6

Shaun King posted this claim on Twitter:

Democrats, from top to bottom, are running the cities with the worst police brutality in America right now.

Is this true? It seems to have been picked up by several right wing news outlets, including Fox, but none of them seem to have actually verified it or provided any statistical evidence.

https://twitter.com/shaunking/status/1268911183878410246?s=20

  • 25
    Obvious caveat: Democrats are running most big cities in the USA... – Evargalo Jul 6 at 12:52
  • 7
    True, and also areas with large black populations tend to vote Democrat. – dont_shog_me_bro Jul 6 at 13:21
  • 3
    Lots of related talk (regarding cities being mostly Democrat-ruled) in this question. – DevSolar Jul 6 at 14:15
  • 2
    Though King here mentions "democrat run cities" his point is not that it is a partisan problem, but that in cities where his audience agrees there's a police brutality problem there also is a strong presence of his audience's preferred political party. This leads to the deeper question, whether there is a problem with police brutality in the first place. I don't think that question can be answered on this site, but the former one can, I think. Is left/right politics an accurate predicter of police brutality (whatever the actual gravity of that problem is)? Should we edit this question? – fredsbend Jul 7 at 0:29
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. I've left comments that are discussing how to improve the question or make important notes. – fredsbend Jul 8 at 18:25
11

A major problem here is how to define "worst police brutality in America"? I don't think we can have any conclusive evaluation of Shaun King's statement without a clear definition and an appropriate collection of data. However, as a first approximation, let's take the following list of cities ranked by the rate of people killed by police per million inhabitants, 2013-2019.

Rate of police killings per population

St Louis is extreme, and there are many other Democrat-run cities on this list. But Oklahoma City (#2) has had a Republican mayor throughout this period (mostly Mick Cornett), as had Tulsa (#7) (Dewey F. Bartlett Jr. and G. T. Bynum). This is far from conclusive proof of anything, but I do think it suggests there are exceptions to King's generalization.

This dataset uses the 100 largest cities by population. Wikipedia has a list of the mayors for the top 50, of which 35 are Democrats, 13 Republicans and 2 Independents.

| improve this answer | |
  • Comments about the metric for "city" size and concerns that claims like these may have implicit expectations regarding city size have been moved to chat. – fredsbend Jul 8 at 18:31
  • 3
    I just want to remark that the term police brutality would extend to far beyond just merely 'police killings' (EG suspect breaks jaw 'resisting arrest', pepper spraying protestors in the face, or medics successfully saving what would have otherwise been a dead victim etc), so it strongly depends on what Shaun King defines as police brutality. All the above data shows is which cities have the highest number of killings per city, not necessarily the highest amount of police brutality. – SSight3 Jul 11 at 7:57
  • Good links, but this answer doesn't make clear if the exceptions are exceptions to a trend or a trend. – Paul Draper Jul 11 at 10:13
  • @PaulDraper It's not clear to me that the original claim is merely about a trend. To me "top to bottom" means an entire list of the worst cities (although it could also mean from the top to the bottom of the local governments). Either way, the claim is weak if the #2 worst city has a Republican mayor. – Brian Z Jul 11 at 11:59
  • @BrianZ "top to bottom" is a common phrase for "entire organization": mayor, city council, commissioner, etc. Re "merely about a trend," as you say yourself, it's a "generalization." I believe a good quality answer would help understand whether Shaun King was correct 2/10 or 8/10. – Paul Draper Jul 11 at 17:42
13

Yes

It's not a very technical or precise claim, but its essence is factually sound.

Using the common measure for "police brutality" as police killings,* a large majority of the cities with high police brutality have Democratic majors. While King did not qualify it further, this claim remains mostly true even when taking into account party prevalence among mayors.

As usual, do not mistake King's claim of correlation as causation. There might be an underlying factor yielding both results; changing party control wouldn't necessarily reduce policy brutality.

Also, there isn't any claim of statistical significance. Several dozen cities is a relatively small sample size.


Cities with high police killings

Earlier this year, security.org looked at cities with high police brutality: Which cities have the biggest problems with police brutality? (The source data comes from the aggregator Mapping Police Violence.)

(The criteria for a "major city" isn't given, but Scottsdale is 84th most populous in the U.S., with 262k people.)

Of the fifteen cities with the most police killings, 12 have Democratic mayors and 3 have Republican mayors.

  • Laredo - D
  • Orlando - D
  • Las Vegas - D
  • Tucson - D
  • Scottsdate - R
  • Mesa - R
  • Albuquerque - D
  • Phoenix - D
  • Columbus - D
  • Denver - D
  • Louisville - D
  • Aurora - R
  • Atlanta - D
  • St. Louis - D
  • Kansas City - D

Cities with low police killings

While the above renders King's statement true, it's relevant context to understand how much of this is due simply to prevalence of Democratic mayors.

Of the fifteen cities with the least police killings, 8 have Democratic mayors and 6 have Republican mayors:

  • New York - D
  • Indianapolis - D
  • El Paso - R
  • District of Columbia - D
  • Chicago - D
  • San Jose - D
  • Omaha - R
  • Virginia Beach - R
  • San Francisco - D
  • Minneapolis - Other
  • Wichita - R
  • Seattle - D
  • Nashville - D
  • Corpus Christi - R

Mayor party prevalence

Of the top fifty U.S. cities, there are 35 Democrats and 13 Republicans. It would seem that large cities have mostly Democratic mayors, but not quite so many as to be proportionate to their presence in the earlier list.


* These numbers are for all police killings, whether officially ruled "justified" or not. This approach addresses a common concern about bias in judicial treatment.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Ballparking a 3/4 chance of a large-city mayor being Democratic, the standard deviation for a sample of 15 cities is sqrt(15*1/4*3/4) = sqrt(45)/4 or approximately 1.7. Since the expected value of the sample size would be 3/4*15 or roughly 11, having 12 democratic mayors out of those 15 cities is well within one standard deviation, not even remotely statistically significant. – Steven Stadnicki Jul 15 at 22:33
  • @StevenStadnicki the D-heavy majorships go down as you move towards the top 100 instead of the top 50 cities, but yeah overall I agree with you. Note the claim made no mention of statistical significance of the relationship; just that "Democrats are running the cities with the worst police brutality," without regard to the random or non-random cause of this fact. (Because his intent was to show that partisanship was insufficient.) – Paul Draper Jul 16 at 0:09
2

Yes, but very likely not for the reason implied by the question and it's source:. As others have pointed out, you get higher rates of everything in more dense populations which tend to not vote for Republicans.. for completely unrelated reasons to that of police-violence. The connecting thread is precisely what #BLM proponents claim to be the problem: The hiring practices, nature, and militarization of police forces across the country. This has not been an issue on the docket of the cities' Mayors. It's not that they can't as much as they haven't and instead rely on internal processes.

It's like comparing charts that have a similar curve and then trying to assume a correlation between them - or asking for proof to explain a phenomenon that might be better explained through more direct means.

The mayors of America’s larger cities, nearly all members of the Democratic Party and some of whom are black or Latino themselves, must reckon with political priorities that appear in conflict — living up to their rhetoric as champions of marginalized communities while maintaining a close working relationship with police departments often accused of inflicting harm.6

Beyond answering questions is understanding the context by which it exists. The root implication of this claim is that there is some correlation between the party of mayors and police violence and for that I have yet to see any evidence. There's a more direct connection between police violence and Chiefs of Police.

| improve this answer | |

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .