Keenan Anderson Lived Through Being Tased

Why the Police Had to Deal with Keenan Anderson

Keenan Anderson was high on cocaine and weed on January 3, 2023, at about 3:35 in the afternoon. He was driving his BMW at the intersection of Venice Boulevard and Lincoln Boulevard in Los Angeles. Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is dangerous and illegal even if the driver doesn’t crash, but Keenan Anderson did crash his BMW into other cars. Instead of remaining at the scene, as the law requires, Anderson ran from his crash.

Next, Anderson apparently tried to carjack an Uber driver, but failed to get into the car and continued running. The driver said, “I am Uber driver and he was trying to steal my car while he hit other cars right here.” The driver did not use the word carjack, but civilians rarely use technical crime labels. If the driver was in the car when Anderson tried to “steal it,” then Anderson committed an attempted carjacking. The driver may have been standing near the car while Anderson attempted to steal it. This seems less likely because Anderson would need a key to start the car. It also seems unlikely that an Uber driver would have his car parked and be standing near it, rather than driving it to a fare, or driving it to an area where he could expect a fare. Even if Anderson were only trying to steal an empty car, that’s still grand theft of an automobile, which is a felony, although less serious than carjacking.

Bystanders saw the crash and watched Anderson run. They flagged down an LAPD officer who saw Anderson running into the street. The officer radios in the call, describes it as a possible DUI, and asks for backup.

The Stop

The officer approached Anderson, who was running in the middle of the street. It’s important to understand that it is illegal to run from the scene of a traffic collision, and it’s illegal to run in the middle of the street. Although Anderson was not protecting himself from being hit by a car, the officer protected Anderson and everyone else by ordering Anderson out of the street. Anderson said, “somebody is trying to kill me” but wouldn’t say who, and eventually got out of the street.

The officer told Anderson to sit on the sidewalk. Anderson wouldn’t sit down at first, and said things that didn’t make sense. Instead of telling the officer that he was high and had crashed his car, he told the officer that his car broke down and that he was asking for repairs. The officer stayed with Anderson and spoke to him for about 7 minutes.

Then Anderson got up and tried to leave. He asked the officer for water; the officer agreed. He asked to sit in a place where he could be seen; the officer agreed. But he wouldn’t sit down. The officer said, “I don’t want you in the road” but Anderson ran away from the officer back into the intersection.

The officer caught back up with Anderson in the middle of the road. He yelled at Anderson to get on the ground. Anderson complied. He told Anderson to get on his stomach. Anderson did not get on his stomach. Other officers came to help put handcuffs on Anderson, who was becoming more and more irate. He was shouting things that didn’t make sense. The officer said, “Keenan, relax!” But Anderson did not relax and shouted, “they are trying to kill me!” The video doesn’t not show the officers trying to kill Anderson or hurt him in any way.

As Anderson continued to try to avoid handcuffing, the officers warned him 13 times that if he did not stop, they would tase him. He did not stop. Anderson shouted, “these are actors!” One black officer had an elbow near Anderson’s neck as the officer attempted to grab Anderson’s wrist. A third officer warned the black officer “watch your elbow,” and the black officer moved his elbow.

Officers were able to put handcuffs and leg restraints on Anderson, as Anderson said, “This is an act… they’re not police.” After he was handcuffed, Anderson said, “They think I killed C Lo… They’re trying to sedate me… I know too much… they sedated me.”

Anderson was Given Immediate Medical Care and Taken to the Hospital

After Anderson was restrained, Anderson was conscious and speaking. He continued to make claims that were not connected with reality, like “I know too much” and “they’re trying to sedate me.”

Officer rolled Anderson on his side to make sure that he could breathe while he was restrained.

Officers let paramedics from the Los Angeles Fire Department examine Anderson to make sure that he was not hurt by the taser.

LAFD could not take him to a hospital in the fire truck, so they waited for an ambulance. Anderson was placed in a wheelchair.

The ambulance arrived five minutes later and took Anderson to the hospital. Four and a half hours after he was arrested he died from a heart attack.

The Toxicology Unit of the Forensic Science Division tested Anderson’s blood. They found cocaine metabolite and THC.

The situation was summarized by the Uber driver, who can be heard on a cell phone recording. He says, “That guy right there, he caused that accident, he was trying to steal my car. Yeah, the police is doing the right job right now. Don’t think that the police is trying to abuse him.”

The Arrest Video

There are a lot of videos about the death of Keenan Anderson. Most of them are short, sensationalized news segments that don’t show the complete arrest. LAPD put out a longer version that appears to contain all the relevant body camera video, along with commentary from the Department. It is age-restricted and can be seen here.

This incident is a test for the body worn camera and the anti-police movement. Body worn camera should also protect police in situations like this, where the officers acted appropriately and the suspect did not. That’s one of the reasons why police agencies agreed to the cameras.

But if media refuses to show the actual video, or edits in a deceptive way, or gatekeeps the video in a way that makes it difficult for people to see what actually happened, then the police agencies don’t get the benefit of the video.

Did Tasers kill Keenan Anderson?

Keenan Anderson’s decision to drive while high caused his car crash. His decision to get high probably contributed to his decision to try to carjack the Uber driver. His decision to get high probably contributed to his decision to run from the cops. In other words, if Keenan Anderson had not done drugs, this would not have happened. The first cause of Keenan Anderson’s death is Keenan Anderson.

Did the officers contribute to his death with their tasers? We will have a credibility answer after an autopsy. In the meantime, there is “no consensus” that tasers are dangerous to the heart. Even among those who believe that tasers are dangerous to the heart, the danger presents at the time of the taser use, not four hours later in a hospital. It’s important to remember that Anderson’s heart was beating after the incident, in the ambulance, all the way to the hospital, for four and half hours before his death. But the electrical effect of the taser was long over when he died.

There is a consensus among doctors that cocaine kills in the exact way that Keenan Anderson died. Cardiotoxicity induced by cocaine can result in sudden death. In other words, cocaine can cause a heart attack. Cocaine or its metabolites can stay in your system for 2-3 days.


Keenan Anderson’s family is asking for $50 million dollars for his death. That might give them a reason to shade the story in their favor.

Featured image from PJ Media.

When An Unqualified 29-year-old Became Public Safety Commissioner

Nika Soon-Shiong’s father bought the LA Times. Then she got appointed as a public safety commissioner in West Hollywood, despite having no background at all in criminal justice. While there, she reduced the number of deputies on the street before quitting early to return to graduate school.

Who is Nika Soon-Shiong?

Nika Soon-Shiong grew up wealthy. She is the daughter of Patrick Soon-Shiong the publisher of the Los Angeles Times. Her father became rich after inventing a drug called Abraxane.

Soon-Shiong is extremely well educated. She graduated from Stanford in 2011 with a bachelor of arts in international relations. Soon-Shiong’s resume is silent as to what she did between 2011 and 2014. She began 2014 as an intern at the Estafani Center in Cape Town. She also spent the summer of 2014 in Cape Town, doing a research project for Stanford around individuals affected by HIV, presumably as part of a master program. She spent the summer of 2015 at the New York State Summer Writers Institute, a fiction workshop. She received her masters in African studies, in 2016. As I read her resume, I became increasingly curious about when her interest in criminal justice began.

After getting her masters, she was the “Princeton in Africa Fellow” for a year. This job entailed producing a podcast, photography exhibition, and photo-essay showcasing public school conditions. After a year in this role, she continued doing research on South African public schools until the end of 2017. There is no indication of any work related to criminal justice.

Sooh-Shiong enrolled in a doctoral program at Oxford in 2018. While there she worked as a “consultant” for the president of the World Bank. One of her duties was writing “speeches and media posts” for him. According to her resume, Oxford gave her a doctorate in philosophy in 2019, in international development. Interestingly, she said in a 2022 interview that she had not completed her doctorate. Local media report that she was working on her thesis and returned when the pandemic struck.

When she arrived back in Los Angeles she took an active role in her father’s newsroom. For example, she banned the use of the word “looting” to describe theft by protesters of the murder of George Floyd. She is 29 years old.

Nika Soon-Shiong Has No Qualifications for a Job in Criminal Justice

It might seem provocative so say that a public safety commissioner has literally no background in criminal justice, but if it cannot be said about Nika Soon-Shiong, it cannot be said about anyone. She grew up extremely, superlatively rich, with all the benefits it implies. She has never lived in a crime-ridden neighborhood, and therefore has less lived experience than literally hundreds of thousands of people in the County of Los Angeles.

Her education is completely unrelated to criminal justice, criminology, penology, or any related field. Nor does she have a law degree, much less experience handling a criminal case.

During her education, she found time to host a podcast and attend a fiction workshop, but did not work anywhere near the criminal justice system. She has no background in law enforcement. Although nothing was preventing her from completing the LASD Explorer Program, volunteering as a reserve deputy, or even working as a peace officer, she has not done any of those things. Certainly, she has no experience in any of the many public sector jobs that might prepare a person for the public safety commission.

The one thing that might qualify someone to be in a position of public trust is the ability to run a successful business. That’s a general skill that can be applied to almost any job. Making money is the simplest, most obvious proof that you have general business administration skills. But again, Soon-Shiong did not make her money. It was simply given to her by her father.

The public safety commission job was also just given to her. She was appointed by City Councilmember Lindsay Horvath, despite her having no background, training, or experience in criminal justice.

Nika Soon-Shiong Defunded the Police

In 2022, Soon-Shiong led West Hollywood to decrease the amount of their policing budget. The net result is five fewer deputies on the streets. She did this despite reliable and recent data showing that hiring more police reduces crime. According to this data, reducing a police force by five officers leads to one additional murder every two years. It also reduces other more common crimes like robbery, rape, and aggravated assault. Moreover, additional police result in Black lives saved at about twice the rate of white lives saved.

Meanwhile, West Hollywood’s crime rate shot up 38% in the past year.

Then, in August, she resigned as public safety commissioner, despite the fact that her term was not over until February of 2023.

It’s No Surprise That A Well-Meaning Heiress Misunderstands Criminal Law

Well-meaning people have weakened our criminal justice system in the last decade. Kind people go wrong because they are focusing on the wrong problems or because they have been misled about the solutions. All of us, inherently, want to believe that rehabilitation is all that is needed to prevent crime and change criminals back in to normal neighbors. We want to believe this despite knowing, since 1974, that “Nothing Works” to rehabilitate an unwilling prisoner. And virtually all prison inmates do not want to rehabilitate. The only tools we are left with are deterrence and incapacitation. If rehabilitation is the carrot then these are the sticks. It is difficult for kind, well-meaning people to accept this and act on it.

At the same time, none of us relish the idea of locking up another human being for a long period of time. It’s easy to direct our natural human sympathy at the criminal defendant: after all, he is there in court, there in jail, easy to see. While the victim usually isn’t there, can’t be seen, and sometimes there is no one victim at all. California state prisoners stole $400 million in COVID relief, for example. Since there was no single victim, it’s easy to think that there was no victim at all. Even though those prisoners sold all of the tax paid by 165,906 households, how do you know if it’s your taxes they stole? It’s as if the entire City of Pasadena‘s taxes floated away without so much as a sharpened pencil to show for it. The absent victim, or the institutional victim, present a trap for compassionate people, who direct their sympathy at the only person in front of them: the criminal defendant.

It takes education, training, and experience to understand these things. But that is exactly what Nika Soon-Shiong and others do not have. They see news coverage that leads to them to believe that there is an epidemic of police brutality. They read books telling them that prison is a new racial caste system. They believe that the United States participates in a racialized “mass incarceration” because of our prison populations. None of these things are true. But people are easy to mislead when they have no inkling of the way the system actually works. You would expect a public safety commissioner to be the kind of person to have an inkling. But in the case of Nika Soon-Shiong, and so many others in similar positions, you’d be wrong.

