Detroit Police Chief Tells Citizens to Arm Themselves

James Craig, the Detroit Police Chief, recently urged Detroit citizens to arm themselves (with guns) for self-defense against criminals. The comments have been criticized widely, especially in light of Ferguson, for exacerbating the racial divide in predominantly black Detroit:

Indeed, if it is an anomaly for a police chief to go on record and speak in favor of his citizens arming themselves against criminals, what might strike some as more noteworthy within the current national climate of racially tense shootings is that Detroit is 82% black. The police-sanctioned arms race stacking so-called “good” Detroiters against presumably bad ones may be fulfilling a stigma of armed black people, rather than trying to dismantle it.

Detroit is under Michigan’s “stand your ground” law, which allows armed citizens to use lethal force if they feel threatened, both inside and outside their homes. Many opponents to this law believe its enforcement allows greater leeway to white shooters than black ones:

But in a 2013 study analyzing FBI data and stand-your-ground laws across the United States, John Roman, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, found that stand-your-ground laws in practice disproportionately protected white shooters, and held black shooters—regardless of race of the person they’ve shot—more likely to be found guilty.

The starkest of differences was found between cross-racial shootings. A white shooter of a black victim is 10 times more likely to have his or her homicide ruled justified compared to the homicide of a black shooter on a white victim.

Before we get too riled up, it’s important to make sense of the data Roman was looking at. The fact is that black people are disproportionately likely to be involved in homicides. In spite of the fact that black people account for less than 13% of the population of the US, they account for more than half of all homicides (most of which are intraracial—black on black):

According to the US Department of Justice, blacks accounted for 52.5% of homicide offenders from 1980 to 2008, with whites 45.3% and Native Americans and Asians 2.2%. The offending rate for blacks was almost 8 times higher than whites, and the victim rate 6 times higher.

So it makes sense that a review of “stand-your-ground” cases should be equally disparate racially. This doesn’t necessarily mean the law is racist. It just means that black people, per capita, are in fact more likely to be involved in criminal behavior.

In a city that is 82% black, I would imagine that is a major problem. In fact, I don’t need to imagine. Detroit is one of the most criminal cities in the nation. So, perhaps rather than ranting and raving about how racism this and racism that, maybe we should applaud the (incidentally black) police chief of Detroit for being concerned about the safety of the citizens he is sworn to defend. And perhaps we should also urge the black community to work internally to deal with the root problems driving their disproportionate involvement in crime.

You could start with fatherlessness and financial dependence on the civil government. That’s not racist. It’s just makes sense.