Fact-checking claims about race and Ferguson

Hours after the grand jury's decision, violent protests erupted in Ferguson, Mo. Here, a person poses for a photo for his friend in front of a burning Title Max Loans business. (AP photo)
Hours after the grand jury's decision, violent protests erupted in Ferguson, Mo. Here, a person poses for a photo for his friend in front of a burning Title Max Loans business. (AP photo)

A grand jury decided on Nov. 24, 2014, not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for shooting and killing Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African-American in Ferguson, Mo. But the debate about race, policing and prosecution is expected to continue.

Over the past few months, we’ve published a number of fact checks on this topic, and we’re continuing to add more. Here’s a rundown.

93 percent of blacks murdered by other blacks

In a contentious interview on NBC's Meet the Press, former NYC mayor and GOP presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani deflected a question from host Chuck Todd about cities where the police departments are mainly white while the communities they serve are mainly minority, saying, "I find it very disappointing that you're not discussing the fact that 93 percent of blacks in America are killed by other blacks."

This is a case where there's no denying the number is accurate, but it's missing context. Giuliani is accurately citing federal data, but it actually tells us little about violence in black communities. The percentage of whites killed by whites is only about seven percentage points lower. The strong historical trend is that in a society with persistent pockets of segregation, most homicide occurs within each ethnic group.

We rated his claim Mostly True.

"The conviction rate is almost exactly the same" for whites and blacks who commit murder

Meanwhile, during an interview on Fox and Friends, Giuliani said that "the conviction rate is almost exactly the same" for whites and blacks who commit murder.

Giuliani’s comment in whole is fragmented and difficult to parse, and he didn’t get back to us with further explanation. That said, we scoured available data that might shed light on his claim about conviction rates and failed to find any. The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics later confirmed that such data does not exist.

In addition, Giuliani’s comment -- even if it had been supported by statistical evidence -- amounted to cherry-picking data to shed the most benign light on racial disparities of the American justice system. Jurisprudence in general does not reflect this pattern.

We rated the claim False.

"99 percent of the time" police aren’t charged for killing people of color

Brown family attorney Benjamin Crump claimed before the grand jury decision that "99 percent of the time police officers aren't charged when they kill young people of color."

PunditFact found that limited data and the opinions of criminologists back up Crump’s claim, with the caveat that police officers are rarely charged at all regardless of someone’s race. Still, the lack of hard data on the particular statistic Crump was citing -- either for the number of police officers indicted for homicide of a person of color or for the total number of people killed by police -- prevented us from saying with certainty that it happens 99 percent of the time.

So we rated Crump’s claim Half True.

Murder is No. 1 cause of death for young black men

In the aftermath of Brown’s death, PunditFact checked Fox News pundit Juan Williams’ claim that the "No. 1 cause of death, young black men 15 to 34 — murder. Who’s committing the murder? Not police. Other black men."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, homicide was indeed the No. 1 killer of black men between the ages of 15 and 34 in 2011, the most recent year with statistics available. Accidents were the second leading cause of death.

PunditFact rated the claim True.

"Every 28 hours" a cop kills an unarmed black person

African-American professor and author Marc Lamont Hill said that "every 28 hours" an unarmed black person is killed by a cop. One of several problems with the claim is that the calculation on which Hill based his comment included people who were armed, "allegedly" armed and unarmed.

PunditFact rated his claim False. (Hill later tweeted that he should have chosen his words more carefully.)

More white than black victims of fatal police shootings

PunditFact looked into a claim by conservative talk show host Michael Medved that "more whites than blacks are victims of deadly police shootings." We found that this is technically correct, but only because there are many more whites in the United States than blacks.

On balance, we rated Medved’s claim Half True.

Minority representation on Ferguson’s police force

Andrea Mitchell of NBC News hit on a popular truth about the demographics of Ferguson, saying "you've got three black officers and 50 white officers with a town that is 67 percent African-American."

We found that there was some question about whether the number of African-American officers on the force was three or four, but there was no question that an imbalance existed, and the statistic about Ferguson’s population was on target.

So we rated the claim Mostly True.

SWAT raids up 1,400 percent since 1980s

John Oliver, the host of the HBO show Last Week Tonight, used a clip from Al Jazeera in one of his segments to offer a statistic that quantified the militarization of police forces across the country: "The number of SWAT raids have gone up by 1,400 percent since the 1980s."

We found that the source of the statistic is research by Eastern Kentucky University justice studies professor Peter Kraska. We decided that by relying on academic research, Oliver was on solid ground.

The only quibble we had was that Kraska’s data ended in 2000, leaving in question whether the level has changed appreciably since then.

We rated the claim Mostly True.