Soon Shiong has been compared to Ivanka Trump: both are rich heiresses in positions of public trust without any qualifications to serve. They have different political views, but they are two sides of the same coin. Many of us felt that Ivanka Trump had no business in the White House. She didn’t know what she was doing and hadn’t earned it. Applying this same rule to Nika Soon-Shiong yields the same result. She doesn’t know what she is doing and doesn’t belong there. West Hollywood, like everyone else, deserves high quality public servants, not dilettantes or the spoiled rich.

At the end of the day, Nika Soon-Shiong is gone, and so are those West Hollywood deputies.


Predictably, Soon-Shiong’s allies accused her opponents of racism. This led to a lot of distracting outrage all around and didn’t keep anyone safe.

If Nika Soon-Shiong is 29, as reported by LA Magazine, and graduated from Stanford in 2011, as she wrote on her resume, then she would have graduated at age 18. If she studied 4 years, she would have enrolled at 14. That seems possible, but odd.

Featured image credit: LA Magazine.

Are There Deputy Gangs at LASD?

As Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s reelection campaign heats up, critics have accused his agency of harboring what they call “deputy gangs.” At the same time, I read a disturbing article about a deputy who shot off another deputy’s tattoo. The author alleged that the tattoo was shot off because changes to the design were not “cleared with deputy gang leadership.” This seemed so disconnected from my personal experience in the system that I had to look into it.

So are there gangs of LASD deputies, just like there are gangs of criminals in Los Angeles? Is this true, or is it a smear?

The Case That There Are Deputy Gangs

In 2019, the FBI investigated LASD deputies for allegedly using excessive force. The LA Times summarized the investigation. Deputies were accused of belonging to a secret society at the East Los Angeles Station called the Banditos. This group had matching tattoos. They were accused of recruiting Latino deputies into the group and retaliating against those who rebuff them. The investigation was spurred by a group of deputies who sued over a hostile work environment. Specifically, the suing deputies complained about a fight involving members of the Banditos at an off-duty party. Four deputies allegedly attacked a rookie. The four men were investigated by LASD and a criminal referral was made to the District Attorney’s Office.

The LA Times and the Los Angeles Daily News both use the word “gang” to describe this issue. This editorial decision is hopefully made by responsible professionals based on the totality of circumstances. LASD deputies at all levels have themselves referred to the subgroups as gangs. This is particularly common when former LASD deputies are running for Sheriff.

The allegation that there are deputy gangs has become so common that there is even a Wikipedia article on the subject. The article uses the term gangs. It claims that the LASD “acknowledged” a gang called the “Little Devils” in an internal memo in 1973. There is no citation for this assertion, but I found the memo, which you can see here. It does not acknowledge a gang. Indeed, the word “gang” does not appear in the memo. The Wikipedia article also claims that some people “believe” that deputy gangs were involved in the death of a reporter during a protest. This assertion is linked to another website which explains that journalist was accidentally hit with a tear gas cannister after ignoring an order to disperse.

The Case That These Groups Are Not Deputy Gangs

Gang members and sheriff’s deputies are not equivalent. LASD deputies are extensively background-checked. They do not have criminal records. There are educational requirements for deputies, who must also pass a rigorous training process. They are supervised in an organized hierarchy that mimics a military command structure. This supervision is controlled by elected officials. There are independent watchdogs that also review deputies’ conduct. The deputies wear cameras that document their every interaction with the public. Street gangs are not run this way.

The LASD has policies that specifically bar department members from participating in any groups that violate anyone rights. LASD has warned its deputies that organizing into a group with a tattoo will cause the department to get sued. But the 1st Amendment prevents LASD from banning the tattoos altogether. Villanueva has asked that deputies with matching tattoos have them removed.

Deputies themselves do not consider the groups to be gangs. They refer to the them as “drinking groups,” “intramural sports teams,” or “social clubs.” LASD correctly notes that the law has a definition for “criminal street gang” that these groups do not meet. (See Pen. Code section 186.22.) LASD points out that the primary purpose of a gang is to commit crimes, but the primary purpose of the LASD groups is to promote comradery. Others have argue

In this article, Vox describes “cliques of officers who allegedly engage in violent and potentially criminal behavior.” The “most commonly cited feature” is tattoos. Vox appears to be one of the few media outlets who has decided against using gang language.

Although the LA Times, Daily News, and other media use the word “gangs” to describe these groups, this incendiary language may be designed to attract readers and sell advertising, rather than accurately reflect reality.

The LA Times gave some space to dissenting opinions. “Defenders say the cliques are harmless fraternities, likening them to close-knit groups in the military.” Sheriff Alex Villanueva says there are no gangs in LASD. He described groups of friends with matching tattoos as a “cultural norm” and a source of intergenerational hazing. He said there is nothing wrong with the clubs as long as they don’t promote misconduct.


The heart of the issue seems to be how to describe groups of deputies who work and socialize together, and who have matching tattoos. This is common in the military, going all the way back to ancient Rome. It’s also common for college students in fraternities or sororities. The cast members of the Lord of the Rings trilogy famously worked together, socialized together, and got matching tattoos. So did the cast of the Avengers and Suicide Squad. The practice is common among bands.

People like this, with matching tattoos, commit crimes and misconduct. Returning to the Lord of the Rings example, actor Viggo Mortensen was arrested at Dulles Airport. Sean Bean, another Lord of the Rings actor with a matching tattoo, was arrested for spousal assault. Still, we obviously don’t consider these actors to be gang members.

The fact that gang members have matching tattoos does not make the practice gang-related. The fact that gang members have matching tattoos does not transform everyone with matching tattoos into gang members as well. Journalists are loosely using the word “gang” to describe a practice that is common in many areas of law-abiding society. They may be doing it out of bias against police, or to generate clicks, or for some other reason. Whatever the reasons, this practice should stop, until and unless new evidence comes to light.


