“Ninety-three percent of blacks in America are killed by other blacks. We’re talking about the exception here.”
— Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Nov. 23, 2014
Giuliani faced major backlash by critics for his comments during a “Meet the Press” segment on the anticipated grand jury decision on whether to indict officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Giuliani’s comment sparked a heated exchange with Georgetown Professor and MSNBC contributor Michael Eric Dyson over policing and crime in black communities.
Referencing a Washington Post analysis, host Chuck Todd asked Giuliani about ways to address discrepancies between the racial makeup of cities’ police forces and the communities they serve. Giuliani pivoted to discuss intraracial homicide in the black community.
After noting how he diversified the New York City police force, Giuliani said it was very disappointing that “we are not discussing the fact that 93 percent of blacks are killed by other blacks.” The implication was that the so-called black-on-black crime was far more common than white-on-black crime, so the attention should be paid on the former.
It quickly became personal. Giuliani and Dyson talked over each other for most of the 2-minute banter. Eventually, Giuliani uttered the line that went viral almost immediately (“White police officers wouldn’t be there if you weren’t killing each other.”) and Dyson fired back at the “defensive mechanism of white supremacy at work in your mind, sir.” (That comment also was picked up widely by Dyson’s critics.)
Is it correct that 93 percent of black homicides are committed by black offenders? And is homicide by police, like in Ferguson, truly in the minority among black victims?
The “Meet the Press” segment immediately gained attention against the backdrop of a grand jury contemplating whether to charge the white police officer in the August 9 shooting of a black teenager. The shooting prompted angry residents to demand justice for Brown and alleging racism. Local police responded to the outraged demonstrations with military equipment – raising more questions over police brutality.
Showing a map of cities with the greatest discrepancy between the police racial makeup and the community they serve, Todd asked: “All of those could be future Fergusons. How do you make a police force that looks like the community they serve?”
Giuliani responded by citing a statistic from a 2010 Bureau of Justice Statistics report which did, indeed, conclude that 93 percent of black homicide victims from 1980 through 2008 were killed by black offenders. The statement implied that intraracial violence in black communities is uniquely bad. Giuliani later repeated this statistic in a FOX News interview.
The statement lacks significant context.
As our colleague Philip Bump noted, Giuliani omitted the comparable statistic in the report for white homicide victims: 84 percent of white victims were killed by white offenders.The report found most murders were intraracial, committed by friends or acquaintances of the victim. Stranger homicides were more likely to be interracial, with a lower rate of white-on-black murders than black-on-white murders.
The 2013 FBI Uniform Crime Report, a compilation of annual crime statistics, also shows similar data: 83 percent of white victims were killed by white offenders; 90 percent of black victims were killed by black offenders; 14 percent of white victims were killed by black offenders; and 7.6 percent of black victims were killed by white offenders.
The rate of intraracial homicide in the black community is the reason for the heavy police presence, Giuliani said, and it should be the subject of discussion because it’s so much more prevalent than the shooting of a black victim by a white police officer.
Dyson fired back, calling Giuliani’s explanation “false equivalency” and that police should be held to a higher standard, as they are acting as agents of the state.
In an interview with The Fact Checker, Giuliani agreed that most murders, black or white, are intraracial. Asked why he didn’t note the other half of the statistic in his interview, Giuliani said there “are very few” white intraracial murders compared to black intraracial murders.
It is true that the rate of black homicide victims and offenders were disproportionately represented compared to the general population, the 2011 BJS report found. The black victimization rate (27.8 per 100,000) was six times higher than the white victimization rate (4.5 per 100,000). Black offending rate (34.4 per 100,000) was almost eight times higher than whites (4.5 per 100,000), according to the report.
“The danger to a black child in America is not a white police officer. That’s going to happen less than 1 percent of the time. The danger to a black child … is another black,” Giuliani said. “If my child was shot by a police officer, I would be very, very frustrated. I’d also be frustrated if my son was shot by a gangster in the street. But if the chances were — that my son would be shot by the gangster in the street — nine times out of 10, I’d spend an awful lot of time on the nine times out of 10.”
Where did he get the “less than 1 percent” figure? Giuliani said it was his estimation of the percentage of deadly force by white police officers on black victims, which he described would be a small portion of the percentage of white-on-black murders.
It’s impossible to accurately measure the rate of homicides by police in the United States. The FBI maintains a limited database of self-reported and conservative estimates. But a ProPublica analysis of federal data from 2010 to 2012 found young black males were 21 times more likely to be killed by police than their white counterparts.
Dyson told The Fact Checker that less than 1 percent is still too high.
“When you’re dealing with an unjust situation, the percentages don’t give solace. It’s only 0.5 percent, but if it’s your relative, your kin, that percentage is too high,” Dyson said.
Statements like Giuliani’s perpetuate stereotypes that criminalize black people, he said. And to Giuliani’s point about focusing on violence in the black community, Dyson said there are countless marches and rallies against violence within the black community. But most don’t get the attention that events like Ferguson do.
Giuliani’s statistic is rooted in Department of Justice studies. But it lacks significant context – especially because race relations and police treatment of minorities are complex and emotionally-charged topics. We also found it difficult to support Giuliani’s personal estimation of the rarity of deadly force by white police officers on black victims, but were limited by the unreliable data on homicides by police.
Ultimately, it is misleading for Giuliani to simplify this topic to the 93 percent statistic and then omit the corresponding statistic for intraracial white murders.