A recent article in Forbes alleges that there is a significant minority demographic missing from census data, which is consequently being used to figure disparity statistics and is also the basis for the Department of Justice’s allegations of racism against the Ferguson Police Department. Despite the fact that disparity is not itself proof of racial bias, it turns out that the figures in question are not even accurate.
Consider that the under 20 years old demographics of black male and black females in Ferguson are nearly identical.
- <20 females = 2341
- <20 males = 2332
For some reason, after 20 years of age these demographics shift downward in terms of all black people with black males constituting the most dramatic trend.
- 25-34 females 1182
- 25-34 males 577
“More than 40% of black men in both the 20 to 24 and 35 to 54 age groups in Ferguson are missing.”
The Forbes article rationalizes these changes as a result of incarceration, death, and military service. However, there is no discussion of mobility, persons establishing residency outside the city limits. There is also no discussion of the reduction on the female side either, which is notable since females are much less susceptible to Forbes’ explanation of incarceration, death, or military service than males.
It is possible that black people and in particular, black males specifically, are deciding to move out of Ferguson once they reach twenty years of age. However, Forbes was quick to note that there appears to be a near universal 18% discrepency on average, the result of a comparative analysis of other urban areas. Ferguson has a higher missing figure of black males, but if there is a statistically significant drop in population universally, there needs to be a more univeral explanation than “black males leave Ferguson because they’re tired of being abused by the police.”
In other words, after discussing census statistics in depth in other entries, it’s clear there’s a much more rational explanation. Census data is simply an inaccurate measure of actual residency, particularly in regions of low income and high residential turnover. Consequently, if census data is inaccurate in Ferguson, it is also an inaccurate data point for figuring racial disparity.
The bottom line is that if the black population in Ferguson is underrepresented in census data, let alone underrepresented by figures as high as 50% or even as low as 18%, that means that the disparity indexes are grossly inaccurate and are being reported at levels much too high. If the population of black citizens is higher, than the numbers are much more consistent with concepts like traffic stops, use of force, and search rates and the disparity index should be much lower.
Of course, disparity aside, even if Ferguson does not actually have a disparity problem as it pertains to black citizens, that does not by itself disprove racial bias. Discrimination and unlawful police practices need to be judged on the merits of individual cases and not trends. Trends can be useful in establishing where individual cases may be slipping through the cracks but they are not representative of actual bias and certainly cannot be used to prove beyond a reasonable doubt where a crime has occurred by officers. What’s more, in this case it seems that such trends may not even support the notion of smoke where the DOJ is already yelling fire.