A short history of LASD.

50 Years of Deputy Gangs: Identifying Root Causes and Effects to Advocate for Meaningful Reform. A report prepared by a professor at Loyola Law School.

A Tradition of Violence: The History of Deputy Gangs in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. A 15-part “investigative series” on Knock-LA. I didn’t read the whole thing.

The Minneapolis 8

George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis. Days later, the City Council pledge to dismantle its police force, saying that it cannot be reformed. Although they failed to deliver on that pledge, they cut the police budget and officers began leaving. Crime went up, and residents were force to sue their own city just to get the minimum number of police required by the City Charter. But the plaintiffs, called “the Minneapolis 8,” actually managed to force the City to refund the police. This victory for common sense may cause a change in the conversation around policing.

Minneapolis Defunds the Police

Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd on May 27, 2020, causing national outrage and protests in Minneapolis. Instead of blaming the officer that killed Floyd, many activist blamed the police force as a whole. They wanted to punish everyone at the Minneapolis Police Department by defunding the police. Instead of having an honest conversation about the consequences, local leaders decided to go along with the tide of resentment against the police.

But there were warning signs from the start. Jacob Frey was the mayor of Minneapolis on June 6, 2020. Thousands of protesters outside his house asked whether he supported defunding the police. He said, “I do not support the full abolition of the police.” He was met with chants of “shame!” and “Go home Jacob, go home!” He fled his own house as the protesters chanted at him.

The City Council did not take the lesson. The next day, on June 7, 2020, members of the Minneapolis City Council pledged to “begin the process of ending the Minneapolis Police Department.” They described the “police-free future.” The MPD “cannot be reformed and will never be accountable for its actions.” Councilmember Alondra Cano said, “we should and can abolish our current Minneapolis police system. Council Member Jeremiah Ellison said, “This council is going to dismantle this police department.” They were standing above a sign that read, “DEFUND POLICE.”

The outright abolition of the MPD would require an amendment to the city’s charter. That’s because the charter requires a police department. Section 7.3 provides: “The City Council must fund a police force of at least 0.0017 employees per resident.”

In August, efforts to change the charter failed. The city’s Charter Commission voted to block an amendment that would dismantle and remove the city’s police force. This is a group of city volunteers appointed by a judge. They pointed out that the proposal did not comply with several different laws, including public input laws.

Then, a proposal to cut the size of the force by 15% was voted down by the Council.

By the fall, crime was up 25%, driven by big jumps in car burglaries and shootings. In September, many council members backed away from their pledges. But the council continued to try to weaken the department.

On December 10, 2020, the Minneapolis City Council cut the Minneapolis Police Department budget by 4.5%. The Council used they money to fund an Office of Violence Prevention, a group of mental health professionals who would respond to calls for service without the aid of the police. The council’s pledge caused many officers to quit.

Crime Went Up After the Police Were Defunded

The spike in crime during and after the Council’s defund pledge was “extraordinary,” according to U.S. Attorney Erica MacDonald. Gun violence surged in the summer of 2020. Violent crime was up 17% across Minnesota in 2020. There were 48 murders in Minneapolis in 2019. There were 84 in 2020, and there have been 67 as of September 11, 2021. Murders in 2021 are on pace to surpass murders in 2020.

The murder count represents only a small fraction of gun crimes. Data show a record number of gunshot wounds reported since last year. In the first six months of 2021, Minneapolis surpassed shots fired citywide in all of 2019, according to ShotSpotter activations, shooting reports and other data tracked by local law enforcement agencies. This year is on track to surpass 2020s record-high 9,600 gunfire reports. The past 20 months now account for almost a quarter of the 70,000 gunshot incidents reported in Minneapolis since 2008.

Frontline, Minneapolis’ bloody summer puts city on pace for most violent year in a generation, (9/11/2021).

The Lawsuit

City residents became increasingly frustrated with rising crime. Cathy Spann and seven other Minneapolis residents sued the city. They pointed out that the City Charter required a minimum number of police in the city. Efforts by the City Council and activists had reduced the size of the police force below that minimum. “It is about all of us coming together to make a difference to stop the gun violence that is in our city,” said Spann. “We walked outside and I pulled this bullet out of my house. Out of my home, out of my siding,” said another plaintiff. “Every single night on any block in this neighborhood you can hear gunshots!” Spann said. “Every single freaking night!”

Some of the Minneapolis 8. Source: KSTP.

The defendants argued that no plaintiff had standing to bring a lawsuit, since none had actually been hurt. The judge rejected this claim and allowed the lawsuit to go forward.

In June, Judge Jamie Anderson granted a writ of mandamus: the Minneapolis 8 had won. In her decision, Anderson said the Minneapolis residents were able to prove that the city’s rising crime rate was caused by a lack of officers. The City Council had violated the charter by “their failure to support and fund the police.” The Council conceded that “the City Charter creates the obligation for [the Council] to properly fund the police force.”  Mayor Frey, who was booed out of his own house in 2020, was deposed in the lawsuit. He “acknowledged” that “the uptick in violence we are seeing” “is because police officers are needed.”

The judge concluded that the council “[has] failed to perform an official duty clearly imposed by law.” She ordered the city to hire more officers. Specifically, she ordered the city of maintain at least 730 officers, up from 690 as of April.

Where Are We Now?

The City Council and activists haven’t given up. Advocates of defunding police support a ballot initiative this November. Under the Yes 4 Minneapolis initiative,  the Minneapolis Police Department would be replaced with a Department of Public Safety, eliminating the city’s required minimum number of officers per capita and replacing some with social workers, mental health experts and crisis managers — effectively defunding the local police by reallocating funds to other city services. Critics say the initiative would simply rename the police force and allow the Council to declare victory. Even the website for this initiative says that the amendment neither abolishes nor defunds the police.

