The Los Angeles Times last week published a provocative claim for our “woke” era: “White people should be more afraid of other whites than they are of people of color.” So argues Mike Males, a senior research fellow at the San Francisco-based Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.
On the face of it, Males’ assertion is perfectly reasonable, even mundane. America remains a majority-white country, therefore it’s more likely that whites will fall victim to crimes at the hands of other whites.
But that isn’t what Males is saying at all. Using his own analysis of U.S. Centers for Disease Control data between 2011 and 2015, Males wants us to conclude that whites are in far greater danger of being victims of violent crime than Latinos, blacks, Asians, and Native Americans, and moreover, whites living in counties that supported President Trump in 2016 are in the most danger of all. He makes more than a few dubious claims to reach that conclusion.
Males says he examined CDC “statistics on murder, gun killings and illegal-drug overdoses among white Americans,” but later writes the data pertains to “rates of homicides, gun killings and illicit-drug fatalities.” The column focuses on this claim: “Rates of homicides, gun killings and illicit-drug fatalities are highest in counties where nine in 10 residents are white and where President Trump won.” Word choice is important here. Males initially writes “murder,” then writes “homicide, gun killings”—yet gun killings are not necessarily murder.
Males provides just one link to the CDC WONDER database, which most readers wouldn’t bother figuring out how to use. It is difficult to know, then, what Males means by “homicide, gun killings” if this category terms can encompass manslaughter, suicide, killing in self-defense, police-involved killings, accidental death, and murder. By prefacing his analysis with the mention of murder, readers take “homicide, gun killings” to mean murder simply. This may not necessarily be the case.
In addition, it matters little if nine in 10 residents are white. What matters is who is committing the crimes; that is, are nonwhite minorities inflating crime rates? Males relies on the reader not thinking this through.
In 2014, the Washington Post compiled a list of the “five large counties (with populations above 10,000) that are whitest.” The same year, The Atlantic made a list of the most and least diverse counties in the United States. Males for his part, names Boone County, West Virginia, Washington County, Utah; Baxter County, Arkansas; and Brown County, Ohio.
Many of these white majority-least diverse counties are rural, including those listed by Males, and some compete either for the least populous or second-least populous counties in their respective states. As the Los Angeles Times has noted in its crime data, “in areas with relatively low populations, a small number of crimes can generate a large per capita rate.” More to the point, rural, white-majority regions are where we will find the highest rates of suicide and high rates of addiction—correlating with blue collar job loss—or “gun killings and illicit-drug fatalities.” Oklahoma has one of the highest rates of suicide, while West Virginia is ranked fifth in the nation for gun suicides. Males gives the impression that these regions are rampant with white violent crime, but the reality is much more tragic.
Shrinking job opportunities and crumbling social structures, coupled with the “associated stress that leads to physical or mental effects on health,” have all fueled gun-involved suicides and drug use.
I reached out to a team director with County Health Rankings (CHR), a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, that also draws data from CDC WONDER. According to the team director, homicide in CHR’s data is synonymous with murder, while “firearm fatalities,” or gun killings, means “all firearm-related deaths are included in our measure, both intentional and non-intentional, self-inflicted or other.” This is where Males the Semanticist is revealed.
Using CHR, I examined the homicide and firearm fatalities data in the largest county Males mentions, Washington County, Utah. It shows a low homicide rate (among the nation’s lowest) but a significantly higher firearm fatality rate. Washington County is located in Southwestern Utah, part of a region known as America’s “Suicide Belt.” Utah’s suicide rate consistently ranks in the national top 10 and ranks the highest in the nation for “prevalence of suicidal thoughts, at 6.8 percent, almost twice the national average.” Thus, “gun killings”—Males’ word choice—reflects the suicide rate of Utah, not the murder rate—although Males clearly seeks to give a different impression.
Boone County, the second largest of the counties Males mentions, shows firearm fatalities three times higher than the homicide rate. In a state with one of the highest rates of suicide, Boone’s is higher than the West Virginia average. In homicide rates, McDowell County far surpasses Boone County. McDowell, although also heavily white, is more racially diverse than Boone. Thus, the question of who is committing the crimes in areas with a predominantly white population is more pertinent to examining the truthfulness of Males’ conclusions than is white predominance by itself. Males adds:
Correspondingly, the white Americans who are safest from such deaths are those who live in racially diverse areas such as Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago, where two-thirds of residents are nonwhite, where millions of immigrants live, and where voters favored Hillary Clinton in 2016. Nonwhites also are safer in these areas overall, though rates vary by location.
What Males omits, of course, is the fact that those cities are ethnically and racially fragmented. Although the cities themselves are “diverse,” the neighborhoods aren’t necessarily, because people cluster into homogenous communities. According to the Los Angeles Times, Bel-Air and Century City, predominantly white, are among the safest neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Conversely, where there are virtually no whites, Chesterfield Park and Harvard Park are L.A.’s most violent neighborhoods.
Based on data compiled by the Times, Los Angeles County is 52 percent white and consists of 265 neighborhoods. Sixty-one of these neighborhoods are greater than 66 percent white, while 131 are less than 33 percent white—these can be considered “not diverse” due to the strong majority/minority dichotomy. Meanwhile, just 73 neighborhoods are between 33 percent and 66 percent white, or “diverse,” where there’s a slim racial majority or plurality.
So, yes, although L.A. appears “diverse” from afar, it’s actually segregated along clear ethnic and racial lines—the units of segregation are simply smaller than the city itself. The irony, then, is that these neighborhoods end up to be just as ethnically homogenous as the white Republican regions Males seemingly despises. This pattern appears in Chicago and New York as well. (And in San Francisco, for that matter.)
When we examine homicide statistics exclusively, the counties and independent cities—i.e., county equivalents matched up to those used by the U.S. Census Bureau—with the highest murder rates follow the pattern of increased diversity. CDC WONDER mortality data from 2010 through 2016 on murder rates confirm this.
Using CDC data, CHR compiled a list of national rankings for murder rates by county. The top 10 counties for number of murder deaths per 100,000 people are: Orleans, Louisiana (41); Baltimore City, Maryland (35); Coahoma, Mississippi, and St. Louis City, Missouri (34) (tied); Petersburg City, Virginia and Phillips, Arkansas (31) (tied); Dallas, Alabama (30); Washington County, Mississippi (27); and Macon, Alabama (26). All 10 of these cities and counties have a black plurality or majority, and are thus “diverse.” This trend can be observed on a city level as well.
Using FBI data on murder from 2016, NeighborhoodScout compiled a list of the cities that constitute America’s “murder capitals.” The top 10 are: East St. Louis, Illinois; Chester, Pennsylvania; Camden, New Jersey; St. Louis, Missouri; Gary, Indiana; West Memphis, Arkansas; Flint, Michigan; Detroit, Michigan; and New Orleans, Louisiana. Although Chicago is noticeably missing from that list, it is among 30 across the nation that have experienced rising murder rates. All 30 cities are “diverse,” with a black plurality or majority.
So, how does Males make his claims? Mostly through careful word choice and by relying on reader ignorance.
For example, much of Males’ argument hangs on the fact that “according to FBI data for 2015, when whites are murdered anywhere in the country, the murderer is five times more likely to be white than nonwhite.” And, my favorite, the “more white and Republican a county is, the greater the risk for white Americans.”
Males clearly presents this as damning evidence of a white (and Republican) proclivity for murder, but this is sophistry. “In reality, murder is an overwhelmingly intra-racial phenomenon, as whites kill whites, blacks kill blacks,” writes criminologist Scott Bonn. Additionally, the claim that there is a connection between Republican predominance and murder is hard to reconcile with the fact that the mayors of the top-10 most murderous cities in America are Democrats. Likewise, in 14 of the top 15 most dangerous cities in America, the mayors are Democrats.
When Males claims whites are less likely to be murdered in more diverse regions, he is partially correct, in the sense that whites are less likely to be murdered by other whites. Males takes a partial truth and stretches it into a whole lie, as FBI data shows 500 black-on-white killings and 229 white-on-black killings in 2015. Here Males, again, relies on readers not taking the time to check his facts. Males’ claims about crime are ultimately the inverse of the truth. According to an exhaustive report by Heather Mac Donald at the Manhattan Institute:
. . . white violence against blacks is dwarfed by black on white violence. In 2012, blacks committed 560,600 acts of violence against whites (excluding homicide), and whites committed 99,403 acts of violence (excluding homicide) against blacks, according to data from the National Crime Victimization Survey provided to the author. Blacks, in other words, committed 85 percent of the non-homicide interracial crimes of violence between blacks and whites, even though they are less than 13 percent of the population. Both the absolute number of incidents and the rate of black-on-white violence are therefore magnitudes higher than white-on-black violence.
Beyond misinforming readers, Males’ deceit plays into a much larger problem, what LAPD Captain Lillian Carranza has called a “systemic pattern of under-reporting certain crime statistics.” The Los Angeles Times has documented numerous such instances.
Carranza said she has found errors “in categorizing violent crimes that were never fixed” that resulted in LAPD “under-reporting violent crime for 2016 by about 10 percent.” Carranza said she believes “staff members may have falsified information,” or engaged in “cooking of the books . . . in order to get promotions, accolades and increased responsibility.”
Worst of all, Carranza charged that inaccurately reporting crime “affects the way we deploy resources, the support we get from federal grants, and in my case and in my officers case, who gets the support of discretionary resources and who doesn’t.” Males, then, is accomplice to a systemic issue that results in communities being underserved.
Males believes that President Trump is exploiting “macabre” concerns over immigration and therefore demonstrates his sympathy with racist elements in American society. Yet it stands to reason that whites living in areas where nonwhites commit disproportionate amounts of violent crime will support a president who campaigns on law and order—though this is tantamount to bigotry as far as Males is concerned, another way to view it is concern for your community and common sense.
Males stoops to deceit through biased presentation of data, exploiting suicide and addiction rates in regions hit hardest by globalization, for the purpose of generalizing about whites and Republicans as murderers, racists, and debauches. Males abuses the trust of his readers and makes light of the tragic deaths of so many Americans in order to make his false claims. Shame on the Los Angeles Times for enabling him.