of an increase in homicides. ... I never would have guessed that if police stopped putting in the effort, that homicides would change like this. ... You hear some people say, ‘Oh, we want to police our own neighborhoods, get out.’ No, you don’t want that. I guess I always knew it was a foolish idea, but I didn’t realize it was this deadly.”

The forthcoming results challenge the narrative of nationwide rioters in the wake of the death of black American George Floyd at the hands of Minnesota police.

"Protesters have decided to vilify the police," Riley wrote. "Rioters have decided to take advantage of the protests. And the media have expressed little interest in putting this tragedy in context. The activists tell us that what happened to George Floyd is commonplace and racially motivated, but the empirical evidence points in the opposite direction.

“Camera phones and social media may give fatal encounters between cops and black suspects more attention, but anecdotes are no substitute for hard data. And now we know how scapegoating law enforcement can backfire in ways that do the most harm to our most vulnerable communities." 

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