Other cities watched the Minneapolis experiment closely. For example, Los Angeles also moved to defund the police at the city and county levels. But crime is on the rise in Los Angeles too. And many local politicians there want to avoid the embarrassment suffered by the City Council in Los Angeles. For those of us that pay attention to crime and public policy, the Minneapolis experience seems to demonstrate that defunding the police is like cutting off the nose to spite the face. The effect of such a policy is only more pain in poor communities of color. Compassion for those communities requires more resources, not less, devoted to them. And physical safety is a bedrock government service. Without safety, other services are impossible.


Reddit has a bunch of cynical takes:

27 Black Men Were Killed By Police In 2019

The shooting death of Daunte Wright has put police shootings back in the news, at the same time as the public awaits a verdict on the killing of George Floyd.

One frequent observation in law enforcement circles is that media coverage of these tragedies has led people to overestimate the number of black men killed by police. Even one is too many. But exactly how bad does the public think the problem is?

Police Brutality Against Black People Happens Much Less Than the Public Thinks

According to Mapping Police Violence, 27 black men were killed by police in 2019. But a study by the Skeptic Research Center investigated how knowledgeable people were when it comes to fatal police shootings. The results are depressing; the public massively overestimates the number of police killings of black men.

The available data on police shootings of unarmed Black men is incomplete; however, existing data indicate that somewhere between 13-27 unarmed black men were killed by police in 2019. Adjusted for the number of law enforcement agencies that have yet to provide data, this number may be higher, perhaps between 60-100. Yet, over half (53.5%) of those reporting “very liberal” political views estimated that 1,000 or more unarmed Black men were killed, a likely error of at least an order of magnitude.

The researchers put it dryly. “Our overall findings indicate that people are uninformed regarding the available data on fatal police shootings in the US.”

Why Is This Happening?

The New York Post has a theory about why this is happening:

The media has the power to shape perceptions — and when they consistently prejudge, distort and exclusively focus on high-profile cases involving white police officers and black suspects (such as Jacob Blake most recently), it creates an illusion of pervasive police violence perpetrated toward African Americans. Meanwhile, unarmed white people killed by cops […] are ignored by the media. Consequently, the public likely perceives this problem to be almost nonexistent. 

Political science doctoral candidate Zach Goldberg has shown in his research, unarmed black victims of fatal police shootings generate staggeringly nine times as many news search results compared to white victims. 

People who get their news from Twitter might also read something like this:

It is inaccurate to say that there is an endless list of black lives lost to police violence. But according the the research, many people believe it.

There is No Evidence That White Officers Routinely Kill Black People Out of Racist Animus

As John McWhorter points out in an excellent article, police violence is not a white-on-black problem. People of every race are killed by police, sometimes for good reasons and sometimes for bad reasons.

Despite these facts, the Skeptic Research Center Report finds that everyone overestimates the percentage of people killed by police that were black. This effect is particularly pronounced amount political liberals, but it is not exclusive to them.

Particularly striking is the finding that very liberal respondents believe that 60.4% of people killed by police were black. The actual percentage is 24%. This may be explained by benign reasons, such as a greater concern about racism or differential media consumption. But clearly, people believe that the problem of police violence against blacks is worse than it actually is.

McWhorter then tackles the following oft-quoted thesis: black people make up just 12% of the population but account for a quarter of police killings. Therefore, there is systemic racism in policing. McWhorter says, “these figures are not necessarily evidence of police racism.” His answer is worth quoting in full:

The socioeconomic gap between blacks and whites is doubtless an important contributing factor. Police are called to poor neighborhoods more often, so poverty makes someone more likely to encounter law enforcement. From the 1970s through the 1990s, many conservatives argued that too many black people were on welfare. Liberals and progressives replied that, firstly, more white people were on welfare and that, secondly and more importantly, a greater proportion of the black population is on welfare because a greater proportion of black people are mired in poverty. In this context, former Washington Post journalist Wesley Lowery observed that black people are about two-and-a-half times more likely to be killed by cops than their representation in the population would predict. Today, the percentage of black people living in poverty is about two-and-a-half times that of whites (22 percent and nine percent, respectively, in 2018).

He concludes: ” Entrenched socioeconomic disparities should concern us all, and are as intolerable as cop murders. But the idea that the police murder out of racist animus is much less clear than we are often led to suppose.”


Twitter is an awful place to look for facts about current events. Here are a couple of examples regarding police use of force.

The Counter-intuitive Liberal Case to Fund the Police

Matthew Yglesias has a piece in Vox titled, “The Case for Hiring More Police Officers.” In it, he sets forth a liberal rationale, not for defunding the police, but for doing the opposite. It is thoughtful and logically written. Yglesias also makes the point that hiring more police would do more than reduce crime; it would also be politically savvy for liberal politicians. His colleague German Lopez has written about President Trump’s efforts to defund the police. Both are worth a read.

The Idea Is Popular

Yglesias wrote his piece in February of 2019, after Black Lives Matter became a movement, but before the death of George Floyd. He cited several studies showing the idea was popular at that time, both with Americans in general and with the black community. But would it still be popular now? A June 9-10 2020 YouGov poll still shows that only a tiny fraction of Americans want to cut police funding. When asked, “do you favor or oppose cutting funding for police departments?” The responses were favor 25%, oppose 53%. In other words, cuts are opposed by a majority of Americans. Only 24% of Americans agreed with the statement “[p]olice reform hasn’t worked. We need to defund police and reinvent our approach to public safety.” Only 33% of blacks agreed with that statement. The poll is a treasure trove of data on criminal justice: you should read it if you have time.

The Cato Institute has also done recent polling on this issue. You can read the details in their article, “Americans Don’t Want to #Defund the Police, Instead They Agree on Reform. The title says it all. They go on: “[i]t’s also useful to keep in mind that few Americans of any racial group support some of the more radical changes demanded by some activists. For instance, few people support calls to abolish or defund the police: 9 in 10 black, white and Hispanic Americans oppose reducing the number of police officers in their community—and a third say their community needs more officers…”

Camden, New Jersey Is Actually an Example of Funding the Police

Much has been written about Camden, New Jersey, a town that “defunded” it’s police department. “Defund” never means defund in these conversations. What Camden actually did was increase the number of police on the streets. They replaced the city police force with a county force. “The new county force is double the size of the old one.”

