‘Journalists’ promote unfounded conclusions to advance racial narratives

One of Sherlock Holmes’s most famous statements is that “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” A couple of so-called journalists in San Francisco would have done well to study Holmes before they wrote their articles accusing the San Francisco Police Department of systemic racism during the height of the Wuhan Virus lockdowns.

The original report comes from a man named Camden Avery, who got a BA in English from Brown University. In other words, he is not an educated man. Avery wrote an article for the hoodline, a San Francisco blog, with a headline that, in today’s atmosphere, is explosive: “Black San Franciscans disproportionately targeted by SFPD curfew arrests, records show.”

The trigger word there is “targeted.” According to Avery, San Francisco’s police went hunting for blacks during the Wuhan virus curfews. Avery, however, theorized before he had the data. What data does exists fails to show that police targeted blacks. Instead, it shows only that blacks were detained and arrested in numbers greater than their proportionate representation in San Francisco’s population:

The data was requested anonymously under the city's Sunshine Ordinance, and shared by a source with Hoodline. It shows that during the five days of curfew — from May 31 to June 4 — 110 people were cited and 30 people were arrested by police for violating the curfew.

28% of the former group and 43% of the latter group were Black, even though African-Americans represent only 5% of San Francisco's population. 

Meanwhile, white people were underrepresented in both citations and arrests in comparison to their population size. 41% of those cited and 30% of those arrested were white. White people represent 45% of San Francisco's population.

In all, 31% of overall citations and bookings during curfew fell on black San Franciscans, nearly as many as the 39% of the total that white San Franciscans accounted for.

This means police confronted Black citizens for breaking curfew at a rate of over six times the percentage that would be indicated by the city's demographic distribution.

And of people actually arrested by the police, 43% were Black compared to 30% white — meaning Black citizens were more likely to be physically detained, rather than cited and released, than white ones.

Avery summarizes the data well enough. However, as noted above, on the data available, the only thing we know is that blacks were detained and arrested at a higher rate than their numbers in San Francisco would suggest. Objectively, that data leads to two equally likely conclusions: (1) That San Francisco’s police were “targeting” blacks or (2) that blacks were more likely to violate the curfews and that they did so in ways that merited detention.

Avery also quoted a police spokesman, Robert Rueca, who explained that the police had a simple metric for detaining and arresting people – they were on the street after hours:

In response to the statistics, SFPD spokesperson Robert Rueca said that all of the people detained were "reasonably believed to be committing criminal acts." He noted that legally, anyone standing outside after 8 p.m. would be self-evidently committing a crime.

"What we do know is, there was a lot of damage done to businesses and a lot of looting done after the peaceful protesters had finished doing their marches and their assemblies," he said.

The police's simple metric suggests that, perhaps, the problem was black behavior, not police racism. Avery, though, had a theory and he was sticking to it. By doing so, he reached an unsupported conclusion, and may well have slandered the police.

Of course, hoodline is just a little blog, so it doesn’t matter. Or does it?

Well, it matters because the San Francisco Chronicle, the leading San Francisco newspaper, picked up the story and repeated it almost verbatim. There, the headline is “Data reveals [sic] SFPD curfew arrests disproportionately targeted Black people.” Then, with a nod to hoodline, Andrew Chamings repeats the same data and the same quotation from Rueca, and then reaches the same slanderous and unsupported conclusion.

These people aren’t just biased; they lack even the most rudimentary knowledge of logic and reason. It’s unnerving to realize that they’re driving much of the public discourse in this country.

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