MSNBC’s Melber Mangles His Fact Check of Bill Barr on Police Violence

When journalists discuss the issue of suspects being killed by police officers and how it relates to race, one thing you’ll never see them do is to provide the specific numbers that show the breakdown among different racial groups that would allow the issue to be put in perspective.

On Wednesday afternoon, MSNBC host Ari Melber reacted to an argument made last week in House testimony by Attorney General Bill Barr in which he pointed out that unarmed whites (who are rarely ever acknowledged by the media) killed by police outnumber unarmed blacks, undermining the liberal narrative that only one racial group is affected by police violence.

 

 

Melber also recalled the recent attention-getting case of a black family who were mistaken for car thieves and arrested in Aurora, Colorado, and misleadingly made it sound like they were pulled over simply because of their race.

Presenting the segment on screen as a “fact check” of Attorney General Barr, Melber referred back to Barr’s congressional testimony from last week:

ARI MELBER: This ongoing reckoning of policing continues across the country with new reports of alleged racial profiling incidents drawing important scrutiny — stories that offer a factual contrast to an emerging defense by Trump officials like Bill Barr, who denies systemic racism as evidence points to certain data. And he’s been pointing to certain data on a subset of police killings.

Then came an edited clip of Barr’s testimony:

BILL BARR: I don’t agree that there’s systemic racism in the police department. (EDITING CUT) The fact is that these events are fortunately quite rare. According to statistics compiled by the Washington Post, the number of unarmed black men killed by police so far this year is eight.

Omitting the rest of Barr’s sentence in which he recounted that 11 unarmed whites have been killed by police so far this year, Melber skeptically responded:

 

 

MELBER: Barr may be arguing that he thinks eight is not a large number, but that same Washington Post source actually found 976 total people shot and killed by police in the past year with black Americans killed at more than twice the rate of white Americans.

They always do the “twice the rate” argument. But the point here is the media’s tendency to only cover black deaths leaves the mistaken impression that cops are gunning for black suspects. 

The MSNBC host was true to form as he avoided telling his viewers that, according to the Washington Post online database that he was referencing, only about 25 percent of police shooting victims are black no matter which year one examines.

In 2019, the Post counted 999 deaths total, which included 403 whites — or 40 percent — along with 250 blacks — or 25 percent — and 162 Hispanics — or 16 percent.

Additionally, 14 percent were not identified by race while the rest were from other racial groups.

In all of 2019, there were 55 deaths of suspects categorized as unarmed, of whom 25 were white, 14 were black, and the rest were of other races, making the proportion who were black 25 percent.

Obama-era FBI crime statistics suggest this racial breakdown is consistent with crime patterns.

Melber then went on to recall the regrettable case of a black family pulled over in Colorado after police officers scanned their license plate and mistakenly believed their vehicle was stolen based on the tag number. But the MSNBC host suggested the incident was just about race in terms of “who the police stop in the first place” as he recounted:

MELBER: The scrutiny on systemic racism does, of course, go beyond the most extreme thing an officer can possibly do — kill someone — to also probe how racial profiling and racism can affect many parts of policing — from when police choose to de-escalate or escalate — to when they give people a break on a technicality instead of throwing the book at them — to who the police stop in the first place like this new video of Colorado police pulling over a black woman, and taking some escalating measures like ordering four children at gunpoint to lie face down in the parking lot, leading to this scene.

Without acknowledging the license plate number mix-up, Melber soon added: “The officers said they were investigating a stolen vehicle. The department, though, has already apologized. They say this was mistaken identity.”

Then, even though there are thousands of black Americans killed each year by civilian criminals as opposed to about 250 a year who are killed by police officers, Melber suggested that innocent blacks have more to fear from police officers than they do from actual criminals: “A life in danger. Now, we’ve been hearing these types of stories for decades in America — the documented concern that, for many communities of color, it is the police who pose the danger.”

This episode of The Beat with Ari Melber was sponsored by RAM and Epclusa. Their contact information is linked. Let them know how you feel about this distorted presentation of sensitive racial issues.

Below is a transcript of the relevant portion of the Wednesday, August 5, The Beat with Ari Melber on MSNBC. Click “expand” to read more. 

The Beat With Ari Melber

8//2020

6:48 p.m. Eastern

ARI MELBER: This ongoing reckoning of policing continues across the country with new reports of alleged racial profiling incidents drawing important scrutiny — stories that offer a factual contrast to an emerging defense by Trump officials like Bill Barr, who denies systemic racism as evidence points to certain data. And he’s been pointing to certain data on a subset of police killings.

ATTORNEY GENERAL BILL BARR, JUSTICE DEPARTMENT: I don’t agree that there’s systemic racism in the police department. (EDITING CUT) The fact is that these events are fortunately quite rare. According to statistics compiled by the Washington Post, the number of unarmed black men killed by police so far this year is eight.

MELBER: Barr may be arguing that he thinks eight is not a large number, but that same Washington Post source actually found 976 total people shot and killed by police in the past year with black Americans killed at more than twice the rate of white Americans.

So the disparities in killing are documented, but this also goes beyond horrific killings. The scrutiny on systemic racism does, of course, go beyond the most extreme thing an officer can possibly do — kill someone — to also probe how racial profiling and racism can affect many parts of policing — from when police choose to de-escalate or escalate — to when they give people a break on a technicality instead of throwing the book at them — to who the police stop in the first place like this new video of Colorado police pulling over a black woman, and taking some escalating measures like ordering four children at gunpoint to lie face down in the parking lot, leading to this scene.

[Clip of black family with children crying while lying on pavement in front of police)

You can see and hear what happened. A witness describing the moments leading up to that stop.

JENNIFER WURTZ, WITNESS: I saw a car with four girls next to me, feet up on the dash. It was real cute. And, next thing I know, police pull up silently behind them and had guns drawn on the children.

MELBER: The officers said they were investigating a stolen vehicle. The department, though, has already apologized. They say this was mistaken identity. Here’s reaction from two of the women in the car who were pulled over and handcuffed.

BRITTNEY GILLIUM, HANDCUFFED BY POLICE: That’s police brutality. I don’t give a damn what nobody says. That’s police brutality,

TERIANA THOMAS, HANDCUFFED BY POLICE: It’s like they don’t care. Who am I going to call when my life is in danger?

MELBER: A life in danger. Now, we’ve been hearing these types of stories for decades in America — the documented concern that, for many communities of color, it is the police who pose the danger.

(…)

MELBER: These numbers add up. They are the documented widespread American reality. And it is far different from these attempts you may hear to cherry pick a small subset from the most extreme tragedies of killings to assure Americans — as Bill Barr did under oath — that what you keep seeing — what you keep hearing about is some sort of, quote, “rarity” that barely occurs.

BARR: The fact is that these events are fortunately quite rare.

MELBER: There is nothing rare about this wider documented reports of profiling — of police stopping and detaining people without charges or systemic bias .The only question as we continue to live through this year of national reckoning is whether people listen more to what’s already being reported and whether Americans decide to do something about it.

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