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders Want to Fund the Police

Joe Biden seems to agree. In an opinion piece in USA Today, he wrote, “I’m proposing an additional $300 million to reinvigorate community policing in our country. Every single police department should have the money it needs to institute real reforms like adopting a national use of force standard, buying body cameras and recruiting more diverse police officers.” More police officers is not defunding the police, obviously.

Bernie Sanders agrees. ““I think we want to redefine what police departments do, give them the support they need to make their jobs better defined,” said Sanders.  On June 2, he told Sen. Chuck Schumer that “we need to enhance the recruitment pool by ensuring that the resources are available to pay wages that will attract the top tier officers we need…”


We should remember that there is also a moral case for funded, effective police. Here’s a story from Reddit that illustrates this well.

Policing Is Not Racist

I agree with James Comey, who put it this way:

I believe law enforcement overwhelmingly attracts people who want to do good for a living—people who risk their lives because they want to help other people. They don’t sign up to be cops in New York or Chicago or L.A. to help white people or black people or Hispanic people or Asian people. They sign up because they want to help all people. And they do some of the hardest, most dangerous policing to protect people of color.

(James Comey, Hard Truths: Law Enforcement and Race.)

Comey described the birth of the myth of racist policing as follows.  Many police officers work in places where a huge proportion of street crime is committed by people of color.  These officers learn from those experiences and begin to be more suspicious of people of color than similarly situated white people.  Comey, and others, have defended this behavior as “maybe even rational.”  For example, New York City is 25% black.  Yet blacks were the victims of 55% of the city’s murders and 61% of the suspects, according to the NYPD.  Others cite even more disturbing statistics.

I think this may be the birth of things like bias and racial profiling.  And certainly, there are racist cops, just like there are racists in every profession, although the power police wield makes it much more important to root out individual racist cops.  But calling all police racists, or calling police racist as an institution, is inaccurate.  It does nothing to help crime victims and certainly nothing to improve policing.

Black Cops Agree

Comey is white, but his view is not limited to white people. Bernard Parks, the first black police chief of Los Angeles, said that racial disparities resulted from the choices of criminals, not police bias. “It’s not the fault of the police when they stop minority males or put them in jail. It’s the fault of the minority males for committing the crime. In my mind it is not a great revelation that if officers are looking for criminal activity, they’re going to look at the kind of people who are listed on crime reports.” Charles Ramsey became chief of police in Washington D.C. in 1998. He said, “not to say that [racial profiling] doesn’t happen, but it’s clearly not as serious or as widespread as the publicity suggests. I get so tired of hearing that ‘Driving While Black’ stuff. It’s just used to the point where it has no meaning. I drive while black – I’m black. I sleep while black too. It’s victimology.”

Many Disagree

Paul Butler, writing in the Guardian, says, “The US criminal legal process is all about keeping people – especially African American men – in their place.” This ignores the fact that “the lifetime risk of incarceration skyrocketed for African American male high school dropouts with the advent of mass incarceration, it actually decreased slightly for black men with some college education” according to James Forman Jr.’s book, Locking Up Our Own.  This suggests that policing is related to class, not race. Radley Balko, writing in the Washington Post, wrote an opinion with the headline, “There’s overwhelming evidence that the criminal-justice system is racist.”  He has a lot of links, and I’m looking forward to going through them.  Only a few paragraphs in, however, he changes the definition of racism to fit his argument.  To him, systemic racism means, “we have systems and institutions that produce racially disparate outcomes, regardless of the intentions of people who work within them.”  That’s not what “racist” means to most people.

What is Systemic Racism

A dictionary is a repository of agreed-upon definitions of words.  It reflects the concepts that people understand when words are used.  You may use “up” to mean “down” and “hot” to mean “cold”.  You can create your own private definitions of words.  But when you use these words in public, especially in a newspaper article or other writing intended for public consumption, you cannot create your own private meaning.  If you say the sky is down and snow is hot, you are not being accurate, regardless of your private definitions.

We see this problem with the phrase “systemic racism.”  According to Wikipedia, the phrase was coined by activists in the 1960s, but it does not provide their definition.  Wikipedia’s first “definition” of systemic racism is taken from a British judge, and differs from Balko’s definition above and the dictionary definition below.  Then the article provides a second definition, “differential access to the goods, services, and opportunities of society.”  Later, the article has a third definition by Professor James M. Jones. It is remarkable that an encyclopedia article on systemic racism can’t even agree with itself about what the terms mean.

When no one can agree on a definition, we must ask ourselves what a reasonable person hearing the words “systemic racism” will understand them to mean.  Luckily, we have agreed-upon definitions of these words in the dictionary.

The Oxford Dictionary defines racism as “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.”  A system is a set of things working together as parts of a mechanism or an interconnecting network; a complex whole.  Systemic racism, therefore, is a set of things working together with prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism against someone of a different race based on the belief that one race is superior.

Merriam Webster’s definition of racism is similar. Until June 10, 2020, when they changed it to support those who argue that systemic racism exists. The definition was explicitly changed to support this position. The change was requested by a 22-year-old college student who “noticed in discussions about racism that white people sometimes defended their arguments by cutting and pasting the definition from the dictionary.”

Someone wondering if there is systemic racism in policing may not know which of the definitions to go with. They may not know that some have changed the definition to support their political positions.  And how many people will hear the phrase “systemic racism” and even look it up in the first place?  Most people will simply apply the common meaning of each of those words to the concept.  When someone like Balko says there’s systemic racism in policing, most people will understand him to mean that police work with prejudice, discrimination or antagonism against someone of a different race based on the belief that their own race is superior.  After all, that is the definition of the words.  The problem is, that isn’t true.  Balko and others call the system racist, and when it turns out that the definition of “racist” is not met, they respond that they weren’t using that definition.  This bait and switch is dishonest.  Don’t forget that calling someone (or some system) racist is an extremely serious accusation.  Being a racist is one of the worst things a person can be in today’s society.  Supporting a racist system is even worse.  Yet some accuse people and the systems they work in of being racist all the time.  It shouldn’t be done, especially when the accuser is using a made-up definition of racism in the first place.

