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Police ‘Shooter Bias’ Against African-Americans Essay

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Updated: Aug 5th, 2020


Even though law enforcement is supposed to treat terrorists in the harshest way possible, it is often not the case. Certain reporters and columnists point out that not only do law enforcement officers treat terrorists mildly compared to other alleged criminals but they also tend to exhibit biased attitudes towards African-American people. According to certain reports, in many cases, African-Americans seem to be treated worse than terrorists are, as the latter are detained, whereas the former are often shot with no valid reason.

Police Brutality

Various articles describing reported shooting incidents, providing accurate statistics, and the descriptions of anti-terrorist police interventions suggest that there is a serious discrepancy between the official and actual position of law enforcement. Certain police officers seem to be biased against African-Americans, as the latter is reported to be far more likely to be shot than detained compared to white people. It seems that there is no explanation of such unfair treatment African-Americans receive, let alone justification. An analysis of certain articles helps shed further light on the issue and how it is currently perceived.

The article was written by Shaun King entitled “Can African-Americans Get a Little of that Akhmad Khan Rahami Treatment?” is rather interesting from a linguistic standpoint. The language is mostly informal, aimed at a certain audience that King attempts to persuade. The tone of the article is quite ironic, considering the closing remark: “Maybe if they had shot up a movie theater” (King par. 16), which demonstrates a drastic difference in treatment terrorists and African-Americans receive.

The main argument King makes is that the case of a recently detained terrorist bomber, Ahmad Khan Rahami, makes us wonder why did he receive such a mild treatment compared to many African-Americans who have shot right away, and whose criminal intent was not even sufficiently clear (King par. 8). King mentions multiple cases, such as the case of Terence Crutcher, Amadou Diallo, John Crawford, and Sean Bell. According to King, these African-Americans did not display the behavior that would even remotely suggest criminal intent (par. 13). King points out that police officers’ actions regarding these people resemble the actions of a judge, a jury, as well as an executioner (King par. 15), whereas a terrorist bomber is kept alive.

Statistics Interpretation

Lowery claims that statistically speaking, more white people are shot than African-Americans (“Aren’t More White People” par. 11). Indeed, out of 1502 people shot by police officers, 732 are white, and 381 are black. The author explains, however, that this data may be misleading without due interpretation and correlation with population statistics. African-Americans make up roughly thirteen percent of the U.S. population while white people make up sixty-two percent. Nonetheless, the proportion of African-Americans shot over the last year by law enforcement amounts to twenty-four percent. Therefore, based on the statistical data, the frequency of shooting and killing African-Americans is 2.5 times higher than in the case of white people. Moreover, approximately thirteen percent of all African-Americans who have been shot by the police officers turned out to be unarmed. According to Lowery, the proportion of the unarmed white people killed by the police amounts to seven percent (“Aren’t More White People” par. 14).

The study conducted by Ross presents statistics of racial disparities regarding the police shootings in 2011-2014 (par. 1). The results suggest a substantial bias towards shooting unarmed African-Americans as compared to unarmed white people. The obtained results demonstrate a 3.49 times higher likelihood of shooting an unarmed African-American than a white person. According to Lowery, racial disparities regarding shooting rates are disproportionate (“Study Finds Police” par. 1). Out of nine hundred police shootings with a fatal outcome that took place in 2015, ninety-three were reported to involve the unarmed. African-Americans accounted for forty percent of the overall unarmed number (“Study Finds Police” par. 3). The report cited by Lowery also suggested the need to address the so-called “shooter bias” in law enforcement officers, as they seemed to perceive African-Americans as a more serious threat (“Study Finds Police” par. 6). There is a pressing need to reduce this bias since the perception of African-Americans as potentially more dangerous is unjustified and inconsistent with reality.


While it is clear that from the statistical standpoint that there is a bias against African-Americans exhibited by law enforcement, it has far-reaching implications on another level. It seems as though the mentioned biased tendency ensures that African-Americans receive treatment that could be seen as worse than the treatment received by terrorists. It is commonly seen as the right thing to do to detain terrorists to prevent them from committing massive acts of violence (Etzioni par. 1). Therefore, it is regarded as necessary to detain them. In his article, King emphasizes that terrorist detainment could be useful, as it can help determine the potential terrorist network, and, in general, gather more information (King par. 3). However, how can the bias towards African-Americans be explained? One cannot say that they present a threat more serious than terrorism does. In these troubled times, after the events of 9/11, is there any criminal activity more dangerous than terrorism? It does seem as though African-Americans receive worse treatment than terrorists do. The latter is considered to be worthy of detainment, of proper trial, jury, convictions, etc. How is it that African-Americans are several times more likely to be shot by the police than the white people even with no signs that would point to criminal intent?

Terrorism Threat

King describes the detainment of Ahmad Khan Rahami as more humane than the treatment of African-Americans (par. 4). According to Ashford, in 2015, nearly seventy people have been linked to Islamic State activities and detained for further investigation (par. 1). The number includes refugees from Syria, i.e. those who have been accepted in the U.S. as fleeing from the war atrocities in their homeland but were eventually going to repay the country in a somewhat dubious manner. Ashford refers to a statement issued by Obama, where the President declares that to prevent refugees from receiving help and support in the U.S. would be a betrayal of American values (par. 4). However, does it not apply to the biased attitude displayed by law enforcement towards African-Americans? Those who have been shot often did not exhibit any signs of criminal intent were unarmed and were still perceived as a threat. Were they a threat graver than terrorism? They were not. So why did they deserve a treatment less humane? It remains an open question.


Even though saying that African-Americans are treated worse than terrorists sounds rather harsh at first, after due analysis of data there is but one conclusion. Given the analyzed reports, articles, and statistical data it is safe to assume that there is a ‘shooter bias’ in police officers against African-Americans. Moreover, the detained terrorists seem to be receiving better treatment. Whether the reported bias is caused by something other than racial issues remains to be seen. However, this problem must be addressed in the nearest future.

Works Cited

Ashford, Ben. . 2015. Web.

Etzioni, Amitai. . 2016. Web.

King, Shaun. Can African-Americans Get a Little of that Ahmad Khan Rahami Treatment? 2016. Web.

Lowery, Wesley. Aren’t More White People Than Black People Killed by Police? Yes, but No. 2016. Web.

Lowery, Wesley. Study Finds Police Fatally Shoot Unarmed Black Men at Disproportionate Rates. 2016. Web.

Ross, Cody T. “A Multi-Level Bayesian Analysis of Racial Bias in Police Shootings at the County-Level in the United States, 2011–2014.” PloS 10.11 (2015): e0141854

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