Thursday, November 20th, 2014
Half-True
West
"Black people kill more black people every six months than the KKK did in 86 years."

Allen West on Monday, November 25th, 2013 in comments on his blog

Allen West: More black-on-black murders in six months than by 'KKK' in 86 years

Some claims just catch the eye and Fox News contributor Allen West delivered one on his personal blog this week.

"Black people kill more black people every six months than the KKK did in 86 years," West, a former one-term congressman from Florida, wrote.

We decided to see if the numbers back West up.

West’s office directed us to an item from Kevin Jackson who blogs at Black Sphere. Jackson wrote about "Dixiecrats who hated black people, and who were responsible for the 3,446 deaths by the Klan in 86 years."

For the moment, let’s assume that number is correct and compare it to the data on black homicide victims. Here we need to make an estimate so we’ll walk through our process.

The Uniform Crime Reports gathered by the FBI show that 2,412 blacks died at the hand of another black person in 2012. That is the total for the year (not six months), but that number omits homicides where the race of the murderer is unknown. That is a huge data gap that somewhat complicates matters.

The same FBI data, however, shows that most deaths occur within the same racial group. According to 2012 data, 91 percent of black deaths were caused by black criminals and 84 percent of white homicides were committed by whites.

The total number of black homicides in 2012 was 6,454, according to the FBI. If the percentages hold, that would mean 5,874 homicides were committed by black criminals in all of 2012, or roughly 2,936 in a six-month span.

Race of victim

Total homicides

Total-Race known

White offender

Black offender

White

5,855

3,128

2,614

431

Black

6,454

2,648

193

2,412

Source: Uniform Crime Reports 2012

On its face, West’s claim is wrong but not by a huge amount, and in previous years, he would have been closer. The number of black homicides has fallen steadily over the past seven years. If we had run the numbers in 2006, he would have been about 100 deaths short of being correct. As it is, he is off by about 15 percent.

But West’s claim has another error.

The source West cites, Kevin Jackson, blames the Klan, but when Jackson emailed us with his source, an article on the conservative website Townhall.com, we found something a bit different. The article said "According to a Tuskegee Institute study, between the years 1882 and 1968, 3,446 blacks were lynched at the hands of whites." It did not name the Ku Klux Klan and talked only of lynching, not all homicides.

The Tuskegee Institute -- now Tuskegee University -- started documenting lynching cases in the 1890s, according to Richard Sutch, an editor of the Historical Statistics of the United States. The work is generally considered accurate, as Sutch told NPR.

"Many historians approached that data very skeptically," Sutch said. So scholars "went back and they literally read every newspaper in a chosen southern state, and said we're going to record every instance of lynchings that are reported in these newspapers, and then they marched state by state by state.

"And what they found was not that the Tuskegee figures were wrong, but that the Tuskegee figures were essentially correct, and this amazed some people because the Tuskegee figures were showing that there were as many as 120, 150 lynchings per year in the southern United States. That's a lynching every week, more than once a week. It's just a steady drumbeat of violent oppression."

We found copies of the Tuskegee work that confirms between 3,445 and 3,446 black documented lynchings (and another 1,300 lynchings of whites.)

The archive, however, does not track KKK involvement. There is no question that blacks were at least twice as likely as whites to be the victims of lynchings, nor is there any doubt that the southern states accounted for most of these deaths. One study put the southern share at 90 percent. That doesn’t mean the Klan was behind them.

On that point, the historical record is unclear. For starters, historian Michael Pfeifer at the City University of New York says the Klan had three phases. Pfeifer wrote a book on mob violence, Rough Justice: Lynching and American Society, 1847-1947.

"We simply don’t have good statistics on how many African Americans the Ku Klux Klan murdered in the 1860s and 1870s when the 'first' Klan was active," Pfeifer told PunditFact. "Evidence suggests, though, that the Reconstruction Klan murdered hundreds and perhaps several thousand blacks."

That would seem to push the Klan death toll even higher, but Pfeifer says there’s reason to question the Klan’s role in the decades that followed.

"The Klan was not active during most of the years of the ‘lynching frenzy’ of the late 19th and early 20th century South," Pfeifer said. "White lynchers in the Jim Crow-era from the 1890s through the 1910s carried on many of the same white supremacist values as the Ku Klux Klan had in the 1860s and 1870s, but it is not accurate to say that the Klan was involved in lynching in the 1890s and early 1900s."

The Ku Klux Klan is a potent symbol of racism but the deadly violence against blacks, and, we should note, against more than 1,000 Jews, Catholics and other whites, came from a much wider group of Southern society in that period.

Our ruling

West said black people kill more blacks in six months than the KKK did in 86 years. Based on the evidence West provided, the claim essentially boils down to a comparison between the number of black-on-black homicides and the number of lynchings from 1882-1968.

Using 2012 FBI data and information from the Tuskegee Institute -- neither of which is perfect -- West is somewhat off in his numbers. There were approximately 2,936 black-on-black homicides in six months of 2012 and 3,446 black lynchings from 1882-1896.

But West also is wrong to ascribe the historical killing of blacks to the Ku Klux Klan, experts told us. There is no clear tally of Klan murders.

We rate the claim Half True.