Authors Who Don’t Think the System is Racist

Rich Lowry, writing in National Review.  Andrew Sullivan in New York Magazine. William Barr on Face the Nation.

The Nine Principles of Policing

In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, many people have proposed radical reforms of the police. One of the most radical things that we can do is to bear in mind the original purposes of police.

British police officers are called “Bobbies” after Robert Peel, who established the London Metropolitan Police.  Peel developed the idea of police officers as “citizens in uniform.”  Peel had 9 principles of policing issued to every new police officer from 1829 onward.  They are still on the government’s website. They are:

  1. To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.
  2. To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.
  3. To recognise always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.
  4. To recognise always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.
  5. To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour, and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.
  6. To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.
  7. To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
  8. To recognise always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary, of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.
  9. To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.

New York City Police Commissioner William J. Bratton said, “I carry these with me everywhere. My bible.” The New York Times was moved to do an extensive article on Bratton and his love of Peel. Unfortunately, he is not immune from the present moment.


Bobbies” were called “Peelers” in Ireland.

Peele was good for more than just his nine principles. This Wikipedia article takes a deeper dive. Also check out the article on the man himself; his political career has some dark spots.

There Are No Racial Differences in Officer-Involved Shootings

Black Lives Matter is an advocacy group founded on the belief that black lives don’t matter to police officers. They have attracted world-wide attention in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. Those of us working in the criminal justice system must listen to what Black Lives Matter is saying and try to figure out if they are right. The first question that the movement brings to my mind is, “do police kill more black people than others?” If they do, that’s strong evidence that black lives don’t matter to the police.

As everyone knows, “a primary obstacle to the study of police use of force has been the lack of readily available data.” (Roland G. Fryer, Jr., An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force (2017) [“Fryer”].) “A simple count of the number of police shootings that occur does little to explore whether racial differences in the frequency of officer-involved shootings are due to police malfeasance or differences in suspect behavior.” (Id.)

Professor Roland Fryer conducted a study of police use of force. His goal was to provide data to the argument that police are racially baised. He summarized his findings:

On non-lethal uses of force, blacks and Hispanics are more than fifty percent more likely to experience some form of force in interactions with police. Adding controls that account for important context and civilian behavior reduces, but cannot fully explain, these disparities. On the most extreme use of force – officer-involved shootings – we find no racial differences in either the raw data or when contextual factors are taken into account. We argue that the patterns in the data are consistent with a model in which police officers are utility maximizers, a fraction of which have a preference for discrimination, who incur relatively high expected costs of officer-involved shootings.

Fryer, at p. 1.

This conclusion was controversial. That’s why I think that we should look a little closer at the study.

What Are Professor Fryer’s Biases?

Fryer has written that he lived the life “of a Southern black boy who grew up without a mother and knows what it’s like to swallow the bitter pill of police brutality.” He describes the genesis of his paper. “In 2015, after watching Walter Scott get gunned down, on video, by a North Charleston, S.C., police officer, I set out on a mission to quantify racial differences in police use of force.”

Even Fryer’s paper almost explicitly declares its biases. It starts off with a summary of police violence against black people. Fryer summarizes the history of policing by claiming that, “[f]or much of the 20th century, law enforcement chose to brazenly enforce the status quo of overt discrimination, rather than protect and serve all citizens.” That’s an extremely broad statement that many would disagree with, and which has nothing to do with the economic analysis in the paper. Fryer also summarizes the killing of Michael Brown and Eric Garner but leaves out facts that tend to exculpate the officers. He ends the paper with the sentence “Black Dignity Matters.” (Fryer at p. 40.)

In the Wall Street Journal, Fryer wrote, “Are there racial differences in the most extreme forms of police violence? The Southern boy in me says yes; the economist says we don’t know.”

Police Are More Likely to Use Non-Lethal Force on Non-Whites

Fryer starts by analyzing less than lethal force. He notes that the use of force is extremely rare. For example, 0.26% of interactions between police and civilians involve an officer drawing any weapon. Only 0.02% rise to the level of baton use. The raw data shows that blacks and Hispanics are more than 50% more likely to have police use force. Fryer then accounts for 125 variables, including “baseline characteristics, encounter characteristics, civilian behavior, precinct and year fixed effects.” (Fryer at p. 3.) He finds that despite accounting for these variables, police still use force more often on non-whites. Even though there are racial differences in the use of non-lethal force, Fryer does not find that they are the result of racism. He simply says that they are unexplained racial disparities. “As economists, we don’t get to label unexplained racial disparities ‘racism.'” For good reason: these differences could be the result of many unmeasureable factors. To jump to racism is irresponsible without evidence.

There Are No Racial Differences in Officer-Involved Shootings

In stark contrast to non-lethal uses of force, we find that, conditional on a police interaction, there are no racial differences in officer-involved shootings on either the extensive or intensive margins.

Fryer, at p. 4.

In fact, controlling for variables, Fryer found “that blacks are 27.4 percent less likely to be shot at by police relative to non-black, non-Hispanics.” (Id. at p. 5.) He cautions that the relative variability “is measured with considerable error and not statistically significant.” (Id.) In other words, it’s hard to tell how much less likely blacks are to be shot, but it is possible to tell that they are less likely to be shot. He has other caveats as well; everyone should carefully read this paper. The most important, to my mind, is that some of the conclusions are based on police reports, which may be written in such a way as to minimize bad conduct.

Who is Roland G. Fryer, Jr.?

Roland G. Fryer is a professor in the Dept. of Economics at Harvard University, a member of the National Bureau of Economics Research, and the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute. He was also “chief equality officer” for New York City’s Department of Education under Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Fryer is black. I normally wouldn’t mention it, but I’ve been hearing a lot of rhetoric lately directing white allies to listen to black people. When he was a young man, Roland worked at a McDonald’s drive-thru. He went on to become the youngest African-American to receive tenure at Harvard. He is a recipient of the MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship.


Fryer’s conclusions were controversial. Dean Knox, a Princeton professor, criticized them in two papers. They were criticized even more in the press. Here’s an example. The Guardian screws up statistics on police shootings and fails to even mention this paper in an article on the subject. The statistics and omissions are so bad you have to wonder what the editor was thinking. Moreover, at least two other studies, both published in 2016—by Phillip Atiba Goff et al. and Ted R. Miller et al.—have since found the same conclusions using different data.

Fryer wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on this subject. He believes policing is racist, I don’t. The Attorney General thinks there is no such thing as systemic racism. For what it’s worth.

Fryer was placed on administrative leave for two years, beginning in 2019, for sexual harassment. You can read about the substance of the allegations here.

How Police are Held Accountable

In the wake of George Floyd’s death, it’s important to understand the ways that police are held accountable. There are four overlapping ways that consequences follow bad police behavior.

Administrative Discipline

Administrative discipline is imposed when a police agency writes up an officer or other employee for violating policy.  This is similar to what might happen in any workplace.  Officers can also be administratively disciplined for using excessive force, violating a suspect or witness’s rights, dishonesty in any capacity, or failing to be polite and professional

Collateral Discipline

When a police officer is disciplined by an oversight body.  For example, the the Berkeley Police Department has a Police Review Commission. The PRC is an independent, civilian oversight agency to the BPD. The PRC advises city leaders and the BPD on police policies and investigates complaints by members of the public against police officers. This type of oversight is exists in large jurisdictions like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego as well.

One important form of collateral discipline is the DA blacklist – also called the Brady list. Whenever the DA’s office believes that an officer is untruthful, they have to disclose that information any time they want to use that person as a witness. They also have to disclose it if that witness’s untruthfulness is exculpatory. And dishonesty is not the only thing that prosecutors must disclose. They must also disclose fabrication of evidence and the use of excessive force. If you are a prosecutor and your arresting officer has been fabricating evidence, your case is dead. DA’s offices keep a list of such officers. Prosecutors cannot use them as witnesses. Putting a cop on this list means that they are useless out in the field. After all, any case they touch is dead. So police agencies must move them off the street and onto a desk. The list prevents officers from testifying. The policeman himself has no say in the matter. There is no appeal. The police agency has no say in the matter, nor do judges or legislators. It’s all up to the DA, who is an independently elected position. Take a moment to think about this. The DA can take a cop off the street, even though the cop works for another agency that may disagree.

Civil lawsuits

Police can be sued if they hurt a person in any way, including violating their constitutional rights even without injury. They have to prove that they were damages by a preponderance of the evidence – meaning it was more likely than not. They do not need a unanimous jury verdict, 9 out of 12 is enough. The point is that civil suits are much easier to win than criminal prosecutions. These require proof beyond a reasonable doubt. And a unanimous jury is required for conviction.

If a person proves a case against a cop, they can get their actual damages: the money they actually spent on legal bills, lost during time off from work, and other measureable damages. They can also damages for emotional distress, which can’t be measured. And finally, the civil court can impose punitives damages on the police, which get paid to the individual. These amounts can be so high that they are effectively lottery tickets.

The law provides incentives lawsuits against the police for violating constitutional rights. For example, the law gives incentive for lawsuits regarding excessive force, overdetention, cruel and unusual punishment, and even wrongful death. The law empowers lawyers to act as private prosecutors. If they can prove a constitutional violation, the police agency must pay their attorneys fees. Even if the victim is already being awarded millions in the types of damages listed above. In fact, if the plaintiff only wins $1 in damages, the attorney must still be paid.

The practical result of all this money is that police are sued all the time for even the most minor complaints.  There is literally an army of plaintiff’s lawyers scouring every jail, booking record, and criminal courthouse for even a whiff of a meritorious lawsuit. And most plaintiff’s lawyer are not just independent, they are outright hostile to police.

The plaintiff’s lawyer hired by George Floyd’s family to sue the police

Since the pot of money is so large, the best plaintiff’s lawyers run sophisticated operations with multiple lawyers, investigators, paralegals, and other staff preparing the case. They have the subpoena power, and can compel testimony from police and other witnesses in the form of depositions. These examinations are taken under oath, with the penalty of perjury. They usually last much longer and go into more detail than witness testimony in criminal court.

Although I personally dislike these kind of lawyers, and must declare my bias, they provide me with a lot of confidence that the system is not racist. If it were, these guys would sniff it out and make a ton of money on it. When they succeed, and a cop is found liable, the other types of accountability follow. A righteous lawsuit will also mean administrative discipline, collateral discipline, and could mean criminal prosecution, if not for the underlying conduct, then for perjury during a deposition.

Criminal Prosecutions

Police are not above the law. They may be prosecuted in criminal court just like anybody else. They do not have any special privileges or defenses. They are prosecuted all the time for private offenses in their personal lives, such as domestic violence, battery, or fraud. It is less common for them to be prosecuted for their performance on the job.

Police and prosecutors often interact.  It can be tough to file on people that you work with.  Nevertheless, I’ve managed to do it several times, and it is common enough every DA will do it once or twice.  Many prosecutors offices also have a “Justice System Integrity Division” whose only job is to prosecute police.  They go anywhere in the county, and thus don’t interact with any one police agency on a daily basis.  Also, there is tremendous pressure on the DA’s office to be hard on cops, and no pressure to be soft on them.  Here’s an example

Finally, cops may also be prosecuted by the Attorney General’s office.  If they feel that a local DA has a conflict of interest, they are required to take the case and prosecute it themselves. The California Attorney General has a special unit for this purpose.